Sometime ago, I mentioned that Africa was playing a dangerous and tricky catch-up game with the west by pursuing physical development over the development of her human capital and I was excited to hear Bill Gates speak on this during his visit to Nigeria this last week.
Apparently, we are putting the cart before the horse and it is really unfortunate. You know, our continent suffers a lot of time from misplacement of priorities. We take on projects, not really for their credibility or fitness-for-purpose but just to join the bandwagon. We have refused to understand that we have a peculiar challenge on our hands and a copy and paste approach will not help much.
Back to Bill Gates, in his speech, he faulted the Economic Recovery Growth Programme (ERGP) of the federal government as too focused on the development of the nation’s “physical capital over her human capital”.
This in truth is not a sustainable approach as it takes a healthy and educated people to provide the required skill and manpower to build (in a sustainable fashion) all of the physical infrastructures that we are planning and budgeting for. And this requires a substantial investment in people before brick and mortar.
Just to help us have a sense of the problem: in the 2017 UNDP Human Development Index report, Nigeria ranked 152 out of the 188 UN member countries. Today, we have over 10 million out-of-school children scattered around the country. We have the 4th highest maternal mortality rate – in other words, we are ignominiously the fourth worst place to give birth in the world, only better than CAR, Chad and Sierra Leone. And these can get worse if we are not careful, considering our rising population. Africa has the youngest population in the world, and Nigeria makes one of the largest contributors to that number. Did you know that the number of babies that were given birth to in Nigeria between 2009 and 2012 were more than that of the entire Europe put together? That’s a ticking time bomb if not well managed.
But this can be a blessing if only we can show visionary leadership in the expression of today’s developmental priorities. And that’s not to say that we should overlook the place of physical infrastructures but they must go alongside.
An insightful perspective: the printing press was invented in the 15th century in Europe and this led to the mass production of books and rapid dissemination of knowledge which formed the building blocks that triggered the industrialization and infrastructural revolution of the 15th to the 19th century. The printing press came on board before the first railway line and it is only logical.
Why are we then trying to jump the gun? Is it not the educated minds that are supposed to build and manage the infrastructures? Agreed, we have bookshops and libraries in Nigeria as Chimamanda Adichie said a couple of weeks ago….but we really do not have enough.
There is still so much to be done in the area of human capital development and every government across Africa must prioritize this.
Let’s place the horse before the cart(and also ensure that the “horse” is healthy, well nourished and mentally empowered enough to drive the “cart” very well)!