Climate: Should Africa’s lack of ingenuity be rewarded?

Author: Alan Tacca. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

‘‘ Africa has contributed less to global warming because of industrial technical incompetence”

Some weeks back, I had a close encounter with a BMW M5 finished in matt avocado. Because it was parked at a busy Kampala street corner, I could walk round it without appearing to take special interest. Hopefully, street camera footage would not mark me as a car theft suspect.
On test, the M5 delivers an awesome 373KW of power, accelerates to 100 KPH in around five seconds, and its maximum speed is in practice unreachable on Uganda’s roads.

For that performance, the machine has a 10-cylinder/5-litre engine that guzzles between 15 and 25 litres of petrol every 100 kilometres, depending on road conditions, driving style and other variables; almost three times the fuel consumption of BMW’s 320i. Who owned this beautiful powerful machine with a price tag that would make even Uganda’s top politicians halt a little when shopping for their official cars and birthday gifts? 
I am still smiling. The car had South Sudanese number plates. 

As I write on Tuesday, reports of floods ravaging parts of South Sudan have been coming in. And, naturally, appeals for international aid are going out. In Somalia, it is prolonged drought and famine.
Climate scientists do not connect the specific weather disaster in South Sudan to a particular industrial process that produced a particular M5 parked on a Ugandan street. Their science is very complex, because it involves the computation or resolution of so many variables that are not always obvious. It usually identifies trends and general patterns. That is why you have more climate change sceptics than mosquito-and-malaria deniers.
Now, when the combination of technologies behind the M5 were being developed in the course of civilisation, and more directly the internal combustion engine, climate science did not have the tools and knowledge available today.

Western inventors of the day did not say: “Let us create machines that (both in their production and road use) will cause enough damage to the environment to give trouble to climate scientists and policymakers in the 21st Century.”
Nor did their African counterparts say: “No, we shall not be part of this technology. Our gods have prescribed for us creative boundaries by which the planet will be preserved. Our seeming technical limitation is for the benefit of all mankind. We will deliberately remain backward because we are foresighted.”

There were no such moral formulations. If Africans had the same technical knowhow, they would have probably achieved the same industrial advances and caused the same environmental damage.
The Nuer or Dinka tribesman of South Sudan with whatever connections, or your top politicians, or your generals, or your city tycoons, or your pastors; they will all earn, con or steal any-which-way to acquire and flaunt First-World luxuries. It is easier to find a European MP riding a bicycle than their African equal driving a small car to Parliament.
Africa has contributed less to global warming than the developed countries because of industrial technical incompetence.
And it is because of her poverty, not better habits, that Africa’s consumers have caused less general environmental damage. 
Much of the ‘donor’ money poured into South Sudan has been stolen to buy foreign luxury goods.

For Uganda, increasing industrial production has meant unleashing foreign investors to systematically invade her swamps.
To work for change, African politicians are doing what they do best: monetising their disadvantage and demanding ‘compensation’. In our corrupt systems, that probably means freeing resources for more mindless consumption, encouraging more damage instead of nurturing responsible climate mindsets for constructing greener development models.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.
[email protected]