Previous Fora / 2003

A science policy on knowledge led society and development

Knowledge, environment, development

A science policy on knowledge led society and development

Professor Shem Oyoo Wandiga
University of Nairobi, Kenya


The new paradigm for socio-economic progress is knowledge driven. Globalization process supports trade in knowledge industry which have produced big margin of profit and growth. The success of globalization depends on a healthy and vibrant information and communication technology. Tertiary education is necessary for the effective creation, dissemination and application of knowledge as well as for building technical and professional capacity.

The state has a responsibility to put in place an enabling framework to encourage education at all levels but more especially, tertiary education institutions should be more innovative and responsive to the needs of a globalize competitive knowledge economy and to the changing labor market requirements for human capital. The rights of the citizens to receive such an education should be enshrined into the constitution.

Science and Technology is important and critical for development. No nation can have socio-economic development without the infusion of large doses of Science and Technology. Science and Technology is needed in order to achieve food security, health, sustainable use of natural resources, provide alternative cleaner energy, protect the environment and reduce impacts of natural disasters. Acquisition of Science and Technology depends on human intelligence which is evenly distributed in all nations.What is not evenly distributed is the political will, leadership and correct policies to achieve Scientific and Technological proficiency.

Science and Technology is important to development because of its (i) long historical record of bringing advances that have led to healthier, longer and more productive lives and (ii) their potential to provide solutions to the most serious development challenges we often face. Once a Scientific and Technological discovery has been achieved, it spreads to all parts of the world and becomes "Public Good" as exemplified by internet and antibiotics.

Kenya will only make sustained progress in Science and Technology capacity if it makes good policies and practices and implements them over periods of decades. Such a policy framework should be flexible to future adjustments and recognize the interconnectedness of areas upon which Science and Technology bears. A few component of such a policy include human resource development, demand for knowledge from the productive sector, public support for and management of knowledge institutions and access to ICT infrastructure. Each of these policies are independent and require separate development paths but they must be coordinated and harmonized in order to create the conditions in which Science and Technology deepens and consolidates.

The implicit policies that make Science and Technology include:

  • Development of human resources.

  • Basic macroeconomic stability.

  • Openness to Trade and Foreign Direct Investment.

  • Credit policies.

  • Provision of Industrial standards.

Therefore, since establishment of a knowledge led Science and Technology society and development requires policies whose life-span goes beyond the period of a single parliamentary session, they can only be achieved if they are written into the constitution.



This paper outlines the need for enshrining into the Kenyan constitution the policy on science, engineering and technology as a basis for a knowledge society and development. Science is defined broadly to include all fields of natural and social sciences (see Box 1)


Box 1. Definition of Science, Engineering and Technology.

Science is defined as studies of physical, biological, medical, agricultural, clinical, social, economic and humanities disciplines or a combination of multi-disciplinary body of knowledge about nature and society.

Engineering involves the practical application of scientific knowledge and empirical experiences to create facilities, processes and products.

Technology is those processes and products that have been tested, approved and accepted by society and market forces.


One characteristic distinction of the 21st Century is that it is knowledge driven. The possession of knowledge is the power. It matters no more how many battalions a country has. Unless the army is equipped with technologically advanced weapons it cannot win wars. In economic terms, nations that have ability to understand, produce, select, adapt, transmit, diffuse and commercialize knowledge, in short, use knowledge have grown in wealth and position of command. It is the ability to use knowledge that divides the rich north from the poor south. Yet possession of knowledge is human based, it is acquired through quality education. Unlike other economic attributes, intelligence is evenly distributed among nations. What is not evenly distributed is leadership to nurture, develop and use knowledge.

Given the progress Kenya has made in human, social and economic development, it has a potential to become a knowledge driven society. However, for this to materialize, we need a strong policy base that would promote quality education at all levels, pre-primary, primary, secondary, tertiary and life-long education. We need to enshrine into our constitution the principle and policy of a knowledge based, scientific and technological society.

Our ability to build on our past achievements requires that we develop policies that govern and promote (i) high level quality and relevant education and training of our people throughout life; (ii) reorient our industries to demand and use knowledge as their basis for production; (iii) amend our legal, commercial, industrial and societal policies in order to provide favorable environment for the stimulation and management of knowledge institutions; and (iv) establish and/or enhance information and communication infrastructures that will allow free flow of knowledge and information. These are societal development factors that are independent of each other but their presence supports and reinforces the other. To achieve them require a deliberate but tortuous long-term hard work. To ignore them has life-long cost of legalizing perpetual poverty and backwardness.

The remaining sections outline the importance of education, science and technology for development. It highlights the policies that maximize their benefit to a society. It proposes that thesame principles be established in the Kenyan constitution.



2.1 Knowledge Drives Development in the Globalize Economy

Societies that use knowledge, that is, produce, select, adapt, commercialize knowledge have realized sustained economic growth and improved living standards. An illustration of this fact can be obtained by examining the economic growth of Kenya, Ghana and South Korea. The three countries had about the same per capita GDP in the late 50's unto the time of independence of Kenya and Ghana. Today, South Korea has a per capita GDP that is more than 8 times that of Kenya or Ghana. More than half of the South Koreans' per capita GDP is attributed to knowledge. If Kenya and Ghana were to exploit all their physical and human capital, economists estimate that the contribution to their per capita GDP would be just below $ 4,000. The fact that Kenya's actual per capita GDP is about $ 300 underscores the need to change our national policy from capital accumulation to that, which uses inputs in a more productive way. The comparative economic advantage of the members of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is due to their ability to maintain and expand the knowledge base. This was confirmed by the 1998/99 World Development Report (WDR)2 which states " today's most technologically advanced economies are truly knowledge-based .... Creating millions of knowledge-related jobs in an array of disciplines that have emerged overnight." Accumulated evidence does show that knowledge-based industries consistently out performed those that are not. It is no longer a sufficient condition for economic growth that possession of natural resources and cheap labor will propel a society's economic development.

Technical innovations, the comparative use of knowledge, presence of enabling environmental policies like provision of venture capital have demonstrated the ability of societies to transform and maintain high economic growth patterns.

Countries that invest in knowledge base-investments in training, research, patents, licensing, design and marketing of education and computer software at the same level or greater than investments in physical equipment have realized greater returns to investment than those that do not. Furthermore, knowledge based industries create several service industries, a multitude of new products which in turn become the driving engine for new knowledge in self-sustaining manner with diminished shelf-life of products.


2.2 "The Have-Nets and Have-not" Societies".

A second characteristic of a globalize economy is the ability to own and use information and communication technologies (ICT). The ICT revolution unfortunately has left Kenya behind. This revolution is not going to stop and wait for us to catch up. We must establish development policies that will help us leap-frog and catch up in its development. As observed by Bond (1997)3, "rapid progress in electronics, telecommunications and satellite technologies, permitting high capacity data transmission at very low cost, has resulted in the quasi neutralization of physical distance as a communication barrier or as a factor in economic competitiveness. In 1985, the cost of sending 45 million bits per second over one kilometer of optical fiber was close to 100 dollars; in 1997, it was possible to send 45,000 million bits per second at a cost of just 0.05 cents". Investment in alternative energy sources such as solar or other renewable energy has eliminated the disadvantages of rural communities. Kenya should use the increased computing power and reduced costs to offer educational facilities for its people, open global markets and allow free flow of information and communication between its people and the rest of the world. At present such opportunities are a pipe dream for millions of Kenyans.


2.3 The "Brain-Drain or Brain-Push".

Revolutions in information and communication technologies, brain-search by industrialized countries, globalization, and the opening of political borders have opened the free movement of skilled people. Kenya and the rest of the developing countries loose their expensively trained and urgently needed experts to the developed world due to poor policies and lack of enabling facilities. Africa with average tertiary enrollment rate of only 4 percent compared to 81 percent in the US had 30,000 Africans holding Ph.Ds living outside of Africa and 130,000 Africans are currently studying abroad. The reality of global market for advanced human capital, which is a reality today, has dire implications for Kenya and the rest of Africa. It is only through correct policies and hard work that we can reverse the "brain-push" policies of today.


2.4 A New Political and Social Agenda.

The launching of the New Partnership for Africa's Development by the last Organization of African Union's summit held in Lusaka, Zambia, July 2001 heralds the new reality of political and social changes in the continent. It recognizes the need to have new development agenda. However, reality shows that over one-half of Kenya's population and over 300 million Africans live on less than 1 dollar a day. About 8.8 percent of African adults are infected by HIV/AIDS; about 300,000 African children die from malaria each year, infectious diseases that are curable, such as diarrhea, yellow fever, dysentery, cholera and others have revisited the country and the continent with vengeance. Economic and political instability kills or creates more displaced persons and refugees. In fact given the pandemic diseases, political and economic turmoil in Africa place the Africans in the endangered species list. All these threats should serve as a clarion call for change. It requires that we establish new paradigms for governance and economic growth.



The average life-span of Kenyans increased from 34 in 1963 to 55 in 1989 though the 1999 census showed it is declining due to HIV/AIDS, diseases and poverty. We were food sufficient in the 1970's due to increased agricultural productivity as a result of advances in Agricultural research. The strength of our economy has been based on adopted new technologies and trained skilled manpower. Therefore, science and technology and development are twin brothers and sisters because (i) they have a historical record of bringing advances that have led to healthier, longer and more productive lives and (ii) they contribute significantly to the solutions of most serious development challenges.



Poverty should be seen broadly to not only include the question of income, but to also embrace issues of opportunity, capability, security and empowerment. Poverty alleviation should enable persons to earn an income, be healthy, and be educated, to feel secure and to be able to participate in decision-making. The common characteristic of poor people in Kenya is that they live in natural disaster prone areas, their income and livelihood is often tied to agriculture, forestry, fisheries and natural resources; their health is determined by nutrition, air and water quality, load of vector-borne diseases, and natural calamities; they are vulnerable to civil strife, economic downturns and political maneuvering. Therefore, poverty alleviation means for many people being able to afford nutritious food, access to clean water and sanitation, energy, safe shelter, education and a healthy environment.

Science and technology have a historical record in providing solutions to poverty problems. They will continue to play a significant role in the provision of basic human needs for a growing wealthier population of Kenya in the future. Our efforts to alleviate poverty will not succeed without innovations in food production, water, energy and health provision and in general economic growth as described in section 2. Application of science and technology ensures sustainable development, safeguard of environment and preservation of natural and person-made resources.



Advances in science and technology have helped reduce the severity and frequency of famines. The increase in agricultural productivity has followed advances in science and technology. The major food production increases have coincided with mechanical power and, the latest one, the science of plant breeding and fertilizer use. The last advances, known as "green revolution" enabled India and China to climb out of the basket nations with food deficiency to food sufficiency. However, for Africa the green revolution passed it since its farmers could not afford the price of fertilizers. The world today has enough food to feed all the hungry, but the political, economic, trade and distribution barriers prevents the feeding of the poor. A third scientific revolution with potential advantages to food production is genetic engineering and genomics provided we can solve the issues of bio safety and environment. Science and technology has always played an important role in agriculture and food production, be it animal production, aqua culture or horticulture. This role will continue in the future.



Science and technology are now able to predict some natural disasters like El-Nino, La Nina with a safety window of six months. Other disasters such as flash-floods, volcanoes can be predicted with a safety window of hours. However, use and dissemination of scientific predictions remain a problem. Kenya has a capacity and capability to make predictions in weather and volcanoes provided appropriate policies are put in place.



The discovery of penicillin and subsequent array of antibiotics have helped reduce deaths from most common diseases. Improvement in health delivery services have further contributed to the expansion of the life-span in the country. Unfortunately, despite these gains, Kenya's investment in science and technology for health is a meager cropper, and may be contributor to unhealthy and unproductive populations. Our doctors and nurses are being pushed to better paying countries. Emerging knowledge in the fields of microbiology and genomics which could benefit the poor people and the rich alike-have missed Kenya. Lack of investment interest by the government has led to investment by private sector in most countries. However, in Kenya, neither the private sector nor the government is investing in this area. Purchase of technology products from those who have made investments will impoverish us even more.

Today we face health challenges arising from HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, child health and nutrition, maternal and reproductive diseases, vector-borne diseases which may be worsened by climate change and respiratory diseases to name but a few. Science and technology has a role to play in finding solutions to these problems. Improving the quality of health for our people require (i) vastly improved capacity for policy formulation, priority setting, research capacity, and health delivery services, (ii) recognition of the "Global Public Goods" nature of knowledge about health and strengthened public involvement to prevent and remedy market failures resulting from the rapid advances of science in developed countries markets; (iii) international cooperation in research; and (iv) more and better public-private partnership.



Science and Technology has made similar advances in energy production and use that will have direct impact on Kenya. The gasification of coal for direct combustion engine use technology is available; the cost of solar energy is steadily decreasing; the cracking of water to produce hydrogen fuel for vehicles will be marketable in 5 to 15 years and many more renewable energy sources will reach the market in this or next decade. Kenya will be consumer of these expensive technologies for lack of foresight and investment in research.



Similarly, science and technology led research is helping in the protection of the environment. The next generation of cars and industry will emit less green house gases, toxic chemicals and other polluting substances to our air and water environments. Unless policies that can help in leap frogging are established, the future generations of Kenyans will have to purchase these emerging technologies.



I have given a few examples to illustrate the critical roles played by education, science and technology in a modern society. To achieve these development objectives require knowledge led governance that have implicit S & T policies that create an environment in which S & T could flourish. Above all it calls for consistency, public will and support and hard work. Implicit policy includes:

  • Human Resources development: Provision of highly qualified persons and their retention generate new knowledge and innovations that are self-supporting. Their export is expensive and diminishes long-term economic growth.

  • Basic macroeconomic stability which will avoid fiscal and monetary crises, provide stability and continuity needed for the finance of research and commercialization. Volatility discourages investment in research and development.

  • Openness to Trade and Foreign Direct Investment. This will allow the country to have technology learning opportunities.

  • Credit opportunities. We cannot develop new innovations in science and technology without the availability of venture capital. Venture capital and other credit facilities that are not available in the country are critical for S & T development.

  • Intellectual Property Rights Protection. Adequate IPR protection gives incentives and rewards for R & D and innovation. It also helps in the diffusion of knowledge. IPR should include protection of community rights to indigenous knowledge.

  • Competition Policy.Fair and level playing field competition policy should be created to facilitate entry and exit of firms into new markets in order to stimulate innovation and commercialization of new technologies.

  • Provision of Industrial Standards. The government policy on standardization should be strengthened with full participation of the private sector into its regulatory process.