Nr. 17

KCTOS: Knowledge, Creativity and Transformations of Societies

Univ.Prof.Dr. Peter Horn, President of INST
Deutsch | English
Knowledge Societies and its Inequalities. (The Example of Africa)

Or: The not-knowing of knowledge in the knowledge society.

On 1st January 1816 a young South African, Saartjie Baartman, died in France of a lung disease. Her birth name is as unknown as her exact birth date. She belonged to the aboriginal people of the Khoisan in Southern Africa. Science got hold of her body. The famous Couvier, the great founder of comparative anatomy,(1) dissected her corpse, he conserved her brain and her pudenda in alcohol, a cast of her body in plaster of Paris and had it painted in natural colours. There was a common rumour at that time that the inner labia of Khoisan-women were strongly developed. This phenomenon, however, seems to have existed only in the phantasy of European men.(2) Researchers measured her bones, and in a textbook of 1821 her skull is put into a series of skulls somewhere in the middle between wolves and humans.(3) It was Cuvier who fort the first time systematically divided human beings into [3] races.(4) The skeleton and the dusty, discoloured plaster of Paris figure were shown until 1974 in the Paris Musée de l'Homme. Then they were disposed of into the magazine.(5)

Just as in Europe anatomy and surgery seemed to offend human dignity until the early 14th century, and anatomy had to be satisfied with demonstrations on animal corpses,(6) so even today the section of human corpses and even organ transplants offend the traditional religious feelings of many Africans. In May 2002 the mortal remains of the „Hottentots Venus“ were transferred to South Africa and she was given a state funeral in the place of her birth.

What becomes clear here is in which direction scientific curiosity is moving, which is founding a science, which attempts to find a certain medically useful knowledge about the structure of the body of human beings and animals.(7) No African anatomist has dissected Sarah Baartmann in order to win new knowledge.

On the other hand the prohibition on the use of human body parts is not absolute even in Africa, human body parts were and are used in Africa for magical rituals. Recently a cleaner stole a human placenta from a hospital, women had their body parts hacked off and were then brutally murdered. These incidents have captured the nation's attention, raising the question of how prevalent are instances involving the theft of human body parts, often from people who are still alive. Experts say they have seen a noticeable increase in such incidents in KwaZulu-Natal and across the country. The former head of the Occult Unit of the SAPS in Pretoria Kobus Jonker said there has been a marked increase in the number of muti killings taking place around the country. Jonker said the muti trade was a booming business, hence the increase in muti killings. He said the most sought after body parts were the genitals of a young girl which are used to make powerful fertility potions. Women who are desperate to fall pregnant seek these potions. However all body parts are valuable and fetch large sums of money, he said. Jonker said that the head was also valuable because witchdoctors and people believed that it was powerful and could cure many ailments.(8)

Against this indigenous, magic knowledge other forms of knowledge catch on even in Africa, such knowledge as can be derived from Cuvier, a knowledge without which there would be neither clinics nor hospitals.

It was above all in the 19th century that the dominating position of Europe and America was cemented over the economies and the people, but also over the knowledge of the world. The commercial centres of London, Boston and France lived on the cheap raw materials, on slavery and the badly paid peasants of the world.(9) On the other hand, European conquests and colonisations have distributed complex and specialised knowledge into ever more regions of the world. In the year 1830 one could find the works of the Scottish and French philosophers in public libraries in Madras, Penang and Sydney, where the concept of the „public“, the „library“ and the „book“ were to some degree entirely new.(10)

But it is not merely a question of acquiring the knowledge of Europe. Since the times of colonialism one of the challenges of the African system of education is the production of African intellectuals, who in turn explore Africa, but also investigate Europe and the rest of the world closely. The South African Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor, said some time ago: „Long enough we have been studied by others.“ Africa needs to educate researchers which take the representation of Africa in research literature into their own hands and develop new knowledge about

Africa and the world. In November 2004 she said: „Transformation for academics means to recognise that we are in Africa and have to find African innovations, and solutions which are relevant for Africa.“ (11)

Overall, however, Africa is lagging in the global science and technology race. Sub-Saharan Africa contributes about 2,3% of world gross domestic product, but is responsible for only 0,4% of global expenditure in research and development (R&D). With 13,4% of the world's population, the continent is home to only 1,1% of the world's scientific researchers. It has about one scientist or engineer per 10 000 people, compared with 20 to 50 in industrial nations -- and the gap is growing. [...] The need is great. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), for example, almost 92% of the rural population in sub-Saharan Africa and 48% of those in urban areas do not have modern energy services. For years, development planners have touted the advantages of solar technology as an alternative energy source, but progress in adopting it remains slow.(12)

That is the view of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (Unctad) 2007 report on the least developed countries (LDCs) released recently. The report said the world’s 50 poorest nations, a third of which are in Africa , would not be able to achieve the sustained economic growth necessary to reduce poverty unless their domestic businesses acquire science, technology and innovation to catch up with the rest of the world. The report warns that lack of acquiring knowledge on science, technology and innovation was likely to increase marginalisation for the 767-million people who now live in LDCs. The current pattern appeared to be economic liberation without learning, and global integration without innovation, it said.(13)

„Innovation“, one says, leads to a new type of commodities and services, which do not only mark a progress in the laboratory, but which are successful on the market. Unfortunately the concept „innovation“ has been much overused and worn in the last years. Too many functionaries and politicians have misused this word willingly and in uncounted Sunday speeches, brochures and press releases, flogged the demand for innovation and used it in an inflationary way, so that the slogan is only good for taking a few billions out of the pocket of the tax payer, which are used in so-called structural promotion measures, which most often fizzle out without any results.(14)

Real innovation is not a simple matter. It presupposes a highly developed school system and efficient universities. The education ministers of the South African Development Community (SADC)(15) met in Lesotho in July 2007 to discuss progress in the education systems. They were of the opinion that progress in the primary schools was satisfactory, but the development of the secondary level demanded some more attention. However, there are still 9.6 million South Africans, who are functionally illiterate.(16) Even of the about 1000 pupils in the 11th grade who had succeeded to get distinctions in six or seven subjects and who had applied for bursaries only 86% of the English speakers, 81% of the Afrikaans speakers and 24% of the speakers of an Africa language were really on the level of the 11th grade academically. Being taught in a language other than the mother tongue and low standard of some schools especially in the countryside and the „townships“ were held responsible. Even worse is the ability to deal with numbers. The pupils of grade 11 were tested on the level of grade 9 and only 55% (73%) of the English speakers, 59% (90%) of the Afrikaans speakers, and 14% (30%) of the speakers of an Africa language passed the test. (In brackets the numbers of the previous year). One can imagine the standard of the mediocre and weak students.(17)

Even more complicated is the situation in many other African countries. Especially in the age of the „knowledge society“ such weaknesses in the infrastructure, the education system and the research activity have grave consequences for the quality of life of the population.

Sub-Saharan Africa needs at least 1.6 million more teachers to reach its Universal Primary Education goal by 2015. Access has been broadened in the region, but quality education still eludes millions of children. These findings are contained in the latest United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) report on Education for All. Nineteen countries in sub-Saharan Africa are, at this stage, far from achieving their goals of Education for All by 2015. Half of the world's 77 million children not in school are in this region and once they enter school, it is a battle to stay in class.(18)

As far as the knowledge society is concerned the situation in secondary schools and universities is even worse. While the Western world, the World Bank and IMF programs have done a lot to support the furtherance of primary education, little was done to help universities.

When the World Economic Forum met in Cape Town in June 2007, one could see clearly that Africa had an average growth rate of 6%, but was falling back nevertheless. The analysis showed that the ability to compete of most of the countries in Africa, measured in terms of all indicators was not only lagging behind the rest of the world but even behind other developmental regions. Standard of life, health services, child mortality – life of the citizens in many African states does not visibly improve. Mo Ibrahim even maintains that the standard of life in Africa has constantly gone down since the end of colonialism, which statement induced president Thabo Mbeki to the outburst, whether he was of the opinion, that life under colonialism was better. Ibrahim countered this: Is it acceptable that the standard of life is going down in decolonised Africa?(19)

Drucker has pointed out that the development towards the knowledge society will change the structure of society, the communities, governments, the economy and politics fundamentally. Where today agriculture and mineral resources are the economic centre of many African states, knowledge workers will in future determine the image of societies – even if they are not and will not be a majority.(20) It is clear that the essential and real investment in a knowledge society will not be machines and tools, but the knowledge of the knowledge worker. Because without this knowledge especially the most developed machines are unproductive.(21)

There are many reasons why many knowledge workers, who have been trained in Africa, and who often continue their studies in Europe and America, migrate away from Africa. South Africa, e.g., has a debilitating deficit of trained artisans, technicians, nurses, doctors, engineers and scientists. The changes in the structure of the economy demand, however, less and less unqualified and low skilled workers and more an more highly and most highly qualified knowledge workers. Although there is still a need for miners in South Africa, but in the last decade this branch of the economy as well as agriculture have shed hundreds of thousands of jobs. Automated production methods have destroyed thousands more in other industries.

It has been estimated that some 20 000 skilled professionals were leaving the continent every year, depriving Africa of the doctors, nurses, teachers and engineers it needed to break a cycle of poverty and under-development. According to the World Bank, in some countries, the rate of skilled migration exceeded 50%, citing Cape Verde, Gambia, Seychelles, Mauritius and Sierra Leone.

Stymied by conflict, poverty, killer diseases and corruption, much of Africa was in no position to compete with richer countries that promised bigger salaries, better working conditions and political stability. While emigration is not a new phenomenon, its acceleration since the independence era of the 1960s had cost Africa dearly. Development experts said the talent drain not only undermined Africa's economic growth, but also damaged prospects for political transformation. Repressive regimes persecuted and drove away the political dissidents and intellectuals most likely to bring change. Experts said a deficit of thinkers and intellectuals delayed Africa's progress towards good governance, greater democracy and improved human rights. Soumana Sako, executive secretary of the Harare-based African Capacity Building Foundation, said: The political and social impact is bigger in the long run. How can you talk of home-grown reforms if these intellectuals who should be at the forefront of change are leaving? Virtually, every walk of African life is affected by migration - from Ivorian soccer players signed up by wealthy European clubs to Kenyan pilots flying for foreign airlines. But, the health sector was the biggest casualty.(22)

A "medical carousel" in which doctors and nurses migrate to richer countries has become a major cause of the decrepit health infrastructure in poor nations, the medical journal The Lancet says. "Doctors and nurses are the linchpins of any health care system," it says. "In countries already severely deprived of health professionals, the loss of each one has serious implications for the health of citizens." But the problem is acute across most of sub-Saharan Africa, where 24 out of the 28 countries have only one medical school and 11 of them have no medical school at all. "Each migrating African (health) professional represents a loss of $184 000 (about R1.2m) to Africa, and the financial cost to South Africa, 600 of whose graduates are in New Zealand, is estimated at $37 million," The Lancet says.(23)

Migration may be detrimental to the community of origin, if the labour market is depleted by the departure of its most productive and/or qualified members ("brain drain"). However, migrants who have developed and improved their skills abroad can be actors of the "brain gain" by transferring and infusing knowledge, skills and technology into their countries of origin. In addition, remittances sent home by migrants could be used to sustain development.(24)

In many countries, national policies to promote science and technology are outdated, notes Abdoulaye Janneh, executive secretary of the Addis Ababa-based UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). The quality of science and engineering education is also declining, in part due to a lack of money and state-of-the-art labs and technology centres. According to Unesco, relatively small additional investments in countries such as South Africa, Côte d'Ivoire, Kenya and Zimbabwe, which already have a science and technology base, could establish world-class facilities to advance the region as a whole.(25)

Interviews with many managers in South Africa have elicited that the lack of well educated knowledge workers is one of the most pressing problems for economic development. (Centre for Development and Enterprise – CDE). Ann Bernstein of the CDE says: "If one wants to understand the full extent of the crisis, one needs to understand that education and training in South Africa have massive problems. And that will remain like that for at least another generation. The question is: what do we do in the meantime?“ By the way, formal technical qualifications are not the only skills which are missing. Most firms believe that the greatest lack is in the area of experience, ability to judge and social abilities.(26)

On the other hand the lack of well trained workers is by now a worldwide problem, and even in Europe there is a lack of many skills, which are necessary for the knowledge society. E.g. there is a shortcoming of 60.000 technicians in the area of network technology, and this figure will increase to 500.000 until 2008.(27)

The knowledge society will probably, in the opinion of Drucker, create even more aggressive competition in nations and between nations: “knowledge being universally accessible there are no excuses for non-performance. There will be no poor countries. There will only be ignorant countries.” (Drucker Knowledge Work and Knowledge Society) Open and fast access to information and knowledge, the ability to interpret knowledge and to absorb it, and to transform knowledge into well thought through decisions, will decide whether a society will reach a higher quality of life. (KnowNet Initiative) In South Africa, but also on other African countries, the competition for highly qualified knowledge workers will be especially vehement, because precisely the best qualified of this group are recruited overseas. There is in South Africa further the pressure by government for a speedy transformation, which means that white workers have to be replaced by black workers. This increases the competition for highly qualified black workers, while at the same time many whites leave for other, mainly English speaking countries. At the same time the education system is not able to produce highly qualified knowledge workers in the necessary number and quality. Although many firms are making considerable efforts to further the training of their workers, these difficulties are not easily solved, both because of the omissions and neglects of the apartheid past, but also because of unequal developments in the present. Bernstein concludes: "Unless there is strong leadership to recruit, retain and utilise all the skills available to us in the domestic as well as the global markets, the private sector will struggle to expand capacity and the South African economy will be held back." (I-Net Bridge 20/06/2007)

However, one should not confuse “information” with “knowledge”. Neil Postman said in a speech at the German Informatics Society: Information is today a commodity which is not directed to anybody in particular, and which ignores any kind of usefulness. Information floods us, we drown in information, we have no control over it and most of the time we do not know what to do with it. The problem is we have no coherent idea of who we are and what our world is, and therefore we do not know which information is relevant and which has nothing to do with our live. In this way the arises the wrong impression, especially in the poorer countries of the third world, where the question of improving the quality of life is paramount, that we should use our entire energy to produce machines which flood us with even more information, and to train engineers and technicians which can develop and service these machines. What one overlooks completely, is that without the cultural and interpretative sciences, without a filter which separates nonsense from sense, „informations“ are less than useless. „Informations“ cannot give us an answer to the fundamental questions how we can fashion our live more humane and with more meaning.(28)

With many African economies posting strong growth, some countries are making major investments in their educational and technology sectors, including newly democratic Nigeria. In 2003, it launched a satellite to monitor the environment. The following year the government asked Unesco to help it analyse government policies and spending in the sector and review the curricula and capacity of the country's 75 research institutes, 55 universities and 44 polytechnics. In 2006, the country approved a $5-billion endowment fund for science and technology development, drawn mostly from oil export revenues. Egypt and South Africa have also attained significant success, notes Unesco, with South Africa investing more than $3,1-billion in 2002 in aeronautics, nuclear engineering, chemistry, metallurgy and agricultural research, while Egypt specialises in chemistry and engineering.(29)

In contrast to many developed knowledge societies there is in Africa still a sharp division between salaries, which are mainly used for consumption, and capital. The new situation that workers (including knowledge workers) are dependent on the one hand on their salary, and thus are opposed to capital, on the other hand, collectively through their pension funds and other savings are the real capitalists, is as yet hardly visible in Africa (except in South Africa). The pension fund consists on the one hand of retained salary and is therefore „salary“, at the same it is in the knowledge society more and more the main source of capital.(30) This is one further element which creates new social structures. In South Africa, e.g., one of the greatest investors on the stock exchange in Johannesburg is the Public Investment Corporation, which manages the pension funds of all civil servants and associated institutions (schools, universities, parastatals). There is similarly the situation that the trade unions are shareholders of the firms, against which they lead the workers into strikes.

The knowledge society opens a perspective, which takes into account the will and the ability of human beings to self-determination, quite in contrast to the technicist concept of the information society. Not the sheer power of computers and miniaturisations will determine the future quality of social development. Decisive will be the selection of the useful and the ability to deal with ambivalences and uncertainties, the fashioning of access to knowledge and the error-friendly dealing with non-knowledge. Knowledge will become the key resource, education a prerequisite for taking part in social life.(31)


Literature or Works Cited:

  • Bayly, C. A. 2004. The Birth of the Modern World 1780–1914. Global Connections and Comparisons. Oxford: Blackwell
  • Cuvier, Baron G. 1827. Essay on the Theory of the Earth (Fifth edition., translated from the last French edition with numerous additions by the author and translator) with geological illustrations by Professor Jameson. London: William Blackwood.
  • [Hegel: Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse. Philosophie von Platon bis Nietzsche, S. 41841 (vgl. Hegel-W Bd. 9, S. 501)]
  • Drucker, Peter F. 1994. Knowledge Work and Knowledge Society. The Social Transformations of this Century. The 1994 Edwin L. Godkin Lecture. Harvard University s John F. Kennedy School of Government. May 4, 1994 []
  • Jacks, Mzwandile 2007. Skills shortage lifts labour costs and price pressures. Business Report, June 15 []
  • Postman, Neil 2007. Excerpt in: Street Dogs: Welcome to the machine. (Pireupireum, Michel 2007). Business Day. Posted to the web on: 15 June 2007
  • Tuomi, Ilkka 2007. Economic productivity in the Knowledge Society: A critical review of productivity theory and the impacts of ICT. First Monday []



1 Vgl. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: Werke. Auf der Grundlage der Werke von 1832–1845 neu edierte Ausgabe. Redaktion Eva Moldenhauer und Karl Markus Michel, Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 1979 (Theorie-Werkausgabe). Bd. 9, S. 501

2 Oltmer, Thorsten. Die Hottentotten-Venus. SPIEGEL special Geschichte: Afrika – Das umkämpfte Paradies. 22. Mai 2007

3 In Theory of the Earth. Cuvier wrote: “The Negroes, the most degraded race among men, whose forms approach the nearest to the brutes, and whose intellect has not yet arrived at the institution of regular governments, or at any thing having the least appearance of systematic knowledge, have preserved no sort of annals or traditions. They cannot, therefore, afford us any informatin on the subject of our present researches, though all their characters clearly shew us that they have escaped from the great catastrophe, at another point than the Caucasian and Altaic races, from which they had perhaps been separated for a long time previous to the occurrence of that catastrophe.” Cuvier, Baron G. 1827. Essay on the Theory of the Earth (Fifth edition., translated from the last French edition with numerous additions by the author and translator) with geological illustrations by Professor Jameson. London: William Blackwood. S. 183 “Whites were associated with mental dullness, and blacks with uncontrolled passions.” by the Chinese. Bayly, C. A. 2004. The Birth of the Modern World 1780–14. Global Connections and Comparisons. Oxford: Blackwell, S. 47

4 Friedrich Kirchner: Wörterbuch der philosophischen Grundbegriffe, von Carl Michaëlis, neubearbeitet. Leipzig 1907.[Heidelberg 1886]. S. 47

5 Oltmer, Thorsten 2007. Die Hottentotten-Venus. SPIEGEL special Geschichte: Afrika – Das umkämpfte Paradies. 22. Mai 2007

6 in Salerno wurde eine anonyme denkwürdige »Anatomie des Schweines« geschrieben. (Arno Borst: Religiöse und geistige Bewegungen im Hochmittelalter. Propyläen-Weltgeschichte, Ullstein Verlag. Bd. 5, S. 517

7 Ernst Haeckel: Gemeinverständliche Werke. Herausgegeben von Heinrich Schmidt-Jena, Leipzig und Berlin: Alfred Kröner, Carl Henschel, o. J. GW Bd. 3, S. 31f: „Diejenige hochentwickelte Disziplin, die wir heute vergleichende Anatomie nennen, wurde erst im Jahre 1803 geboren, als der große französische Zoologe George Cuvier (aus Mömpelgard im Elsaß stammend) seine grundlegenden »Leçons sur l'Anatomie comparée« herausgab und darin zum erstenmal bestimmte Gesetze über den Körperbau des Menschen und der Tiere festzustellen suchte.“

8 Muti killings on the rise in KZN. The Star 31 October 2007, 12:06

9 “A large part of humanity had been converted into long-term losers in the scramble for resources and dignity.” (Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World: 119)

10 Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World: 119

11,2172,91354,00.html (Sapa)

12 Gumisai Mutume, Africa seeks to boost home grown high tech. Mail&Guardian Online. 01 November 2007 11:59

13 Thabang Mokopanele, UN report urges poor countries to open economies..Business Day online. 20 July 2007

14 Michael O. R. Kröher, Wie Deutschland im globalen Wettstreit siegen kann. Spiegel Online 07. April 2007

15 The SADC Protocol on Education and Training is part of the African Renaissance and all SADC governments have committed themselves to it. Mamphono Khaketla, the chairperson of SADC ministers of education, says enrolment for basic primary education averages between 71% and 85% for the SADC countries. "We are not at the same level of development, there are some countries which are fairly advanced, for example Mauritius and South Africa, but there are other countries especially those that come from a conflict situation who have to catch up." The meeting in Maseru is to prepare for the third conference of ministers of education of the African Union (AU) which was held in Johannesburg in August.,2172,153234, 00.html

16 Sue Blaine, New R6bn plan to teach millions to read. BusinessDay 21 August 2007. Naledi Pandor gab zu: “SA had had little success with post-democracy adult literacy programmes — despite the government making the eradication of illiteracy a priority since 1994.”

17 Ongeleerde SA. Rapport 18/08/2007,,752-800_2167043,00.html

18 SABC July 20, 2007, 19:30

19 Brendan Boyle, Heavyweights clash over African growth. The Times. Jun 17, 2007) 17.06.2007

20 Drucker, Peter F. 1994. Knowledge Work and Knowledge Society. The Social Transformations of this Century. The 1994 Edwin L. Godkin Lecture. Harvard University. John F. Kennedy School of Government. May 4, 1994 []

21 Drucker Knowledge Work and Knowledge Society

22 Brain drain hits Africa. 24/04/2006 09:47  - (SA) 

23 Rich countries draining SA 27/05/2005 08:49

24 Olukayode Azooluwa Afolabi, Department of Psychology, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, Nigeria. & Moses Shaka Agbonkhese, World Police Group, U.S.A.: Migration and Development in Africa : A psychological Analysis.

25 Gumisai Mutume, Africa seeks to boost home grown high tech. Mail&Guardian Online. 01 November 2007 11:59

26 I-Net Bridge 20/06/2007, vgl auch Business and Democracy: Cohabitation or Contradiction? von Ann Bernstein und Peter L. Berger von Continuum International Publishing Group - Pinter (Taschenbuch – Juni 2000); The Role of Business in Democratic Transitions and Economic Development von Ann Bernstein und Peter L. Berger von Continuum International Publishing Group - Pinter

27 Jacks, Mzwandile 2007. Skills shortage lifts labour costs and price pressures. Business Report, June 15 []

28 Street Dogs: Welcome to the machine. Michel Businessday: 02 February 2007 []

29 Gumisai Mutume, Africa seeks to boost home grown high tech. Mail&Guardian Online. 01 November 2007 11:59 Reprinted from UN Africa Renewal

30 Drucker Knowledge Work and Knowledge Society

31 Heinrich Böll Gesellschaft:

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