A Road to Extinction

Researched and written by the first Director of the Royal African Society, Dr Jonathan Lawley (Administrative Sciences MBA, 1994 and Chemistry, 1996) chronicles the fascinating 100,000-year history of the Andamanese aboriginals and showcases how modern society threatens to wipe out our earliest human ancestors.

We caught up with Jonathan who told us all about his recently published book, A Road to Extinction: Can Palaeolithic Africans survive in the Andaman Islands?, and his experiences at City.

Can you tell me about your time at City?

In August 1982, I was taken on by the Rio Tinto company to set up and run a pioneering programme; to train the first Indigenous technical managers for the mining industry in southern Africa. The methodology involved bringing the trainees, all graduates, to Europe for two academic years away from their home environment where for historical reasons, leadership and management were associated in everybody’s minds with white men. The aim was to help gain both skills and confidence through interspersed work attachments at mines and smelters and academic studies, involving amongst other things, accounts, economics and management theory leading to a MSc in Industrial and Administrative Sciences.

Arrangements were made by Rio Tinto with City for the academic modules to be under the umbrella of Prof John Donaldson, assisted by Dr Sue Grimes and in collaboration with the Business School. I was Trust Director with responsibility for the trainees, arranging work attachments and contributing to the academic programme and briefing the trustees.

As the programme got off to a shaky start, we adopted a tough new approach with work choices made by the company and by the time of the second annual intake of trainees, the companies were even more keen to accept them because of their hard work and commitment. We sent trainees on three work attachment to 32 companies in the UK, Ireland and Portugal and incorporated trainees from Brazil and Portugal. Besides the success of work attachments, the academic part of the programme was a huge success. Back home, virtually all trainees made rapid progress. We had broken new ground and through being very stimulated, I applied and was accepted to do a PhD in 1988.

What happened after you graduated?

After winding up the programme in 1994, the World Bank wanted to take me on a secondment from Rio Tinto to apply our methodology to the Russian Mining Industry but that did not work out. Instead, I was seconded to the British Executive Service Overseas as Africa Director. In 2000, I was appointed the first Director of the Royal African Society. Then from 2004 to 2016, I was Senior Adviser to the Business Council for Africa

Tell us how the idea for your new book A Road to Extinction came about?

My experience and PhD researches led to the conclusion that civilization and human progress, including overcoming our deficiencies, depends on what we learn and the perspectives we gain from contact with other cultures. My contact with the Andaman Islands, arising from five generations of family involvement, turns that theory on its head, as other cultures potentially threaten their way of life.

I wanted to help readers recognise the significance of tribes with lifestyles in total harmony and compatibility with their environment, which for centuries, they have fought to preserve against the threat posed by so called civilization. It is the life of our earliest human ancestors from whom we have much to learn. Now exploitative and demeaning tourism may threaten to destroy a human success story, many thousands of years old.

I was fascinated to discover, mainly from two books he had written, of my grandfather’s experiences when he was an administrator in the Andamans more than a hundred years ago. More recently, three factors have combined to make this story even more interesting. First was the murder of an American, would be missionary, on an outer island whose community is the only one in the planet with no links to the outside world. Then in March 2020 came DNA evidence linking the aboriginals, specifically to Botswana, which I know well. Now comes a new threat of Covid-19 to the continuing existence of the tribes.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

Seeing former trainees gain real self-confidence, having genuinely understood and embraced the management challenge and gone on to succeed. It was particularly rewarding to see, in an African context, the impression made in the UK of our single female trainee and to witness her subsequent career successes.

What has been the biggest challenges with writing your book?

Overcoming racist cynicism and gaining the genuine understanding of trainees of what management is really about.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?

Understand that there is as much potential technical management talent in Africa as anywhere else in the world.

A Road to Extinction: Can Paeolithic Africans survive in the Andaman Islands? is available now at: https://amzn.to/3f6YpmF. For further details about this book, download this Advanced Information sheet.