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The myths, risks, and rhetoric surrounding Africa's knowledge economy

Did you miss out on our offline and online debates on Africa's knowledge economy? Catch up below


  1. Despite recent crises, Africa’s reputation as an economically vibrant continent remains strong. Yet while broader economic and financial indicators improve, Africa is still lagging behind other countries in the global knowledge economy, defined as an economic environment ‘where knowledge-intensive activities contribute to an accelerated pace of technical and scientific advancement’.
  2. On Friday 24, we partnered with SciDev.Net to host two events on the myths, risks and rhetoric surrounding Africa’s knowledge economy. In the morning, the Rt Hon Lord Paul Boateng chaired a roundtable discussion on this topic at One Great George Street, with presentations from a panel including Nick Perkins, Director, SciDev.Net, Mariéme Jamme, CEO, SpotOne Solutions, Dr Dirk Willem te Velde of the Overseas Development Institute, and Jonathan Batty, Communications Leader, IBM Global Labs. That afternoon, SciDev.Net took the debate online. Here’s a quick recap of the day.
  3. Lord Paul Boateng opened the roundtable discussion with a short analysis of Africa’s progress and a brief introduction to our distinguished panellists.
  4. Following this, Nick Perkins provided a useful overview of the global knowledge economy. He noted that a shift in the world’s most economically advanced countries away from traditional manufacturing and service industries towards economies driven by knowledge and information has accelerated in recent decades, and talked about how Africa fits into this.
  5. Despite this concerning trend, Dr Dirk Willem te Velde pointed out that there are many interesting examples of African countries making strong efforts to diversify their economies.
  6. Leading Senegalese technologist and entrepreneur, Mariéme Jamme, focused her attention on the quality and quantity of data on the continent, and its implications for Africa’s knowledge economy.
  7. Jonathan Batty rounded off the presentations with a sweeping overview of IBM’s presence on the continent. He observed that the company absolutely believes in the future of Africa, and believes that there’s a huge business opportunity in the mid to long term. However, he did speak about some of the challenges in doing business on the continent.
  8. From there, Lord Boateng opened the discussion to all our attendees. It was fantastic to see the strong levels of engagement among our guests and listen to the wide-ranging discussion. Issues raised included the need to foster entrepreneurship and other soft skills in students, the importance of IP rights, developing a strong culture of reading, and ensuring that African scientists can help set the global research agenda.
  9. Sir Christopher Edwards rounded off the morning’s event by providing a brief recap of the conversation. He also noted that the knowledge economy is a very abstract concept, and we need to remember that higher education is a key component. In conclusion, Sir Christopher paraphrased Winston Churchill by arguing that Africa ‘needs pillars and flying buttresses’ to support its burgeoning knowledge economy. We need to ensure that there are strong links between knowledge bases on the continent and to institutions around the world.
  10. The debate goes online
  11. At 1pm BST, SciDev.Net took this very topical debate to the world, with Nick Perkins chairing a two-hour online discussion on the topic. He was also joined by a distinguished panel from across the continent who included Gibril Faal, interim director of the Africa-Europe Development Platform, Pelly Malebe, junior researcher at the Agricultural Research Council in South Africa, Tebello Nyokong, professor at Rhodes University, South Africa, and Afua Osei, a Nigerian social entrepreneur and management consultant.
  12. Before the event had even officially started a lively exchange had already begun to develop on the debate page. Nick Perkins formally opened the proceedings with the following question.
  13. Before we get too far, I would like us to take a moment to explore some of the assumptions about what the knowledge economy offers. So what is the evidence so far that the knowledge economy is indeed good for Africa?