Magazine article New African

Africa Can Leapfrog into the Information Age: "The Rise and Fall of Timbuktu Holds an Important Lesson for Modern Africa: Timbuktu Failed to Control Critical Technologies. Hence It Lost Its Treasures of Wisdom. and America, Once Behind Timbuktu, Is Now the Motherland of Technology," Writes Philip Emeagwali, the Nigerian Award-Winning Computer Scientist/geologist

Magazine article New African

Africa Can Leapfrog into the Information Age: "The Rise and Fall of Timbuktu Holds an Important Lesson for Modern Africa: Timbuktu Failed to Control Critical Technologies. Hence It Lost Its Treasures of Wisdom. and America, Once Behind Timbuktu, Is Now the Motherland of Technology," Writes Philip Emeagwali, the Nigerian Award-Winning Computer Scientist/geologist

Article excerpt

SEVENTEEN AFRICAN NATIONS celebrated the 50th anniversary of post-colonial rule in 2010. What lesson did Africa learn from its years of colonisation? The answer is that nations that control critical technologies rule those that purchase them.

Consider the invention of the compass, the key technology that made it possible to sail across the Atlantic Ocean--from Europe to Africa to America--which, in turn, spawned the Atlantic slave trade that began in Africa on 8 August 1444. That trade was more devastating than the Arab slave trade that predated it by a thousand years.

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That slave trade covered four continents and lasted four centuries. It began with the invention and control of one critical compass technology, which, in turn, led to one in five Africans resettling in the Americas. It resulted in 200 million Africans--uprooted to the Americas--losing their language, culture, and identity.

It was Britain's superior maritime technology that enabled it to colonise one quarter of the world. A century ago, the Union Jack's shadow reached across every single time zone on the planet, giving rise to the saying, "The sun never sets on the British Empire."

Before the compass was invented, Timbuktu (Mali) was as developed as Paris. Ten centuries before Christopher Columbus set sail for the Americas, Timbuktu was ahead of New York and on a par with London in terms of intellectual capital. Timbuktu loomed large in the European imagination as one of the most mysterious and remote places on earth.

An ancient West African proverb puts it in perspective: "Salt comes from the north, gold from the south, and silver from the country of the white man, but the word of God and the treasures of truth are found only in Timbuktu."

Timbuktu's downfall was that it failed to control critical technologies needed to defend itself against Moroccan invaders and to sail to Europe and the Americas. Hence it lost its treasures of wisdom. And America, once behind Timbuktu, is now the motherland of technology.

Ironically, science and technology are the gifts of ancient Africa to our modern world. The first known technologist was an African called Imhotep. …

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