OP-UNEDITED | Africa: Time to Focus on High Value Knowledge Economies – By Babatope Falade
By Babatope Falade
Mankind has witnessed four industrial revolutions, as characterized by Klaus Schwab, founder of World Economic Forum in his new book; the fourth industrial revolution.
Professor Schwab highlighted the various industrial revolutions with the explanation below;
“The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”
The question around the profound insight Professor Schwab states lies in the pace at which the fourth revolution is moving. He observes correctly that compared to other revolutions, digital revolutions are moving exponentially and inherently don’t brook linear growth.
In a world where billions of mobile devices are connected and where population growth and equal access to opportunities (social, economic, cognitive and political) is threatened, this calls for worry in parts of the word such as Africa.
Much of Africa’s economic growth is based on commodities. This is hardly a ground or foundation for sustainable development. The risk around external factors such as economic slowdowns in patron and importing countries calls for caution. The evidence is seen in the fall of crude oil prices leaving countries like Nigeria scampering for best adaptive fiscal and monetary policies without much success.
The way out of this perennial problem is creation of high value sectors in manufacturing, information technology, finance and the real sector. The solution is creating a high-value knowledge economy. I emphasize on the high value because previous and current rhetoric and academic literature may suggest that there is no knowledge economy. This makes it confusing for stakeholders in government and private sector to appreciate the job that needs to be done.
Imagine a continent where biotechnology, artificial intelligence, computing power, mobile technologies, genetic engineering and information technology innovation is at its best. How does that sound for Africa?
A high value knowledge economy is one which seeks to use best practices globally and application of sophisticated local knowledge to improve production output for both the goods and services economy.
“A high value knowledge economy is one which seeks to use best practices globally and application of sophisticated local knowledge created by local knowledge workers to improve production output value for both the local goods and services economy”.
The usage of high value helps connote the need to meet up with global standards in terms of education and conditions needed to produce goods and services that compete globally. When countries like China are leaving the export led model as the primary source of growth, we should not just adopt the same industrial policy and export model. What we need to do is drive our industrial policy alongside a high-value knowledge economy.
To create a high value knowledge economy, we need to do the following;
- Make computer knowledge compulsory in schools
- Promote STEM courses fanatically
- Map our existing creative and knowledge economy and identify the role outsourcing is currently playing. Is this role harmful in the long run? How can we partner to mitigate the harmful effects? We still need to open up to gain more foreign knowledge.
- What is the regime of patents and local innovation like? What sort of royalty system exists? Do local patents get stolen or monetized to our detriment by foreign institutions. This assessment needs to be done across sectors (informal, formal, indigenous and modern).
- We need a computer education bill across regional bodies like ECOWAS, EAC, states and federal levels across Africa.
- Every African country must adopt a comparative advantage approach to create this high value knowledge. The application of regional clusters in Rwanda for development as designed by Professor Michael Porter can be deferred to. It’s just that a focus on production and documentation of knowledge in this case must be involved.
Africa has been able to leapfrog mobile technologies from the era of laptops we have been able to use mobile telephony to improve our daily life’s. However, it’s proven that information technology will increasingly determine the quality of life and quality monitoring of African’s.
We will be consumers or producers of these technologies? I prefer the latter. It’s time we focused on High Value knowledge economies in Africa.
Babatope Falade-Onikoyi is a public policy analyst whose focus is on the knowledge economy. He has written extensively on the subject. He is the founder of Knowledge Economy Africa and the CEO of Walter and Edwards Communications. He tweets via @topefalade
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