The global economy is currently undergoing a major shift to a knowledge-based economy. The broad consensus, evidenced by extensive World Bank data, is that this shift presents a major opportunity for developing nations. In a knowledge-based economy, the principle means of exchange and creation of value is through knowledge. Key enablers of the knowledge value chain include the development of collaborative communities with aligned or complementary objectives and the facilitation of knowledge access designed to catalyse innovation, application and implementation.
Through embracing a knowledge-based economy, Africa can make disproportionate progress by building on its own natural strengths to overcome perceived challenges and disadvantages. By developing a knowledge-based economy infrastructure across the entire continent, Africa can overcome tendencies towards knowledge silos and socially exclusive knowledge infrastructures. Various scholars have questioned why Africa should be part of the global knowledge economy; why and how can Africa mobilise its indigenous knowledge, innovation systems and natural resources in the promotion of sustainable development and community livelihoods.
The experience in other developing countries such as South Korea, Singapore, etc. has demonstrated that knowledge is the foundation of sustainable development. A global knowledge revolution is taking place, leading to a post-industrial society. The mega-trends in this knowledge revolution and globalisation include: an explosion of telecommunications; intensified global competition; scientific advances in areas such as bio-technology; increased exchanges of technology (international licensing flows); and knowledge investments which exceed capital goods investments. It is argued that Africa missed the opportunity of going through an industrial era. Therefore, Africa now needs to take advantage of its Indigenous Knowledge and innovation systems, including resources, to participate effectively in the knowledge revolution characterised by a shift from a resource-based to a knowledge-based economy.
Africa‘s sustained economic growth will increasingly depend on the continent‘s economic capacity for innovation, as well as its ability to produce a wider array of goods and services, to accelerate the pace of technological change and to integrate with the global economy. Enhancing this capacity will require investment in human resources development and a strengthening of the innovation environment and Africa‘s information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure. If Africa is to benefit from the ICT revolution, more work is needed to review and modernise telecommunication policies and regulations to generate fair competition and
reduce high communication and operational costs. It is this consideration that highlights the importance of the quality of education Africa should offer, particularly tertiary education, as it is a crucial element of the capacity to innovate. Alders (2003) emphasises that innovation is the path to economic diversification and moving up the value chain. The following section looks at the role of Indigenous Knowledge (IK) and innovation systems in promoting a sustainable knowledge economy.