OPINIONPeople Daily

Why knowledge economy deserves more attention

Edward Sigei

The election season is with us again and it is a good time as any to share my political wish list targeted at the two major coalitions.

The silent treatment the knowledge economy sector received from the two major coalitions manifestos is a surprise given that Kenya has for several decades been claiming to have an ambition of attaining high economic growth driven by intellectual capital. Vision 2030 blueprint is about building an industrialising middle income economy by the end of the plan period.

It has been mentioned many times that this growth will be driven by the knowledge economy. To claim a knowledge economy, the country must invest more in industries that rely less on commodities and minerals.

A survey by World Intellectual Property Organisation in 2009 established that Copyright industries in Kenya contributed 6 per cent to the GDP and employed more than 200,000 people.

The figure of the contribution of Copyright and related sectors needs to go up for Kenya to claim knowledge economy status. Article 11(2) of the Constitution requires the State to promote intellectual property rights.

This is further reiterated by Article 40(5) which obliges the State to support, promote and protect the intellectual property rights. Intellectual property that allows the exploitation of talents and research output will help Kenya achieve its development objectives.

For any sector to grow, it must be founded on deliberate policy, strong support structures and funding. However, to date the country does not have an intellectual property policy.

Fortunately, there is a draft that can be fast tracked and adopted within the shortest time possible. The policy should place intellectual property at the mainstream of the National Development Plan if all the investments in National Research are to result in indigenous technologies.

The policy will determine the future funding and management of all institutions working within the sector. The development of a knowledge economy requires structures to support the development of talents and quality research.

The three Intellectual Property (IP) offices of Kenya are based in Nairobi with Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services having the widest geographical presence.

Although strides have been made in enabling Kenyans access the Kenya Copyright Board and Kenya Industrial Property Institute services through technology, Kenyans in the regions/counties deserve to have IP offices closer to them so that they can harness the results of their research especially now that universities have a presence in nearly every county.

This requires substantial and consistent financial investment. On copyright specifically, there is need to build the capacity of the sector to develop intellectual assets from young talents into a formidable industry through the process of creating a cadre of managers to support artists and enable them make sustainable incomes. Having such practitioners at every county and constituency will make a difference especially now that the Studio Mashinani programme is fully operational.

Additionally, the full application of tax incentives (waiver) for materials and equipment used by artists can kickstart the sector. Similarly, the introduction of the Value Added Tax (VAT) on Books has contributed to the low pupil-to-book ratio and the increasing piracy of set books as parents try to balance competing interests.

A review of the likely impact of the tax is long overdue. The issue of VAT represents an existential threat to local publishing. The Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Cultural Expressions Act, 2016 was enacted with the aim of securing the heritage and cultural manifestations of Kenyans as per Article 11 of the Constitution.

However, the legislation remains in a limbo since the National Assembly did not provide for the administrator of the legislation. In order to operationalise the Act, the National Assembly ought to re-look it and offer the Act a home at a State department/agency that can best execute it.

In an environment rife with biopiracy and theft of Intellectual heritage, this is a very urgent matter. Kenya deserves its place as a regional leader in technology and art but to maintain this position requires investment and good policies.

While a lot has been done in the past five years, there is need for a comprehensive plan for the art and research sector backed by strong institutions, if Kenya is to remain a competitive economy. —The writer is Kenya Copyright Board executive director

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