Introduction - Robert and Rebecca,Sylvia
Information and knowledge are development resources. Nations, regions, and communities that are information and knowledge rich are also very wealthy. In contrast, information and knowledge poor societies are poverty stricken with unstable democracies resulting in their slow development. Regions that are prospering today are evaluated by their ability to capture, process, store and use information. They are also assessed by employment of most of their human resources in information related activities. For instance, developed countries or information societies employ about 70 percent of their workers in information related activities. In these countries there is easy access and use of quality information as a result of networking, collaboration and sharing of information through investment in information and knowledge management networks.
Africa contributes about 3 percent of the world information output. This, though shared internationally is inefficiently and ineffectively shared nationally and regionally. Africa has institutions holding development information and knowledge but access to this information is limited due to inadequate linkages, access tools and barriers caused by differing institutional priorities. In addition, access to international information and knowledge is hampered by costs, information infrastructural limitations as well as the absence of effective alliances between the northern and southern countries. This leads to information starvation in Africa and consequently to the wide information divide between the north and the south.
There has not been a data based audit of what and how much development information and knowledge is generated and held by information institutions in Africa. Besides, the formats in which such information and knowledge is kept is publicly unknown except by those who keep them. There are people holding development information and knowledge at both institutional levels, at community levels and at individual levels but no known formal linkages exist except through invisible colleges. Professional collaborations are many but limited in scope to conferences, workshops, joint research and projects. African governments, their research institutions and universities create a lot of development information which is difficult to access; distribution is limited, libraries are poorly resourced, the publishing industry is weak, and information illiteracy acts negatively on information sharing. In addition, information policies are visibly absent in most countries of Africa.
There are existing initiatives to enhance collaborative networking and knowledge sharing for development in Agriculture and at the regional level. These include NARO (Uganda), Ethiopian Research Organisation, KARI (Kenya), Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (Tanzania) and Sokoine University of Agriculture (Tanzania) form the Eastern Africa network for the purpose of networking agricultural information. The network is called AGRIDEA. CODESRIA is a consortium of social scientists monitoring and sharing of social science information in Africa. WHO Library in Kinshasa is a centre for networking health information in Africa. However, very few institutions and individuals are benefiting from these initiatives. For instance universities work almost in isolation of research establishments and research institutions deal directly with the markets likely to benefit from the outputs of their researches. Therefore efforts for sharing information and knowledge remain adhoc, limited and non effective and so are the information and knowledge management practices. Poor communication of information on emerging technologies limits the impact of development. The situation is exacerbated with adoption of modern information communication technologies (ICTs) where Africa lags behind the rest of the world.
Therefore to address the problem of inadequate access and use of information and knowledge, it is necessary to establish a platform that will promote collaboration and sharing of development information and knowledge. To reach that end, the following actions are proposed:
- Sharing information and knowledge on development issues
- Information resources development and publication
- Establishing a platform for collaboration
These actions are in tandem with the vision of African Information Society Initiative (AISI) that aims at developing an African information society. In this initiative, governments are urged to take steps to initiate programmes and projects that will turn their countries into information users. The social benefit of this is that investment in information will for the first time in Africa receive a hearing at a higher level of policy articulation which will facilitate the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals!