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Award-winning researcher argues that Africa’s future lies with innovation


There is a huge need to study innovation in various African contexts in order to maximally foster the continent’s much-desired economic transformation.

This idea was fronted by university researcher, Rajlakshmi Dé, on Day 2 of the 9th edition of the African Economic Conference hosted in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Alongside other notable researchers, Dé presented her paper to the conference titled, “Optimal conditions for innovation: firm-level evidence from Kenya and Uganda,” - which was named “Best Conference Paper" by the organizers, the African Development Bank(AfDB), United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

In this paper, Dé argues that the potential benefits from entrepreneurship and innovation for developing countries are enormous despite a daunting challenge in the quality of data available on the continent.  

“Despite the growing emphasis on business as a sustainable means for development, almost all studies into the determinants of innovation use data from Western nations. As a result, the unique features within African countries that may spur innovation are not fully substantiated through empirical evidence,” she said, during a panel discussion titled “Innovation for Africa’s transformation”.

“The optimal conditions for innovation have not been very useful because most previous research is obtained from Western contexts. Therefore, each economy in Africa needs to invest heavily in homegrown research on organizational structure, innovation and the nature of available human capital.”

Another researcher, Jonathan Munemo, pointed out that economies need to boost innovation in their markets in order to increase the competitiveness of African products on the international scene.

 “There is evidence that there is a strong relationship between product market competition and innovation. More specifically, when competition is low to begin with, an increase in competition has a negative effect on innovation. This indicates that those with least investment in innovation are going to be left behind,” he said.

Guaranteeing innovation through protection of intellectual property is another area that Africa must address, according to another researcher, Sassire Napo.

In his argument, Napo said that, as an engine of growth in developing countries, the link between protection of intellectual property rights and economic growth must be revived.

“The impact of protection of intellectual property rights on growth depends on the countries’ development stage and is positively and significantly related to local innovation,” he said.

“Countries that have strong laws on copyright encourage investors and researchers to venture deeper into innovation, which in the end pays off enormously for any given economy.”

The two-day African Economic Conference, which took place from November 1-3 in Addis Ababa, brought together policy-makers, business leaders, economists and academics from around the world to discuss the way forward for Africa.