Knowledge management begins at home

May 5, 2009
Knowledge Management Africa is taking place in Dakar, Senegal, on 4-7 May 2009
Knowledge Management Africa is taking place in Dakar, Senegal, on 4-7 May 2009

“Knowledge management” is not a phrase that slips easily off the tongue. Nor, for that matter, does it make attention-grabbing headlines.

There was therefore some confusion among science journalists sent to cover the opening yesterday (4 May) of the third Knowledge Management Africa (KMA) conference, currently taking place in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, about what they were being expected to write.

Some light — but not a lot — was thrown on the topic of the meeting from its title “Knowledge to Re-position Africa in the Global Economy”.

But any doubts about the importance of the meeting were dispelled in the opening session. This heard a message from the President of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, in which he suggested that effective knowledge management lay at the heart of one of his pet projects, to help secure an “African renaissance”.

Wade’s idea, widely shared by all participants, is that, if properly handled, science and technology provide the key both to allowing Africa to meet the needs of its people, and to putting it in a strong position to benefit from globalisation and the growth of the global knowledge economy.

Put in these terms, the concept of “knowledge management” soon took on a more concrete form. Speakers suggested that it can cover issues that range from the provision of health services to poor communities in South Africa — where the failure to deliver key services is proving a major political embarrassment to the post-apartheid government — to global concerns ranging from climate change to coping with swine flu.

And delegates to the conference responded warmly to the call from the chief executive officer of the Development Bank of Southern Africa — one of the driving forces behind the KMA initiative — that research relevant to such issues was important, but that the time had come to put ideas into action.

All this made it easier for the science journalists present to understand what the conference is intended to achieve — even though putting this into easily accessible terms for local readers must have presented a major challenge.

But there was one area where the organisers of the conference had failed to provide their own knowledge management. A press conference was held at the end of the day entirely in French — the language spoken in Senegal — with no English translation.

A clutch of South African journalists who have come to cover the event looked somewhat unimpressed. The message was simple: on a multilingual continent, appropriate knowledge management begins at home.

David Dickson, SciDev.Net

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