YAOUNDÉ – Development economists often differ with one another, but they agree on this: the knowledge economy will be the foundation of every nation’s progress in the twenty-first century. Yet while East Asia and other regions have been making substantial gains in building a knowledge economy, Africa has not.
It is not too late to change that. But to do so requires a shift from “hard” strategies like structural adjustment to “soft” ones – in particular, the development of human capabilities. In engineering that shift, leaders should focus on developing the four pillars of a knowledge economy, as defined by the World Bank’s Knowledge Economy Index.
The first pillar is education. African policymakers need to implement ambitious measures not only to increase enrollment in schools and training programs, but also to improve the quality and availability of such programs, particularly in technical fields, throughout workers’ lives.
Creating lifelong learning opportunities is the only way to enable the labor force to adapt to constantly evolving technological conditions. Policymakers therefore need to establish mechanisms for providing practical vocational and on-the-job technical training, whether directly or by creating incentives for companies. Delivering, say, advanced imported technologies that companies might not be able to afford on their own would be a powerful inducement for them to contribute to upgrading the skills of the local labor force.