Oil has made us billions and fueled our economic stability, but oil has also become the bane of our existence. For some, it is a curse that has caused poverty and corruption; for others it is an essential source of untold wealth and power.
But as the gap between rich and poor countries continues to expand, it is clear that intellectual capital and technology rule the world, and that natural resources such as oil, gold and diamonds are no longer the primary determinants of wealth.
Nations with few natural resources demonstrate greater economic growth rates than OPEC countries.
Japan’s economic growth, driven by technological superiority, outpaces that of Saudi Arabia; South Korea is growing faster than oil-rich Nigeria; and Taiwan’s economy has moved well beyond that of oil-rich Venezuela.
The United States and Norway are also rich in oil, yet their staggering economic growth comes from intellectual capital. It is not money but intellectual capital that drives prosperity.
More important, perhaps, is the reality that poverty is driven and sustained by a lack of intellectual capital.
The intimate relationship between intellectual capital and economic growth is as old as humanity itself and is well illustrated by this parable from ancient Babylon (modern-day Iraq).A man asked his children: “If you had a choice between the clay of wisdom or a bag of gold, which would you choose?” “The bag of gold, the bag of gold,” the naïve children cried, not realizing that wisdom had the potential to earn them many more bags of gold in the future.
Seven thousand years later, Iraq has its own private bag of gold as it sits atop the world’s third largest oil reserves. Meanwhile, Israel, tucked away in the hostile terrain of a barren desert, has the clay of wisdom, the weightless wealth of intellectual capital embodied in the collective mind of its people.
The striking economic gap that persists between rich and poor nations has increased sevenfold over the past century to what is now an all-time high. The accumulation of intellectual capital by rich nations has helped widen this gap because it has enabled them to control technology and collect hidden taxes from less affluent nations.
For instance, Nigeria pays a 40 percent “royalty” tax on its petroleum revenues to foreign oil companies that are ripping out its family jewels — the huge store of wealth in its oil fields. The deep oil reserves laid down by Mother Nature millions of years ago and nurtured through the millennia in Africa have been whittled away within decades.
For the dubious privilege of surrendering its natural resources forever, Nigeria is required to pay half its petroleum revenue in the form of “royalties” to the rich kids on the global block — the United States and the Netherlands.
Today, half the world’s three billion people live on an average of $500 a year. In contrast, Bill Gates earns $500 every second. By controlling technology and taxing computer users, Gates has become wealthier than each of the 70 poorest nations on earth and, using his financial might, has conquered more territory than Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great combined.
Gates by no means is the first to have taken on the huge potential offered by the realm of technology. The Romans used roads and military technology to expand their empire. And for centuries Britain ruled a quarter of the earth due to its unparalleled ability to command maritime technology and conquer the Seven Seas.
In the same way, the United States has embraced its technological supremacy, both offensively and defensively, to build its own global empire without a physical presence in any of its “colonies.”
Africa’s inability to realize its potential and embrace technology has left it at the mercy of the West. The time has come for Africa to resist the efforts of America and others to plunder its natural resources. Numerous examples throughout history support the idea that technology can be used as a tool of oppression. And there’s little doubt that America’s technological advancement has allowed it to exploit natural resources around the world.
This is particularly evident in Africa, where the U.S. is exploiting oil fields beneath the pristine rain forest and being rewarded with a 40 percent tax at the expense of the African people. This lends credence to history’s assertion that those who control technology oppress those who do not, eventually enslaving them and, finally, wielding power around the globe.
Nigerian-born Philip Emeagwali won the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize, the Nobel Prize of supercomputing. He has been called “a father of the Internet” by CNN and Time and “one of the great minds of the Information Age” by President Bill Clinton. The above is excerpted from a speech delivered at the African Diaspora Conference in Tucson, Ariz., on Sept. 29, 2007.