Nov 272007
 
Authors: Luci StorelliCastro

Dear Mates,

After the black stain left in our common human heritage by the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonial legacy, economic redress is certainly something the world owes Africa.

However, our debt to Africa does not end there. Adding to the list of ways Africa has been shortchanged throughout history is the overlooking of its contribution to science and technology.

Like most people, I was not aware of the significant gains made in the modern scientific tradition as a result of African scientific thought, prior to this semester. Even more foreign a concept was the idea that there was such a thing as African technological innovation.

In part, the on-the-ground situation in most African countries helps explain why this false perception of the continent’s scientific and technological incapacity continues to be perpetuated.

I can attest from my time in Ghana, for example, that science is not a strong suit within the educational curriculum. Where schools and research institutions in the developed world benefit from state-of-the-art equipment facilitating scientific rigor, that is not the case in Ghana where such institutions are strapped for resources. Moreover, one hardly hears of any new scientific discovery originating from Africa.

In terms of technology, Ghana does not fare much better. What are common technological fixtures in developed countries are largely absent or found to a much lesser degree within Ghana.

Another factor diminishing the role Africa has played in furthering scientific and technological advancements is the belief held by some that there exists a duality between African traditional thought and scientific-technological methods of inquiry.

The misconception of African traditional views as strictly anthropomorphic and superstitious has drawn much welcomed criticism over the years, however. Central in this effort has been G.P. Hagan, whose work on Akan aphorisms has exposed evidence of principles reminiscent of Newtonian mechanics.

An area in which African knowledge has been especially useful yet seriously unrecognized includes the realm of biomedical and pharmaceutical research.

For example, indigenous African herb specialists have discovered an array of anti-carcinogenic and anti-viral therapies.

Unfortunately, however, patent laws protecting these indigenous efforts against multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies are lacking.

This is the case in the controversy surrounding Michelamine, a compound discovered by native herbalists in the rainforest of Cameroon. Of course, the ante goes up considering Michelamine is believed to be a promising marker in the route to curing AIDS.

Writing about the Michelamine case, Dr. Helen Lauer of the University of Ghana said, “.if the promised drug ever comes to the world market, it will be subjected to the protections of the WTO, which is promoting an extension of patent laws to monopolize drug production world-wide. Then the drug will still cost too much to save the life of the child whose herbalist father first pointed out the plant’s value in the forest patch near his home to the inquiring pharmaceutical researchers on exploration from the US.”

Technological innovation is also not alien within Africa.

To provide just one example, Ghanaians have made a name for their cocoa by employing a bean drying procedure that is unique worldwide. According to economist Dr. O.A. Akoto, this procedure involves maintaining a 13 percent moisture content, which, in turn, adds 15 percent more value to Ghanaian cocoa in the global market.

These are only some of many examples of how Africa has contributed to the modern scientific cannon and technological progress. Yet, one finds that the continent is not given due credit for its contributions.

It goes without saying: Africa is long overdue in claiming entitlement to its legacy in the development of science and technology.

Luci Storelli-Castro is a senior political science and philosophy major. Her column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Leetters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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