The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Re-Thinking the Knowledge-Based Economy

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In the past decades, terms such as 'knowledge-based economy (KBE)', and 'information/knowledge society' have been adopted by governments worldwide in order to underline their interest in developing their economies and societies further and assure future growth. Many governments used these catchwords as labels for programmes and action plans aiming at economic and social prosperity.

A knowledge-based economy is an economy in which the production, distribution, and use of knowledge is the main driver of growth, wealth creation and employment across all industries.

A knowledge society is a state of societal development, which is one phase higher than KBE and information society, where every member of it actually can and does use knowledge in order to create new knowledge.

There are two ways this can be done, either through a very strong broad based public private partnership (PPP) as is done by Germany or as in the case of Singapore, where the state takes the lead. Needless to say, the way you define knowledge has significant bearing in the approach and therefore the how. One common area for both is the need to have a lead agency or institution coordinating efforts within the economy geared towards this.

Rwanda is focused on the creation and shaping of a knowledge-based economy (KBE) and was originally approached among others by building vast information and telecommunication infrastructure, and computerising the public service and investing into computer education. While I am still trying to figure out who exactly leads the drive to create the KBE in Rwanda, I would assume that would be Rwanda Development Board (RDB). One thing is clear though; that in light of the obvious challenges within our private sector; the most logical path we can use is with the state at the helm.

As it is now, we probably need to examine how we define knowledge as this in turn will determine what actions we take, if knowledge generally has to be applicable and lead to financial profit within a limited time frame, sectors such as science and engineering will receive main attention. This might work for KBE but what we need is a knowledge society in which any kind of knowledge can be produced, taken up and developed further by potentially every member of society.

Whereas we are doing extremely well in government performance with regards to the planning for a knowledge-based economy and infrastructural development, we are still low in society, creativity, and innovation.

Whilst it is refreshing to see that Rwanda is investing in libraries, which are centres of knowledge creation and social capital building, until we understand that public libraries are more than just centres of knowledge transfer, for life styling and spending leisure time and to view them more as centres of discussion, critical thinking, interaction, cooperation and as centres of social capital production, it will count for naught.

We also need to strengthen the development of the creative industries because this is where creativity and innovation is born, consider the role of the movie industry in the growth of the US economy, over the years, the US military has often consulted the industry with regards to the concepts of several of its weapons and to run simulations and several 'movies' form a major part of the syllabus in US Army war colleges, it is this same military that leads in Research and Development (R&D) be it in advanced technologies, bio-medical research or academia.

Rwanda is serious and is on a direct path to success. However, it still needs strategic long-term investment in R&D in sectors such as science and technology but also in the development of arts, social sciences, law and business which are just as important, if not even more important. This strategic focus will in the medium to long term create knowledge with substance, ideas that will develop economy and society by combining the input of different sectors in order to inspire creativity.

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