Chidi Oguamanam

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Intellectual Property: Leveraging on Diaspora Exchange (I)

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on December 28, 2014 at 1:30 AM

Depending on where one locates its advent, contemporary globalization is now, certainly, more than half a century. It requires asking whether globalization has been beneficial to Africa. One quick and easy way of addressing this often asked question is to cursorily look at the regional dynamics of over half century of globalization. Not many disagree that East Asia, South East Asia and South American regions have taken a quantum leap. China, India and Brazil have indisputably emerged regional economic and global powers. Despite prevalent poverty and inequity in these continental and sub continental countries, there is demonstrable evidence that they have been and are on the match. And the world has taken notice. Today, these countries are accorded the recognition and respect they deserve as they continue to wield influence and to shape the global economic and power dynamics.

 

But the African picture has not been as exciting. Through globalization's trajectories Africa is still the continent with the highest concentration of least developed countries. It is still home to the most vulnerable in direst need of the basic means of human survival. It is perhaps the most vulnerable region to global climate crisis as it is the least prepared for the challenge. On a global scale, human development indicators in Africa still remain the worst. If any claim can be fairly made of globalization in regard to Africa, it is this: Globalization has not changed the status quo about Africa. Nonetheless, there are visible signs of change in contemporary Africa.

 

In the last couple of decades, there is a "big buzz" about Africa. This is as the US, Europe and most of the developed world's economies fumble and contract. The downward economic trends in Europe and the US are results both of systemic failures as well a consequence of involuntary, even if inevitable, structural calibrations to accommodate the continuing shift in the global economic status quo instigated by the emerging powers. At the same time, the red-hot growths of the new emerging economies have begun to show signs of cooling down or stabilizing; Africa's regional economies are surging. Compared to other regions, Africa successfully weathered the global financial crisis of 2008-2010, for reasons outside the present discussion. Today, African countries constitute 50-70% of the fastest growing economies in the world. The specific national have grown at a rate of double or close to double digits. As far-fetched as it sounds, it is projected that at the current growth rate, by 2050 Africa's economy will surpass that of the United States and Europe combined. But like all projection, a little unforeseen game changer can result in a dangerous turn. For example, not many policy makers and economic pundits saw the current global oil glut.

 

Meanwhile, Africa has become the destination of choice for foreign direct investments (FDIs). Africa's traditional partners in the West (Europe and the United States) are fast being displaced by China, India and Brazil. The three are pushing and digging into Africa not only to satisfy their appetite for energy and natural resources, but also to leverage their political influence in a fast changing world order.

 

These contemporary transformation in the global economy in which Africa is strategically implicated unravels the catalytic role of two major technological revolutions. They are the digital and bio- technology innovations. From rural and mobile telephony to diverse computing applications and the wonders of the Internet, digital technologies have changed the global landscape and have left nothing untouched. From resource extraction, harnessing of genetic resources for food, agriculture and medicine, to various creative repertoire in music, movie, choreography, and resourceful deployment of the cyberspace to energize the social media, personal cum communal exchanges and democratic participation, nothing has escaped the innovative potential of the digital overhang. From research in medicine, to agriculture, food production and processing, and various aspects of life sciences, the marriage of digital technologies and biotechnologies continues to transform our society.

 

The two technologies of transformation and global transition to the knowledge economy are essentially proprietary. Consequently, current African economic activism and attractiveness is consolidated through the pivotal role of intellectual properties rights. It is hardly surprising that intellectual property rights have expanded exponentially since the mid-1990s in order to optimize benefits and control for innovators. Africa is both a consumer and is fast transitioning into a producer of new technologies and innovation. Africa hosts the Silicon Savannah. Africa is the birthplace of Nollywood.

 

Like most African countries, Nigeria had embarked on critical transformations in virtually all sectors of its economy since the return of democracy in 1999. The corruption-ridden privatization regime of the early 2000s has swept through the telecommunications, power, ports, banking, petroleum, agriculture and the broadcast industries to name the few. All of these involve the opening up of the market for FDIs and competition. Because technology is the driver of the new ways of doing things, the ability of countries to optimize their interests in the new environment depends, in part, on how they leverage on intellectual property rights and technology transfer in the pursuit of their peculiar development objectives. If a country is not well equipped in the intellectual property and knowledge governance front, it is less likely to optimize opportunities on the critical issue of technology transfer and capacity building. Without strong capacity in intellectual property and overall knowledge governance, the present buzz about Africa may be one in which Africa yet again receives a short end of the stick even in the new framework of South-South partnerships.

 

… (to be continued)

This article appeared in Nigeria World newspaper of Sunday December 21, 2014. 

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