Namibia’s progress towards Information/Knowledge Society status


In 2004, the Government of the Republic of Namibia launched a document that will see the country as an industrialised nation. This document is known as Namibia Vision 2030 and it states that “Namibia will be transformed into a knowledge-based society” by 2030 (2004, p. 10). However, the document does not mention how this will be achieved.

A knowledge economy is one where economic value is found more in the intangibles, such as new ideas, software, services and relationships, and less in the tangibles like physical products, tonnes of steel or acres of land (Thompson et al.: 2000, p. 122). The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (1996, p. 7) defines knowledge-based economies as “economies which are directly based on the production, distribution and use of knowledge and information”.

An Information society is defined on Wikipedia (2010) as “a society in which the creation, distribution, diffusion, use, integration and manipulation of information is a significant economic, political and cultural activity”. The information economy, through the increased use of information (and associated technologies) by businesses (and others), creates new industrial structures, patterns and trends, as well as new services and products (Turner: 2000, p. 1).

Government policies and programmes

The Namibian government have put in place some policies to initiate and accelerate development. A knowledge-based economy forma part the programmes and policies. Vision 2030 mentions the following as complex agents of Namibia’s development: “education, science and technology; health and development; sustainable agriculture; peace and social justice; [as well as] gender equality” (2004, p. 11). Although some of the agents mentioned are not drivers of a knowledge economy, they are instead driven faster by a knowledge economy. Education, science and technology drive the knowledge economy by changing the mindsets of people, improving skills and inspiring innovation and new ideas.

Since the introduction of Vision 2030, Namibian institutions of higher learning have developed their training outcomes, including curriculum change, to meet the requirements of the Vision. They have prepared, and continue to prepare human resources to be creative and innovative. In order for Namibia to match forward and achieve a status of a knowledge society, its citizens must acquire competitive skills in all sectors of development.

“It is generally accepted that national economies are more and more dependent on the acquisition, dissemination and use of knowledge as well as on how well the national innovation system supports the process of economic development. To this end, there are a number of Government initiatives where knowledge has and will continue to become a pivotal rural livelihood empowering strategy” (NDP3 vol. 1: 2008, p. 149). Although Namibians are using information to turn it into knowledge, they are doing this at a slow pace. This may be because most people in rural areas do not have access to crucial information sources such as newspapers and internet services.

Some initiatives created by the government in partnership with international organisations is ETSIP. ETSIP (The Education and Training Sector Improvement Programme) has many programmes, one of which is knowledge creation and innovation. In order for a country to become a knowledge-based economy, it must be able to create knowledge and new innovations. As knowledge has become a more critical determinant of economic growth than the traditional factors of production, this knowledge should be created to place value on the end-products. Creation of knowledge is undertaken through research. However, research produced in Namibia by Namibians is inadequate and non-accessible to the general public. Sometimes research published by government institutions is treated as top-secret.

The NDP3 vol. 1 (2008, p.149) defines innovation as “the process through which social and economic value is extracted from knowledge through the creation, acquisition, diffusion and transformation of knowledge to produce new or significantly improved processes and products”. As more and more Namibians acquire knowledge, they have began to produce new products or improve systems and existing products, thus adding value to local products and improving the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the country.

“When we talk about knowledge generation, we mean the knowledge acquired by [a country] as well as that developed within it” (Davenport & Prusak: 2000, p. 53). Knowledge can be acquired and developed through conferences and sharing ideas. Though there are some challenges in distributing knowledge and making it freely available, there are also some achievements made by Namibia to achieve the status of a knowledge society.

Some of the achievements mentioned by the ETSIP programme (2007, §3) includes “an emerging knowledge base on which a knowledge and innovation system can be built. This includes the research and consultancy wings of tertiary education and training institutions, research departments of government ministries, independent research and consultancy firms and individual researchers”.

Progress

Some local communities have generated and transferred indigenous knowledge over the years, which can be integrated into the economy of the country and codified into explicit knowledge, which can be used by the rest of the citizens.

The country is not progressing well because of minimal investment in research and development as well as in national data and information collecting institutions like libraries. This is because these institutions are a means to spearhead and strengthen the knowledge-base of the country. Although the progress is slow, the country is moving up the ladder. For example the “number of patents (inventions) registered in the baseline NDP2 years is 73” (NDP3: 2008, p. 57).

NDP3 (2008, p. 56) states: “There is a “digital divide” within Namibia, which is a result of the uneven socio-economic levels of the people, unequal education levels and the huge income gap between the rich and the poor. A major barrier to implementation of this key result area is a lack of access to electricity in rural areas. There is also a lack of a supportive environment which could encourage private initiatives to deliver technology solutions that suit low-income groups”.

According to ETSIP (2007, §3), “The challenges therefore are: (a) the lack of a system for identifying sectors whose productivity is constrained by the lack of relevant knowledge and technology; (b) the lack of a national system for the coordination and development of science and research capacity, and (c) the lack of a system for linking knowledge demand to effective supply of knowledge”. To move closer to the realisation of being a knowledge economy, Namibia should implement the existing policies and introduce new policies that enable knowledge sharing and creation to take place.

The government of Namibia is encouraging its citizens to be trained in the fields of science, engineering and information technology in order for the country to have an adequate skilled labour force. This skilled work force will creative and able to innovate. According to Willis (2008, p. 11), “The race for the best ideas now extends far beyond the boundaries of even the largest organisation, so [countries] are now having to learn to operate in supply chains of knowledge”.

There is a need for Namibia to diversify its economy in order to maintain high and sustained economic growth, as well as achieving the status of a knowledge-based economy. The government continues to invest heavily in the development of Namibia’s human capital. This is done to encourage improvements in academic outcomes and also increase skills.

Conclusion

Namibia is moving a step closer to the realisation of becoming a knowledge economy. This is because of the infrastructure being laid down as drivers of such a status.

Tacit and explicit knowledge are required to drive and achieve the status of knowledge or information society. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reiterates that “employment in the knowledge-based economy is characterised by increased demand for more highly-skilled workers”. Therefore, “Government policies will need more stress on upgrading human capital through promoting access to a range of skills, and especially the capacity to learn; enhancing the knowledge distribution power of the economy through collaborative networks and the diffusion of technology; and providing the enabling conditions for organisational change at the firm level to maximise the benefits of technology for productivity” (1996, p. 7).

Namibia seems to be making little progress to achieve the knowledge or information status. The knowledge distribution power is not maximised. This includes funding libraries, which are knowledge reservoirs, to have more resources (explicit knowledge) which will give rise to innovation. Because of the technology gap between rural and urban areas, Namibia is lagging behind other countries. It is therefore imperative to reduce the gap and strengthen the industry.

References

1. Davenport, Thomas H. and Prusak, Laurence (2000). Working knowledge: how organizations manage what they know. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press
2. ETSIP (2007). Programmes: knowledge creation and innovation. Retrieved 18 October 2010 from http://www.etsip.na/knowledge.php
3. Namibia Vision 2030 (2004). Namibia Vision 2030. Windhoek: National Planning Commission
4. NDP3 (The Third National Development Plan) (2008). Understanding the Third National Development Plan: 2007/2008 – 2011/2012. Windhoek: National Planning Commission
5. NDP3 (Third National Development Plan) (2008). Third National Development Plan (NDP3): 2007/2008 – 2011/2012 Volume I. Windhoek: National Planning Commission
6. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (1996). The knowledge-based economy. Paris: OECD
7. Thompson, Paul, Warhurst, Chris and Callaghan, George (2000). Human capital or capitalising on humanity? Knowledge, skills and competencies in interactive service work. In Prichard, Craig; Hull, Richard; Chumer, Mike and Willmott, Hugh (2000). Managing Knowledge: Critical Investigations of Work and Learning. Hampshire: Macmillan Business
8. Turner, Colin (2000). The information e-conomy: business strategies for competing in the global age. London: Kogan Page
9. Wikipedia (2010). Information society. Retrieved 14 October 2010 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_society
10. Willis, Treve (2008). Innovation in a knowledge-based economy. In The Innovation Handbook: how to Develop, Manage and Protect your most Profitable Ideas by Adam Jolly (Consultant Editor). London: Kogan Page

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2 thoughts on “Namibia’s progress towards Information/Knowledge Society status

  1. Indigenous Knowledge Technology Conference 2011
    Namibia
    http://www.iktc2011.org/index.html

    Indigenous knowledge systems differ fundamentally from the knowledge systems that underlie technology development. Numerous initiatives aim to enable remote diverse communities to share their wisdom and practical know-how with conventional digital technologies but often overlook the very systems that they use to organize and make sense of the world. Further, many indigenous communities, especially those in rural places, have few opportunities to appropriate new technologies emerging in ubiquitous computing, such as social networks, flickr, virtual and augmented realities.
    To design digital infrastructures for currently unserved knowledge systems we must account for the transformations that occur as technology interacts with the ways of knowing, doing and being that constitute indigenous knowledge systems.

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