A Knowledge Economy could be Africa’s Saviour- Alex Ndung’u Njeru. -September 15, 2011

About a month ago, I found myself among a caucus of young and promising African students and young professionals debating Africa’s future. All of us were cautiously optimistic that indeed Africa’s future was bright and held promise.

Convinced that that the issues that beleaguer the state of the economy in Africa had not been adequately addressed, I decided to take up the issue with three of my friends. I asked them why they thought the USA was a super power as it was. One of them said to me it was because the USA had subdued the rest of the world with its superior military while the other told me that it was so because of a center-periphery relationship that allows the USA to appropriate the rest of the worlds’ resources in an unchecked manner.

While I reckon that it would be harder to find young intellectuals who would fundamentally stray from my two friends, the answer I believed lay in a not so conspicuous fact. “Why do you think this is so? They asked.
In as a plain and simplistic language as I could I tried to explain that the USA is a world power because of massive investment in technology. For me the USA as it is, was truly a knowledge economy whereas the rest of the world and more so the developing world with Africa as an example was panting to get there. Harvard Business School Professor, Michael Porter asserts that today’s economy is far more dynamic and that comparative advantage is less relevant than competitive advantage which rests on “making more productive use of inputs, which requires continual innovation.”

For instance The World Intellectual Property Indicators, 2009 reports that; “Residents of Japan and the United States own approximately 47% of the 6.3 million patents in force across the world. The majority of patent filings are from residents of industrialized countries and there is a strong relationship between the volume of patent filings and the level of GDP and investment in research and development. China, Japan and the United States of America (US) are the top three ranked countries in terms of GDP and R&D. In 2007, about 59.2% of world patent filings were filed in these three countries alone.” Africa is conspicuous in her absence of new patent applications.

Africa indeed cannot catch up with the rest of the developed world and emerging markets if specific efforts were not put in place to accelerate the emergence guided fundamentally by new and relevant innovations in a global world. Thus efforts have to be taken in order to protect intellectual property rights that in order to inspire individuals to be creative and earn value for innovations. Gaps in the area of property rights and cryptic patent procedures generally work to the detriment of Africa’s economic development.

Africa’s history has been blighted by ineptness by her intellectuals who failed to understand Africa’s economic history thus steering the continent at her birth towards socialism. In this regard caution must be taken in order to ensure that we understand the panacea to Africa’s economic development. As such we will not misappropriate blame to external powers whereas we hold the solutions to our own problems.

Alex Ndung’u Njeru is Kenyan and an associate of AfricanLiberty.org