Africa - a platform in the making for innovation

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At the Annual Meetings of the AfDB in Portugal, the High Level seminar "Africa: Innovation Platform for Growth" on 8 June 2011 focused on the catalytic role that innovation ought to play in Africa’s economic development.

There are two aspects to this: The fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa. But Africa has only 3 percent of the world’s researchers, and is producing only one percent of scientific journals  A stronger commitment to research could provide lasting solutions to some of Africa's economic problems.

In the seminar, participants addressed the complex nature of this issue.

According to the Executive Secretary of the Foundation for Capacity Building in Africa, Ms. Frannie Léautier, "innovation means creating value from knowledge"

Cheick Modibo Diarra, Chairman of Microsoft Africa, maintained that creating an enabling environment in terms of funding, developing sound policies, providing support to universtities, and fostering  knowledge, science and technology was a necessary but not insufficient basis for innovation.

Innovation is both an integral part and the end product of a long process in which education, culture and attitude to risk all play a part.

The starting point for a solution is to rely on the effective combination of three elements: Government University and Business.

The successful interaction of these three elements permits businesses to invest in training and research (and new staff if required), universities to be provided with more resources and governments to collect higher  tax revenues as a consequence of the resultant economic growth.

Innovation can produce economic growth and contribute to economic development by, among other things, providing the market with new goods or services, finding new ways to improve service delivery, or produce goods, by reorganizing production processes and developing markets.

Promoting innovation is a challenge for developing countries, particularly in Africa, but meeting this challenge will help create wealth and work towards the improvement of society.

Innovation has played a decisive role in the growth of all developed and emerging countries that have managed to obtain economic growth in double figures.

Between 1960 and 1965, when most African countries gained their independence, average per capita income (in terms of purchasing power parity) in South Korea and Singapore were lower than those of African countries such as Cameroon and Ghana.

But by the 1980s, the average per capita income of South Korea and Singapore were respectively three and eight times higher than that of African countries south of the Sahara.

In emerging Asian countries, these growth rates were achieved by thorough structural reforms of the economy based on innovation, efficient sector performance and a clear vision.

To sustain growth, these countries have continued to work on policy coherence, maintaining the ecosystem of innovation and knowledge transfer, investment in reseach and development (R&D) and strengthening the mechanisms that transform knowledge into jobs and wealth.

Three stages of technology acquisition can be identified in the economies of developing countries:

In the first stage, economies acquire foreign mature technologies such as assembly operations.

The second stage is the consolidation of technology through duplication and creative imitation.  This depends on strengthening infrastructure and technological capabilities.

The final stage is the creation of emerging technologies by investment in R & D.

Seen in this light, innovation can be described as an interactive learning process in which the participants improve their skills and thus contribute to the transformation of knowledge into value for the greater socioeconomic benefit of all.