Knowledge Generation and Transfer for Accessing Modernity in Africa


One of the main knowledge issues in development policies revolves around the fact that African Knowledge Societies (AKSs) are not generating new and useful knowledge for development, even though the African adventure is a source of inspiration for current generations in respect to innovation and knowledge creation.


In the African region, knowledge creation through research and development is an understaffed, under-equipped and under-funded activity (less than half a percent of GDP compared with more than two percent for the advanced economies). It is too disconnected from the potential users to be really effective. It is concentrated in agriculture with little industrial applications. Still in agriculture, the research is largely funded by external donors and has not been sufficiently effective to support a Green Revolution on the continent. Nonetheless, some significant, scattered and possibly overlapping research activities are being carried out in more than 300 research centers, which are useful for the learning, assessment, adaptation, dissemination, demonstration and monitoring of scientific advances in critical development areas.


Complementary external (leased) knowledge is acquired from an estimated 100,000 to 130,000 non-African expatriate knowledge workers, a relatively small number by any standards. It reflects AKSs’ low level of economic development as well as a difficult policy and security environment for expatriates. Thus, this leased knowledge should be better linked to knowledge transfer and appropriation mechanisms. Policies need to be dramatically improved in many parts of AKSs to attract the desired foreign knowledge workers. These policies should go way beyond the issuance of limited work permits and tax considerations to include the right to buy land and properties, long-term residence visas, dual nationalities, etc. Foreign and African companies have complained that recruiting foreign expertise is difficult in many African countries.


 In general, AKSs are not producing much patented or other forms of protected development knowledge. Furthermore, this patented knowledge is not exploited due to un-enabling innovation and business environments, which lead to difficulties of application. Patented knowledge creates rarity and, for this reason, value. In this area, ARIPO and OAPI are working hard to build capacities. Also, institutions have been put in place in many AKSs to assist inventors and creators.


Africa could move from less than one tenth of one percent of the world’s patented knowledge, currently concentrated at around 88% in Republic of South Africa (RSA), to more inventive and creative knowledge generation. Imported, ready-made or off-the shelf knowledge could progressively be adapted and enriched with self-produced knowledge.  Digging for, validating, creating and discovering new knowledge could challenge revealed or sacrosanct knowledge and lead the continent to some form of modernity.