Knowledge as a Catalyst for Africa’s Sustainable Development

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda, adopted by the United Nations on September 25th 2015, are inspired by the noble purpose of ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring sustainable and universal prosperity.

The African continent is no stranger to these goals. However, the latest economic indicators point to a worrying slowdown in growth. In April this year, the Director of the African Department (AFR) at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Abebe Selassie, said that average growth in sub-Saharan Africa will remain below 4% in the medium term, compromising Sustainable Development Goals.

In this context, the IMF in its World Economic Outlook report presented Mozambique’s economic growth forecast of 3% for this year and 2.5% for next year which represents a downward revision from the 5.3% that the IMF predicted in October of last year. Also by 2023, when natural gas megaprojects are expected to start generating large revenues, the IMF revised its projected growth downward from 14 to 9.9%.

The Knowledge Society and Economy

Given this scenario, it is essential to invest in long-term policies and in the economic and social transformation of our country through the construction of a knowledge society. As I said before, sustainable development is a human process: it is investing in people and their transformational capacity that organizations and states must focus on to promote this and knowledge is one of the most decisive factors for accelerating the rate of positive social change.

Most development economists are unanimous in stating that the knowledge economy will be the foundation of economic and social progress over the next century. However, the construction of such an economy and society requires a change of structural policies and a strong investment in the development of human capacities. To this end, policy makers should focus their efforts on the four pillars of the knowledge economy as defined by the World Bank’s Knowledge Economy Index.

The Four Pillars of the Knowledge Economy

The first pillar is education. Policy-makers need to implement ambitious actions not only to increase access to education and training programs, but also to improve the quality and availability of such programs, particularly in the technical fields, throughout the working life of citizens. Creating lifelong learning opportunities is the only way to enable the workforce to adapt to evolving technological conditions.

A critical success factor for the improvement of education systems will be a strong focus on Academia in order to train excellent teachers who promote knowledge sharing for the younger generations as well as the development of scientific research activities.

On the other hand, the strengthening of Academia is fundamental to the second pillar of a knowledge economy: innovation. For the time being, developing economies can take advantage of technological catch-up. However, the capacity to import external models is limited, and nations will have to move from imitation to genuine innovation.

In the context of most developing countries, it is essential to bet on technological programs as well as import technology that contributes to the training of the local workforce. On the other hand, these countries have the opportunity to achieve great technological advances and enjoy leapfrog development.

With this in mind, investment in the development of information and communication technologies, the third pillar of a knowledge-based economy, is essential. Investment in infrastructure enabling the deployment of ICT services must be a priority. Innovation and adaptation to the local context will be critical factors for this, as will regulatory policies that promote competition in the sector.

The last pillar of a knowledge economy is comprised of incentives and institutions. As countries move forward in the process of economic transformation, companies will need support to become competitive. On the other hand, it is essential to create the necessary conditions to achieve a good business environment in order to promote the development of the private sector. Furthermore, it is essential to build strong institutions capable of promoting this transformation, as well as ensuring confidence and management capacity in times of crisis.

Building a knowledge-based society and economy is a complex and long-term process that requires the involvement of the Public Sector, Private Sector and Civil Society. However, the dices are already being rolled and it will be up to each one of us to assume a participatory role in this process.