Business is booming like never before on the continent of Africa. Scientific innovation has experienced unprecedented growth over the past ten years and African leaders are committing to put increasingly more resources into science and technology. Over the past thirty years Africa has seen a rise in private universities, now standing at 1,000 universities and over 1,500 institutions of higher learning, which has led to a more educated and skilled workforce.
Examples of innovation in Africa are far and wide. In June 2014, Microsoft launched its free 4Afrika IP Hub, which would allow for intellectual property (IP) for young African developers who used the hub to publish their inventions. Nigeria has invested millions of dollars in the Nigerian Academy of Science. Cities like Dar es Salaam and Nairobi rapidly becoming competitive and growing hub cities for business and innovation.
The innovative harnessing of Africa’s natural resources is another source of potential for future investment. Angola’s agricultural sector offers huge potential for efficient and sustainable production. Zambia is strengthening start-up initiatives, such as avocado exportation, which require a continuous drive to strengthen the agricultural value chain.
Hindrances to Innovation
Africa still has a ways to go, however, as the continent accounts for only one percent of the global research output, a mere 0.28% of global research is Africa-authored, despite having 12 percent of the world’s population. Many African nations are still at the mercy of fluctuating food prices and precarious food security. Funding tends to go to urgent areas and a lack of long-term planning by governments does not allow for a very nurturing environment for innovation and start-ups.
Africa’s rapid technological development is at the mercy of similarly robust and innovative competitors presented by the Latin American and Asian markets. Healthy competition is what can push African countries to streamline – both this competition and the model of lower-middle income countries becoming real players on the innovation landscape. This potential can push aside Africa’s over-dependence on foreign aid and short-term solutions and really shift the continent forward as a global player, through directed and sustained investment in key areas.
The African Union (AU) is also playing its part. Its development agenda, “The Africa We Want in 2063” calls for a stronger and more cohesive education environment, creating a properly trained workforce to deal with the opportunities and demands of the future. This will lead to a strong trend focusing on market needs and promotion of skills sharing.
A Future of Scientific Independence
Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, Chairman of the Planet Earth Institute, believes that the problem lies in not fully harnessing Africa’s human and natural resources. According to Sobrinho, institutional support, particularly from government and universities, has the potential to nurture and retain growing African expertise. Sobrinho’s vision is a scientifically independent Africa where companies are encouraged to the scientific and technological advancement of an increasingly competitive continent. The future of Africa will be based on partnerships and innovation.