Figures from the World Bank reveal China saw a decline in the poverty rate from 85% in 1981 to 13.1% in 2008. And what many observed is that the growth was partly due to the ‘societal engineering’ of a new generation of Chinese leaders—a large percentage of whom were trained as engineers, rather than as lawyers, which is more common in, say, the United States.
Something similar is happening in Africa. According to Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development at Harvard’s Kennedy School, as quoted on a recent BBC ‘Science in Action’ podcast, ‘We are starting to see African countries elect engineers for president.” In 2012 six African countries did so, said Juma, ‘so the continent is starting to recognize that engineers are not just people who build and fix things but they also bring to leadership new skills such a problem-solving. Engineering is not just a field, but a way of managing public affairs.’
Juma is one of the judges of the new Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, supported by The Shell Centenary Scholarship Fund, Consolidated Contractors Company, ConocoPhillips and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.
‘I’m interested in seeing the extent to which young African engineers are capable of searching the global fund of engineering ideas … and developing business plans to introduce those technologies in African to drive the economy,’ Juma told the BBC. ‘This is one of the biggest advantages of Africa as a latecomer, in that it can inherit large pools of scientific and technical knowledge that have been developed worldwide. And there is already a role model for that which is what’s happened in mobile communications. Africans did not invent mobile phones but they were able to leverage it and create new businesses out of it, which include money transfer. We would like to see that extended to other fields, like health care and environmental management…’
Stephen Greco’s newest novel, Now and Yesterday—’an often poignant, sometimes chilling, romance of the creative class’—is published by Kensington Books on May 27.