Transiting through North Africa, on my way to the United States in the early summer of 2021, gave me an opportunity to digest a non-fiction book, I bought a year ago at the San Francisco International Airport, titled the Silk Road: A new History of the World written by John Koparkan, a renowned historian at the Worcester College Oxford, published in 2015. The size of the book, about 636 pages will discourage even a professor from starting it.
However, on this trip, I took the time to read through, the book and digest the contents for the two nights I spent en route New York, while attending to my mission. The summary of the book is that for thousands of years, the world has been ruled and dominated by very powerful individuals who built empires and conquered kingdoms. Territories and treaties were either peacefully signed or cities were violently taken over. Millions of people were forced to pay taxes and royalties to those who have more power and exert influence rather than those who should legitimately do.
The book also tried to explain, that outside of Europe, there was a significant trading and buoyant economic system, that existed in the Persia Empire which in turn spurned the economic and industrial growth in Europe centuries later. It depicted, the very powerful Persia, present-day Iraq, the Roman Empire, the Portuguese conquest of the East Atlantic, the exploits of the Mongolian warlords, under Ghenkis Khan and his very powerful successors such as Ogedei that ruled between 1221 and 1241, the role of Christopher Columbus in the discovery of the new world and the very innovative Spanish Kingdoms that established forts and military bases in Southern America. The conquest of China, and the rise and fall of Constantinople present-day Istanbul.
I was proud as an African, reading about the Songhai Empire and the rich golds of Mali and the generosity of King Mansa Musa who ‘literally gifted’ gold to everybody on his trip to Mecca and Medina. This book also painfully detailed how slavery started and in the process, Africa was the major victim as millions of Africans were forcefully sold into slavery in far-flung places such as Spain, North and South America. The inspiration, one got from this very inspiring and well-researched book, is that for centuries, the world has been shaped to be ruled and governed by those who have the instrument of force. power and of cohesion. This has later been reduced to a few persons coming together to draft a document on behalf of others and call it the constitution, this document further details codes and modes of conduct expected of residents in that location prescribing what institutions that could be established such as the Supreme Court for instance, and other arms and tiers of government.
Such is the new world order, that has replaced the use of force and physical conquest, which has seemingly brought relative peace to the world as against the old order of wars and warlords and the medieval era that was described by the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, as short, nasty and brutish etc.
While it is instructive enough to note that, yes, the world may have moved from the era of physical warfare rulership to colonialism and now to constitutionalism, self-rule, sovereignty and independence, territorial integrity and institutional order, a vast majority of government and people across the world are yet to wake up from their slumber that new world order has emerged albeit without territory or physical government and a capital devoid of the different arms of government as evidenced in the era that is gradually going obsolete. “The era of government of creativity and innovation” has gradually crept in without the shot of a bullet, chaos and wars as often witnessed during a violent change in the society, yet, it has conquered the world.
The influence and power of the innovation government didn’t dawn on the world and its people until December of 2020 with influence in the United States of America. Funny enough, as recent as June 2021, the all-powerful Twitter also had influence in Nigeria deleting a post that was considered offensive and violating the policies and ethics of the organisation. The country quickly suspended the operations of twitter in Nigeria amidst huge outcry of some segment of the Civil Society and youths across Nigeria.
Twenty years ago, whoever thought that the Nigerian President would depend on Twitter to address his citizens? Are we still debating that power has indeed changed hands in the 21st century and the world affairs are no longer being influenced by the United Nations or the G7 or China alone, but by young men and women sitting down, behind their laptops in San Jose and San Francisco and in the Silicon valley deploying useful applications and re-writing the whole concept of Human Rights, governance and technology. Determining trade volumes and financial systems, the balance of trade, maritime and services worth billions of dollars on a daily basis across the globe. Are we still in denial that there is a new government and power in our hands other than the conventional government? This is the government of technology, innovation and creativity.
The issues for consideration are as follows; when will Africa key into the evolving new world order and invest in its own future influenced by technology and creativity? How much of our annual budget goes into research and development? Are our youths still regarded as lazy? Do we still rely on oil to fund our whole existence? Are we going to continue with poverty alleviation programs as against wealth creation programs? Are we still going to continue with the culture of ‘empowerment’ where billions are wasted purchasing Keke NAPEP, sewing machines and grinding machines for a group of people that could be deployed into commercial agriculture and its value chain? what is happening to the small and medium scale sector of the economy? It was widely reported in October 2020 that Paystack, a start-up built by Nigerians was purchased for $200m (approximately N85b) by an American technology firm, Stripe. You would think that the Nigerian government should be interested in this business that has made a foreign firm commit such a huge amount of resources into purchasing it. But I guess we are not there yet. You would think that the Nigerian government will conduct a follow-up mechanism with those talented young men and others scattered across Lagos and other cities to ensure their knowledge is further tapped for the development of the nation.
In context, can the Nigerian government-owned agencies or parastatals boast of generating N85bn in a year? Rather 70% of these agencies including the almighty Nigerian National Petroleum Cooperation (NNPC) run at a loss and they are subsidised by the government at huge cost to the already overburdened taxpayers. The records are there. How many potential Twitter and Facebook developers do we have in our country that can be powerful and influential? The world has evolved, what is confronting us today is innovation and creativity arrogance. They are knowledgeable, they are dynamic, the world depends on them for business and communication, even NTA was reported to have tweeted to announce that Twitter has been banned. Their annual profits run into billions of dollars more than the size of most African countries combined.
For me, they are the new Roman Emperors of the 21st century, they represent present day Buddha as millions of young people across the world will rather worship Facebook and Twitter and WhatsApp instead of going to church or any place of worship. After all, the Bible is on google and religious leaders tweet sermons on a daily basis. They remind one of the biblical Pharaoh who may never allow ‘our people’ go except we develop and invest in our own platforms that could compete with others globally. The new sheriffs of Twitter and Facebook are more than the anti-ballistic missiles that we heard were deployed during Operation Desert Storms in the 90s. Their decisions or indecisions could send capital markets crashing. The price of gold, crude oil and cocoa could be determined by what is allowed to be posted or tweeted, fake or real news. In the same vein, crisis could be ignited and indeed many crisis have erupted across some countries in the past, due to what was posted on social media. Peace and one accord have also been reached via these platforms in the recent past.
What else can we say? Do we still have a choice other than the choice of confronting the obvious, avoid social collapse, embrace the new King, embrace technology, embrace research and data mainstreaming. invest in young persons, embrace an open university system that prioritises academic freedom, open learning, scholarship and global competitiveness.
In a recent report by the Nigerian Debt Management (DMO) office, the Nigerian government is exposed to both local and foreign lenders to the tune of USD$84bn. In the detailed analysis, of the sectoral distribution of the credit/loans, zero dollars was committed to funding Research and Development in any of the Nigerian Universities, zero nairas was committed towards the funding of start-ups scattered across the country. The same applies to the funding exchange programs for young persons. The same was observed for biotechnology and allied activities. These trends can be reversed within the next five years and the country will be on its path of growth and development so that those sitting down in Silicon Valley will not delete the posts at their whim. ‘Who dem be’ is a question we can only ask ‘if we get ourselves right’
Taiwo Akerele, Is Country Director, Policy House International. He is the author of Sage of Growth and Stranger in Power and also the Chairman Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Abuja Chapter, who sent in this piece on the sidelines of the Green Energy meetings holding in Manhattan, New York, United States.