Tracing the Roots of Stunted Development to the Neglect of Scientific Thinking

Published on 10th September 2019

The Destined Death of Rationality from the Dearth of Scientific Credo

In March 2019, I reflected on the tough questions of Africa’s unity from technical perspectives (United States of Africa or Regional Blocs?). A key conclusion of the discourse was that true leaders bear the inescapable duty to overcome the temptations of greed and any vainglorious entitlements to resource ownership that go against scientific credo, the common good, and long-term development strategies. Against all rationality, however, the statistics and geography of repeated errors that simply reinforce the neglect of scientific thinking by leaders in decision-making processes have been growing fast. Familiar examples can explain this concern in a concise and compelling way.

The Place of Scientific Thinking in Systems Thinking

As opposed to the traditional limited linear thinking, systems thinking affords us the big picture, an expanded worldview which resonates with the way nature works. Examples of inextricable interconnectedness, interdependence, interrelationships, and interactions in nature are all around us. The water cycle is a ready example, just like the other biogeochemical cycles. The African Union 2063 Agenda and the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda owe their realisation to the principles of systems thinking. Scientific thinking is a key tenet of systems thinking, enabling us to acknowledge that knowledge is progressive. As such, we must accept that our viewpoints and models are limited and are at best only “working hypotheses” which need to be improved through continuous research and development efforts.

Bolstered by this fact when representing universities on a panel discussing institutional roles in realising the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), I relayed a key message to the participants of the International Conference on Earth Observation for Evidence-Based Decision Making held in Nairobi, August 13 – 16, 2019: African governments must learn from the examples of the countries posting better development outcomes by embracing scientific evidence to inform decisions. Investing more in Research and Development (R&D) to emulate the level of 2-4% of the GDP such countries have been dedicating to R&D is essential, as is the enhancement of the efficiencies of such spending. The same message trail challenged African researchers and scientists to rise to their call of selfless, ethical and excellent service to society with their honed talents – working in partnership with all policymakers of goodwill in a productive engagement cycle.

The Synergy of Quality Education and Structured Mentorship

The education system in place must also inculcate in learners the desired culture of selfless, ethical and excellent service with intergenerational responsibility. Structured mentorship and internships must be strengthened to help mature the raw academic qualifications of young graduates into meaningful fruits on the market. Putting it figuratively in familiar agricultural experience, I liken academic qualifications to the essential vegetative growth of plants, manifested in the verdure of healthy leaves. However, this type of growth boosted by nitrogenous fertilisers must not be the sole business. Fruit bearing should take over at the expected stage, calling for the due role of a different type of fertilisers – phosphatic fertilisers. Respectively, these fertilisers represent school training and structured mentorship and/or internship. However much any government invests in education, schools remain a model reality. Schools, therefore, will not be able to replicate the real marketplace where practical skills are the genuine currency of daily transactions.

Seeing the big picture is a central goal of systems thinking and it unambiguously shows that quality education cannot thrive in isolation. Education must be managed and administered from the very beginning with the ultimate end in mind. This end is not about graduation or good grades, but rather the graduates’ lifelong and disciplined engagement with the real world thereafter, and their ultimate concrete and positive impact on society.

The Systemic Pitfall in Constituting Critical Taskforces

The trend of forming critical decision-making teams and bodies without giving adequate weight to the composition of key scientific and technical persons has been defended by politicians. They, however, resort to citing skewed examples. The basic wisdom is that if one is looking for weaknesses and stereotypes in any category of persons, one will find them. Systems thinking affords us the balanced view that weaknesses cannot miss among the persons they defend for such appointments either. Following are the key examples which need urgent redress:

Proposed models of transforming public education systems: Whenever they do not first weigh the structural implications with the end in mind nor actively and timely involve all critical stakeholders, especially teachers (Kenya’s drama has been a clear example on this conflict).

Taskforces on determining land rights and boundaries: Whenever they are full of eloquent non-technical persons at the expense of survey and mapping experts, the undisputed professionals qualified in this case to give substantive rationality and cadastral intelligence (examples to be found in the teams mandated to resolve boundary disputes, especially where coveted natural resources such as minerals have been discovered).

Benefits sharing for community beneficiation: Whenever they are still being decided by formulae and/or committees that cannot discharge objective and shared visual evidence, even at a time when spatial technologies for mapping out resources and IT-enabled algorithms are advancing decision-ready capabilities (uncountable examples to be found in Africa’s mining sector and the operationalisation of mining regulations).

Though this list is not exhaustive, the loud message it passes on to African leaders is, “There is no highway out of stunted development except the uphill road built of the humbling blocks of scientific credo and enhanced R&D.”

By Nashon Adero,

The author is a youth mentor, writer, and a lecturer at Taita Taveta University, Kenya.

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