Why Africans cannot produce complex things

Sunday November 10 2019



Alan Tacca

Alan Tacca 

By Alan Tacca

Another Sunday Monitor columnist, Musaazi Namiti, has been asking why Africans are such industrial dwarfs.
To those who have abandoned the ridiculous idea of an Adam as (literally) the first human, it is clear that the appearance of bipedal mobility among some primates was a slow gradual process anywhere over six million years ago, not a one-day magical event in Eden.

These early hominids were probably abundant as separate groups within one or more species, some interbreeding and some savaging and killing each other.
When modern man, Homo sapiens, emerges between 40,000 and 100,000 years ago and moves northward and eastward, he finds other hominids; most notably, the Neanderthals.

This encounter and other encounters left Homo sapiens dominant, and eventually the only surviving Homo type, even though he sometimes interbred with the now extinct Neanderthals and picked some genes from there. So, glory to you, super ape. You even invented a God in your image, when success went to your head.
A six-foot-six Amsterdam man with blond hair, a black-haired five-foot-three Chinese and an Equatorial Forest Pygmy belong to the same species, Homo sapiens, although they belong to different racial groups. Our Amsterdam man is Caucasoid; the Chinese is Mongoloid, and the Pygmy is Negroid.

If an Amsterdam type and a Pygmy decide to link up, a very close encounter might present some unusual problems in dynamic erotic geometry, but they can have offspring.
In Europe, for a play thing, there is a good chance the Amsterdam type will think of a toy with wheels or some rotation-based mechanism.
If they live in an African forest shack, the child will probably get a dull non-dynamic object.
This difference is important. I am not aware of wheels featuring anywhere in indigenous pre-colonial (sub-Sahara) African art and civilisation.

The value of the wheel in agriculture and transport is easily recognised. But the industrial ethos of European man hugely depended on harnessing, controlling, disrupting and otherwise manipulating rotary motion, and mastering the mathematics of rotation.
Civilisations that did not figure out, chance, or hook onto the power of rotary motion could be rich in other traditions (hunting, catching grasshoppers, or inventing gods and demons), but they are pathetically inadequate at fashioning and developing the tools, frames and components with which an industrial culture is built. Yes, culture; with its various industrial traditions.

If our Pygmy and Amsterdam type settle in Europe, their descendants will eventually be assimilated in European industrial culture.
If they settle in Ituri Forest, their descendants will learn the sounds and subtle smells of the forest, and discover human tracks and animal trails that probably puzzled the Amsterdam parent.
In the forest, they will learn from different Pygmies that certain complex aspects of ill health are caused by demons, rather than require elaborate laboratory tests and extensive clinical attention.
Such is the variety and resilience of the primate, Homo sapiens!
But isolated from ‘wheel’ civilisations, Africans remained largely hunters and gatherers.

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Even as they suddenly ‘arrive’ into their SUV wheels now, most Africans still basically think like hunters and gatherers.
Because they do not quite understand the gradual (cultural) aspect of industrial technology, Ugandans like Prof Tikodri, Trade minister Amelia Kyambadde and President Museveni believe they can design, develop and build successful electric cars before they master and make it ‘natural’ to manufacture wheelbarrows.
Instead, the Chinese, the Indians, the Koreans or the Europeans will build their cars on Ugandan soil. If Ugandans want to proudly thump their chests, the vehicles can be called Kiira Something.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.
altaccaone@gmail.com