Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Global Congress on IP and the Public Interest, Day 2

Today the Global Congress largely focused on the OpenAIR Project, and specifically on three “Scenarios” launched today by OpenAIR (available for free download here).  The Scenarios are studies that explore, based on a number of base assumptions, the state of Africa and African IP as it may exist in the year 2035.
Three flavours of Africa -
which do you prefer?

Each Scenario was “launched” with a short, sometimes amusing, and sometimes depressing dramatization. The actors portrayed young Africans without access to jobs, government workers unhappy with government behaviour, and entrepreneurs with a super-upbeat view on business in Africa, among others. (This was easily the most engaging book-launch this Leo can remember.)

The Scenarios themselves cover a wide range. One Scenario suggests that “wireless connectivity” will become the most important factor in economic development, and will enable those with access (a majority, presumably) to hold leaders accountable for their governing. A second Scenario suggests that the “informal economy is the new norm,” and that the informal economy (i.e., the economy where IPR is largely irrelevant) will increase in importance and will support the majority of the population. The third Scenario suggests that a “sincerely African” economy will develop in response to external pressures [such as global warming, or terrorism perhaps?], and will draw on traditional knowledge and traditional cultural norms to address societal issues.

OpenAIR continuously stresses that these Scenarios are not supposed to be “the good, the bad, and the ugly”. Each Scenario has good aspects, and each has bad aspects. True enough, but this is largely dependent on your point of view. If you are a fan of (or if you view more favorably) development based on high technology, then the “wireless connectivity” Scenario would be “the good”, and the “sincerely African” Scenario with its emphasis on traditional solutions and knowledge would be “the bad”. If you believe that government is the answer to all of society’s ills, then the “informal economy” Scenario sounds quite bad. The point is that it’s impossible to ignore perspective and background when someone is reading the Scenarios.

OpenAIR also stresses that the Scenarios are not “predictive” in that they don’t say that any specific outcomes will happen. Rather, the Scenarios are supposed to be tools for understanding activities and events, and are supposed to explain possible outcomes if certain events occur. To this Leo, it’s a distinction without much of a difference.

One thing is sure: these Scenarios are a treasure trove for academics and even for multinational businesses. In fact the Scenario-building exercise was developed from a previous experience developed by/for Royal Dutch Shell. Many on the Continent will be skeptical of anything done by Shell (see controversies here). Nevertheless, a quick glance through the Scenarios (check them out!) confirms that they will be a very interesting read and a useful tool.

The day ended with a lecture from Peter Drahos (you know someone is important when they have a Wikipedia page).  Prof. Drahos spoke about energy, finance, enforcement, strategic disengagement by developing countries (as applied to financial architecture), and the power and importance of the BRICS countries in pushing the agenda of developing countries. “If [they] don’t, you will be subject to hegemony.” Here, here! This message was surely well received by the audience of the Global Congress...

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