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Challenges of African Development and the Role of Engineers

Updated on January 17, 2015

Collapse of buildings and structures under construction are no longer breaking news in African. And one might be patriotic enough to ask, is a building under construction supposed to collapse if it was well designed and executed? When you look further, you might be tempted to extend the question a bit; Are we supposed to be witnessing power failures and other failures in a region blessed with abundant natural and human resources? Why are the products from Africa not competing in the international market? Who then has a solution to these challenges? When things fall apart according to Prof. Chinue Achebe, its center can no longer hold. If a country fails to realize the role of engineers in her nation building and the engineers are leaving for greener-pastures abroad, then the country will continue to experience collapsed buildings and bridges, substandard products, failed roads, communication failures, environmental hazards, epileptic power supply to mention but the few as it is in Africa today.

Engineers are the backbone of nation building and the purpose of engineering is to innovate, design, create and maintain products, system and equipment for the benefit and wellbeing of humans.

Brief History of Engineering Impacts in Industrial Revolution

Engineers are one of the essential assets of a nation. Starting from the days of industrial revolution, the introduction of technologies, transportation and manufacturing, engineer had a deep impact on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the world. Inventors defined the wealth of a nation while engineers played a role in building and upholding a nation, together both push the world forward. Take the beginning of industrial revolution in United Kingdom as a case study. It was sparked by small number of innovations made towards the end 18th century such as rediscovering of concrete by British engineer, John Smeaton. Since then, it has become the foundation of almost every building in the world. Another technological progress in Britain during industrial revolution was the upgrading of steam engine by a Cornish engineer, Richard Trevithick who began to build higher pressure non-condensing steam engines, exhausting against the atmosphere. On the part of transportation, British engineers had offered a better path with engineered roads and railways constructed by John McAdam, Thomas Telford, Joseph Locke and George Stephenson. These contributions had directly reflected on the economy of United Kingdom by means of transporting goods throughout the nation as well as aiding other developments like factories. In a paper delivered at the inaugural meeting of Engineers’ Welfare Forum Jeddah (EWFJ), Shahid Karimullah described engineers as the backbone of country’s development. Who then is an engineer?

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Who is an Engineer?

Engineers are technically skilled professionals. They solve problem and focus on making things work efficiently and effectively by applying the theories and principles of sciences and mathematics to research, and develop economic solutions to technical problems. Engineer differs from scientist by the nature of their training. While the scientists try to explore the natural world and discover new knowledge about the universe and how it works, engineers apply that knowledge to solve real problems, often with an eye toward improving cost and efficiency. The purpose of engineering is to innovate, design, create and maintain products, system and equipment for the benefit and wellbeing of humans. Their works are the link between the perceived social needs and economic applications. They are the bridge between science and art.

Role of Engineers in Nation Building

Meanwhile, as nations in Africa are undergoing reformation and the economy is getting modernized, consumption patterns have expanded and demand is constantly on the increase. There is therefore a growing consciousness of quality control at every level of production. The engineers have to realize their responsibility and play an effective role in tackling today’s complex issues in the nation building. To build a nation is to make it habitable for the citizenry by providing social amenities, infrastructural facilities, job creation and security; the engineers therefore should know that they have a serious role to play. Thus, they are duty bond to design products, machineries and plants to manufacture these products, and systems to ensure quality and efficiency. They are to design, plan and supervise construction of buildings, and ensure their safety and stability against hazards; design highways, bridges, railways and transit systems, dams, irrigation canals, power system, ports, harbours as well as off-shore structures. Engineers should equally know that it is their duty to develop and implement improved ways to extract, process and use raw materials; develop new raw material that can improve product performance and take advantage of advances in technology to harness the power of the sun, the gas, the earth, atoms and electricity to supply the nation’s power needs; analyze the impact of the products they develop or system they design on the environment and the people; design ways of managing the municipal waste, converting or recycling them to useful products. Parts of their functions also include determining the cause of component failures, estimate the time and cost of completing new projects as well as maintaining the existing once. Some should move into engineering management and sales. In sales and management, an engineering background enables one to discuss the technical aspects of projects/products and assist in the planning, installation and product use.

With such a vast and varied nature of their job, they are really the backbone of a nation’s building and development, and their role should not be neglected in Africa’s development. The engineers on their part should be proud of what they do and contribute effectively towards the growth of Africa, and the society will be thankful to them.


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      4 years ago

      I enjoyed the article. Very informative.


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