December 11, 2017
Over recent years, Africa’s innovation landscape has moved through a period of unprecedented change. From the significant oil exporters on the west coast to the more established economies of the east, innovation has taken center stage as the primary catalyst for sustainable economic growth. But which nations have made the most significant impact on the continents innovation landscape?
According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Global Innovation Index 2017, South Africa leads the region’s top five, followed by Mauritius, Kenya, Botswana, and Tanzania. However, many of the continent’s most transformative innovations and innovators come from elsewhere. In 2016, Venture’s Africa magazine published 42 African Innovators to Watch, placing innovators from Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Tunisia in the top ten – however, it features three from Kenya and Nigeria, backing up the WIPO report.
FOCUS ON ICT
Ghana, which is missing from the WIPO Global Innovation Index 2017, boasts some of the most impactful and impressive innovations, underpinned by an increasingly mature and progressive innovation ecosystem. Ghanaian Afua Osei founded She Leads Africa (SLA), which is a ‘go-to’ community for smart and ambitious young African women, offering online guides, classes, coaching and on-the-road tours and programs. The fast-growing pan-African technology incubator MEST (the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology Incubator) also has a presence in Ghana, providing seed investment and mentorship for the next generation of ‘globally successful African software engineers.'
While innovators across the region are working across multiple industries, ICT continues to hold significant potential for widespread socio-economic change. Transformative processes, disruptive technologies such as automation, connectivity, the ‘internet of things,' sophisticated technological breakthroughs in construction materials, renewable energy and of course the ubiquitous mobile ‘app’ – all provide opportunities for young entrepreneurs and innovators.
This ‘4th industrial revolution’ represents a golden opportunity for Africa – the region with the world’s fastest growing youth population - to make hay while the sun shines. The continent is ripe with human capital: tech-savvy, better educated and more worldly-wise than ever before. The ICT sector is also important in promoting the continent’s structural transformation. The top ten Most Technologically Advanced Countries in Africa, compiled by AnswersAfrica.com is a good reference point in understanding how ICT innovation has transformed connectivity in individual nations and regionally. The list, which includes Zimbabwe (10th), Uganda (9th), Angola (8th), Botswana (7th) and Rwanda (6th) highlights how investment in broadband infrastructure, advanced engineering, hardware, software, computer and mobile phone software and services have delivered regional structural transformation and economic growth. Once again, Ghana features in the top ten, coming in 5th in the AnswersAfrica.com list. It is noted for having one of the best environments that aid advancement in technologies that support an enterprise. The Founder and CEO of Kenya’s 360 Degrees International, Dorothy Githae, said at the 2017 International Economic Forum on Africa that, “Entrepreneurs need support with structures,” Her company works with women and youth entrepreneurs, and Githae said there was still, “a lot of training and capacity building necessary.”
Technology is also a precursor for innovation in success across almost every other industry sector. The agriculture and food sector is an essential source of innovative development and is also crucial in achieving food security. Advanced farming technologies, digital technologies, and modern food processing systems are enormously important in the development of a sustainable food value chain. So too are current farming methods that improve crop output and boost productivity in parts of the region suffering from lower than average rainfalls as a consequence of global warming.
‘Top ten’ lists of African countries consistently show that Egypt, Ghana, and Nigeria have led the way in innovation but in reality, it is the maturation of the regional innovation ecosystem as a whole that is making the greatest long-term impact. The positive effect of innovation on Africa’s future is only as great as the sum of its parts. More needs to be done to further spark development in this sector; full-cycle innovation ecosystems, which include culture programs in less developed neighborhoods, will offspring more sustainable innovation talents than conventional innovation hubs in better neighborhoods do. A higher level of dedication that teaches creativity to the youth of Africa who really have nothing would push innovation as their new credo and generate more interest in the unknown that constructs an advanced and unbiased information exchange system with more intensity and sustainability.
Moreover, it is some of the less referenced countries – including Angola, Botswana, Mauritius, Mozambique and Senegal amongst others, that are making a significant collective contribution to the region’s innovation landscape. There are many ‘top ten’ lists – but when it comes to sustainable growth, there is only one Africa with one shared goal: long-term prosperity shared by all.