Skip to content

A cold reception for African Intellectual Capital

The Real African|| By Dumani Mandela

A case for African institutional reflection can be found within the ethics debate around issues of intellectual capital on the continent.

Intellectual capital is the intangible value of a business, covering its people (Human Capital), the value inherent in its relationships (Relational capital), and everything that is left when the employees go home (Structural capital), of which Intellectual property (IP) is but one component.

Measuring intellectual capital is about taking these non-financial contributions of a business and quantifying them to the bottom line. These non financial components of a business ere: intellectual capital (The value of a company or organization’s employee knowledge), human capital (the combination of knowledge, and the employee’s skills to adapt to the different requested tasks in the company), structural capital (supportive infrastructure, processes, and databases of the organization), customer capital (the value inherent in a company’s relationships with its customers), organizational capital (is the organizational philosophy), innovation capital (imagination capital), and process capital (techniques, procedures).

For people of African descent, managing their intellectual capital within modern business is a complex task.  A lot of very competent young African people have had short stays within corporate Africa because they cannot manage the ethics of intellectual capital the business that they work in.

In most cases young Africans will leave the corporate environment due to lack of appreciation for their contributed intellectual capital.  This is because in Africa you have corporations whose cultures and values are in opposition to indigenous African intellectual capital. There is a divide in corporate Africa between European and African context of ethics of intellectual capital, which sometimes gets in the way of doing business on the continent.

My view has always been that there are great African contributions that are being made, and will continue to be made in the development of indigenous African intellectual capital. According to the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s research office, these are some of the areas that are being researched and applied to African intellectual capital and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS):

  • African indigenous agriculture and food security, including the use of wild food resources and post- harvest technologies in the context of natural resource and disaster management systems for climate change adaptation and mitigation. Researchers in those areas investigate the behaviors of living organisms as early warning systems, taboos, and totemic systems as indigenous environmental protection mechanisms; 

  • African traditional medicine involving working with traditional healers in the identification and screening of medicinal plants for the treatment of various community ailments; smoke research for conservation; cultivation, and improving chemical constituents of indigenous medicinal plants; 

  • African indigenous approaches to conflict management and transformation, including investigation into actors, principles, mechanisms and their applicability in modern times within the context of culture, gender and human rights; 

  • African traditional leadership and governance systems. Researchers investigate the nature and characteristics of African traditional institutions; issues of legitimacy, democracy and accountability; traditional African institutions and modernity (challenges and prospects);
  • African Indigenous Knowledge Systems and creative/cultural industries, especially with regard to promoting indigenous community enterprises for employment creation and income generation among vulnerable social groups (women, youth and people living with disability); 

  • African indigenous languages where researchers investigate issues on the diversity of African indigenous languages and their impact on development policy, language demographics, linguistic features of African indigenous languages, etc. 

Lovemore Mbigi is a world renowned specialist in entrepreneurship and African Management, researcher, PhD supervisor, author (4 books) and global educator.

Lovemore Mbigi in his book; In Search of the African Business Renaissance goes further to describe the importance of African social or indigenous capital in modern organizations, and its contribution to modern intellectual capital, by saying the following:

“African Social capital–an organization’s emotional and spiritual resources–is a distinctive competitive factor akin to intellectual capital. Social capital affects the impact of any strategic intervention and the ultimate effectiveness of policies, procedures, and processes. But modern management thinking, practices, and literature are weak in managing emotional and spiritual resources, which also help determine the value of an organization. Science is not instructive on how to manage social capital in organizations. Social capital is a different form of energy and level of consciousness, and requires a different knowledge base.

It is not that people of African descent place less value on the bottom line but it is however in how that goal of achieving the bottom-line that is questioned. To a large degree this is largely an issue of the cold reception to African values, which underpin how Africans interpret intellectual capital and its potential in corporate Africa.

Navigating the subtitles of the cultural divide between people of African origin and people of European origin becomes the most important task for corporatized young Africans, in the intellectual capital debates.

Unfortunately in Africa to a large degree, intellectual capital still has a color in that if you are of European decent you are competent until you prove yourself other wise, and if you are African you are incompetent unless you prove yourself otherwise.

The cultural prerogative for measuring African intellectual capital for corporates on the continent does not form the basis for their desire to understand African intellectual capital, and integrate it into their management practices.   

Leif Edvinsson. Copyright Kommunikasjonsavdelingen NTFK

When I worked in Sweden in the late 90’s early millennium, I had the pleasure of meeting a man by the name of Leif Edvinsson. He was the founder for the Skandia Navigator, a planning tool for the insurance company Skandia based on intellectual capital. Skandia navigator is classified as a non-monetary model and was first developed by Leif Edvinsson in 1998, while he was corporate director of intellectual capital at Skandia. He was the first corporate director of intellectual capital in the world, and from then he has become a leading proponent of intellectual capital measurement.

The Skandia navigator managed the intangible components of a business and correlated them with the bottom line resulting in financial capital. Leif Edivnsson argued that traditional accounting did not always respond to the market value, and that is because of the value of intangible assets or intellectual capital. The Skandia navigator was used as a planning tool to arrive at what the company had to look like in the future taking into account its intellectual capital. There was a belief with Mr Edvinson that financials measured the value of the company yesterday and in the past, and that intellectual capital gave the company a more accurate valuation of its present and future.

In my time in Sweden, I learned that if African countries wanted to be relevant in future economies, they had to leverage off their indigenous knowledge or intellectual capital.

Africa had to form knowledge societies. Sometime soon in the future, businesses will not be measured by financial wealth but rather the contributed human capital within business. There is no time like the present for Africa to begin to quantify some of its indigenous knowledge as African intellectual capital and to begin to monetize it. African intellectual capital can be found within the vast wealth of imagination capital on the African continent.

If Africa is willing to leverage off this indigenous imagination capital, this will lead to the resurgence of corporations on the continent that are open to African intellectual capital.  


Analysis, Media, Voices


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: