Building knowledge economy in Uganda requires education, Innovation

Posted on August 17, 2014 12:10 am

Over the past decade Uganda’s extraordinary rise on the global stage has been driven largely by its emergence as one of Africa’s low cost, high output investment destination. But as Uganda strive to become more diversified in face of strains on resources and a changing workforce, building a knowledge economy is increasingly seen as the most sustainable way of driving growth while providing citizens with higher incomes and more fulfilling work. It is key for Uganda to realise its full potential through its vision 2040. I wrote last year how to avoid the middle income trap that has befallen other developing countries. Building knowledge economy takes quality and accessible higher education, sound information infrastructure, better research and development, innovation.I also noted the right economic institutions and autonomy to collaborate and share information with good example being.Becoming a knowledge economy means that knowledge is internalised and disseminated within the Ugandan economy. Transforming to a knowledge economy cannot happen merely through the production of knowledge-intensive goods and services.

An educated and skilled work force is critical for knowledge economy, and a challenge in a country where the average length of education is barely ten years and informal employment is high. Investing in top class institutions, strengthening university-industry links, and promoting cross-border institutional partnerships can create greater opportunities.Building talent widely will help greatly as I wrote the country needs talent in media industry.Uganda has posted impressive levels of growth above the regional average in recent years. But a cursory glance at her rankings in the local competitiveness report indicates that all cities but Entebbe and Kampala are struggling to make the transition to knowledge-driven economies but I have no doubt that Uganda has a great future.Except for Kampala city, none of the other Ugandan towns or cities are innovation driven.The good news is that the government is promoting efficiency-driven economy as demonstrated by implementation of cashless payments and will help the country transition to become innovation-driven. For Uganda, much work needs to be done in education and skills development, technological readiness and innovation. Gaps in the quality of education, compounded by low gross tertiary enrolment rates of less that 50 percent, remain a major stumbling block but with great ideas things will work out. Uganda’s success, despite its small size and limited natural endowments, has been nothing less than remarkable and now has one of the most competitive economies in Africa. A quick look at the knowledge economy Index puts Uganda in the low-range for developing countries, but in terms of competitiveness, Uganda is ahead of other countries in several areas, including economic incentives and institutions.

It has an efficient public sector compared to most African countries which works with the private sector to promote knowledge development in the country. It performs better than most African countries in its ability to adopt and absorb latest technologies as National Water and Sewerage Corporation won the prestigious 2014 Water Leaders award during the Global Water Summit held in Paris, France earlier this year showed. The chinks in its armour are tertiary education enrolment and capacity to innovate. As other neighbouring economies like Kenya, Ethiopia become more knowledge-driven, competition for a relatively tight pool of skilled workers will increase, posing a potential challenge to innovative thinking. Ability to access this high quality education is a way to address this future constraint by tackling plagiarism that could help ‘Pearl of Africa’ reach its economic growth.For example, the creative sector can be an economic advantage.Building knowledge economies will complement the East African Community, where goods, investments and skilled labor will be more mobile. But this means Uganda and its regional counterparts will need to start redesigning their development programs and regional cooperation activities around the elements of a knowledge economy.Uganda will need to invest in both hard and soft infrastructure to facilitate knowledge creation and diffusion, as well as build an active public sector that collaborates with the private sector to nurture knowledge and innovation. Development assistance will need to be geared at building knowledge infrastructure rather than just the “bricks and mortar” investments of the 20th century. Uganda exhibit the potential to achieve more growth. But for her to sustain this expansion and, at the same time, make it beneficial to all, it has to recognise these critical elements of a knowledge economy, and work towards investing growth dividends and could even become a digital hub in East and Central African region as I wrote sometimes back.

Contador Harrison