The importance of technical experts who are embedded in a society
Engineers have been seen as implementers of colonialism but have also led countries through transformation
Cape Town’s water crisis arose in large measure because the city’s administration took advice from people who think they live in Europe. It shows why we need to decolonise engineering. The challenge for SA’s engineering professionals is to keep policy debates technically informed while contributing to the country’s transformation in a world that distrusts experts. To start, we must first acknowledge engineering’s colonial heritage and its impact. Arthur Lewis, the first and only black person to win the Nobel Prize for economics, wanted to become an engineer. He didn’t, because of the colonial colour bar in the West Indies. "I wanted to be an engineer," he said in his Nobel acceptance speech, "but this seemed pointless since neither the government nor the white firms would employ a black engineer." Lewis’s story shows how engineering in Europe’s colonies was affected by colonial racism. What could he have achieved as an engineer rather than an economist? What would he have been allow...