Knowledge societies are important pillars of the fourth industrial revolution and realizations of the global Agenda 2030. While in the 20th century the premium was on commodities such as minerals and agricultural products, the 21st century is all about the knowledge economy where winners and losers are determined by how knowledge is deployed and utilized.
For Africa to participate effectively in the fourth industrial revolution and not be a spectator as in the earlier ones, there is need for a paradigm shift.
Africa has been a knowledge consumer for too long with minimal knowledge production. There is need to move up the knowledge food chain and be knowledge generators as well. Metrics such as the number of researchers per capita, scientific publications, citations and patents clearly indicate that Africa is a sleeping giant performing far below its potential.
Knowledge generation is intertwined with Research and Development (R&D) activities and here, output depends on the investments in human, infrastructural and financial capacities. Sub-Saharan Africa still lags behind because of insufficient investment in R&D. Africa Union’s aspirations to have member states invest 2% of their GDP into R&D is laudable and will be a game changer. In addition, UNESCO’s push for open science is timely as this will bridge the north-south knowledge divide and democratize science and knowledge as public goods.
Africa is the youngest continent which comes with its benefits of creativity and innovation and challenges of pressure on social services. Reaping demographic dividends will depend on the quality of skills imparted to the young people. The education system should be adaptable and focus on lifelong learning and inculcate skills to relearn and even unlearn. With most current jobs likely to be lost to emerging and disruptive technologies such as robotics and 3-D printing, low-skilled work force in manufacturing and agriculture will be the most affected. This may introduce a new gender dimension as women make up most of those disproportionately affected by these job losses occasioned by new technologies. We should prepare to retrain this work force so as not to widen the existing economic and gender gaps. Leveraging on e-learning and open access platforms so that availability of class rooms and labs will not remain a bottle neck towards acquisitions of skills and provision of quality and up to date education, is the way to go.
Internet connectivity in Sub-Saharan Africa has exploded in the last few years, a big achievement for inclusivity. However, the region still lags behind in software development, and internet domain registrations indicators of effective digital innovations. It appears, connectivity does not guarantee innovation.
Mobile money innovations which have revolutionized financial sectors were a milestone in Fintech, Kenya. These have brought the critical financial services to a significant population which has previously been left out by the financial and banking sector. These innovations should provide the quantum leap for economic empowerment through e-commerce by seamlessly connecting the producers and consumers of goods and services.
The conference, whose focus was the Knowledge Agenda for Africa, was held from 25th to 26th September, 2019 at the United Nations Office, Nairobi.