The Unfreedom of Poverty: The Knowledge Perspectives

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A major area of lack of freedom in Africa is the injustice of poverty. Poverty deprives various sections of the African population of the freedom to be and have what they want. Why do we have so much poverty in the midst of abundance in Africa? Africa is blessed with substantial reserves of arable land, water, hydropower and mineral wealth and yet the majority of its people live in abject poverty and African economies are plagued with high unemployment. For example, Africa produces 41% of the world’s Chromite, 63% of all the world’s cobalt, 46% of the world’s manganese and 55% of the world’s diamonds. And yet Africa is only worth less than or about 3% of the world’s GDP.
In assessing Africa’s developmental assets and potential, major emphasis is usually placed on physical capital, natural and mineral resources. But in the last three decades or so knowledge has emerged as one of the most important development resources and that full utilization of knowledge can dramatically accelerate Africa’s freedom and development in fact, in our life time.
The Knowledge Gap
While levels of economic inequality continue to grow globally, the knowledge economy gap shows us an yet another stark contrast in levels of global inequality. In terms of worldwide GDP, G20 nations accounted for roughly 85% of total world GDP in the year 2017, yet in terms of scientific research publications G20 nations accounted for roughly 93.6% of all worldwide publications in 2014. Similarly, while low-income economies accounted for 1.7% of the world share of GDP in 2013, low-income economies only accounted for 0.6% of the world share of publications in 2014.

This disparity in knowledge production is also demonstrable through global disparities in terms of gross domestic expenditure on research and development (GERD), the number of researchers per country as a percentage of the population, patent data, tertiary educational enrollment, as well as various measures of the knowledge economy, including the World Bank’s Knowledge Index (KI) and Knowledge Economy Index (KEI) measurements.

In terms of researchers, in 2013, Africa only accounted for 2.4% of total global researchers, and Latin America and the Caribbean accounted for 3.7% of total global researchers, whereas OECD countries accounted for 57.8% of total global researchers. In the same year, North America accounted for 18.5% of total global researchers, the European Union accounted for 22.2%, and Southeast Asia accounted for 36.9%. Low-income countries only account for 1.3% of total global researchers, and lower-middle income economies account for only 6.4% of global researchers and there is a clear correlation between country income level and number of researchers.

There are also large disparities that exist between tertiary education enrollment between developed and developing countries. For instance, gross tertiary educational enrollment ratio in North America is roughly 84% compared to only 23% in South Asia and only 9% in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In terms of the Knowledge Index (KI), which measures educational attainment, levels of innovation, and levels of information and communication technology, as well as the Knowledge Economy Index (KEI), which includes the KI measurements as well economic barriers, regulatory quality, and rule of law, we also find large disparities globally. As might be expected, countries in North America and Western Europe, as well as East Asia and the Pacific tend to lead the world in KEI and KI as well as various research indicators. Sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab States, and Central Asia fall towards the lower end of these indicators.

Why Does the Knowledge Gap Matter?

Knowledge contributes to development in several different ways: as a productive resource; as an essential input for education, scientific research and industrial technology; as a catalyst for social change and economic development; and as a basis for civilization and cultural values that promote social integrity and harmony, which is the essential foundation for development.
Therefore, the shift from material to knowledge-based resources opens up vast opportunities for African countries to accelerate the pace of development. Development depends on four knowledge processes:
• Knowledge generation and acquisition through scientific discovery, R&D and transfer of technology.
• Knowledge adaptation through innovation to particular fields, needs and operating environments.
• Knowledge dissemination through formal and informal channels from knowledge developers and adapters to those responsible for applying the knowledge in society.
• Knowledge application through skilled action in fields, factories, classrooms, hospitals and every other field of activity to achieve practical results

Works Cited

[1] UNESCO, “UNESCO science report, towards 2030,” Retrieved from

[1] Ibid., 14-15.

[1] World Bank, “World Development Report 2019: The Changing Nature of Work,” 2019, Washington, DC: World Bank. doi:10.1596/978-1-4648-1328-3

[1] Zak, Katarzyna, “The Knowledge Economy—The Diagnosis of its Conditions in Selected Countries,” Studia Ekonomiczne, (2016), Vol. 271, 176-188. Retrieved from

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