Building a Resilient Innovative Africa in a COVID-19 world

LevellingupR&D inAfrica Research-led innovation in a continent as young as Africa, and one that is driven by a natural aptitude to create, is key to value chain creation, economic growth, and job creation. Experts that were interviewed all agree that innovative solutions based on relevant, African-focused research have the power to transform the continent and unlock its innovation potential across the keys areas of ICT, energy, pharmaceuticals, agribusiness andmanymore sectors. Yet, the level of research and development (R&D) in African countries remains low. There remains a mismatch between innovation and research. According to Kevin Chika Urama, Senior Director, African Development Institute, African Development Bank Group, the regionalization ofmarkets andvalue chains has become a priority forAfrican governments, andwe can expect to see competition from foreign firms reduce over time. Africa is a large market with tremendous opportunities. He reiterates that to fully leverage these new opportunities there is a need to enhance national innovation ecosystems, which in manyAfrican countries are not robust enough yet. Urama explains how on average, Africa invests around 0.42 percent of its GDP on science and R&D, whilst developing countries invest between two to four percent. There is therefore an immediate need for policy to step up and influence investments in R&D, without which the continent will continue to produce low patent levels. Presently, the fewpatents for innovations developed on the continent are typically (and swiftly) bought by foreign firms with the capital to do so. This needs to change in order for Africa to benefit from its own R&D. The AUC’s Ngwenya explains how policy is critical to unleashing the continent’s innovation potential. As part of its work towards creating an enabling environment, in February 2020 the African Union adopted the Digital Transformation Strategy (DTS) to help ensure that the continent is poised to benefit from a digital revolution for socio-economic development. Ngwenya also suggests that so far, the DTS framework that has been set and agreed upon bymember states has not seen the level of adoption required, owing largely to the redirection of resources resulting from COVID-19. As a next step, as Africa grapples with the fallout from the pandemic, the AU will continue to identify new pathways to support member states in their adoption of these digital policies at the country level. Strengthening Policy Development to Encourage R&D and Innovation

Prudence Nonkululeko Ngwenya Head of the Division of Human Resource and Youth Development at the African Union Commission (AUC) “In the past decade, Africa haswitnessed an increase in innovation andR&D. A fewAfrican countries have made innovation a national priority, which has led to an increase in investment across the continent. South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, and more recently Rwanda and Botswana have made significant strides in driving innovation and R&D and serve as roadmaps to follow. As a result, these countries are beginning to rate highly in global innovation rankings. Although other African member states recognize the importance of innovation, investment constraints have posed challenges to their innovation agenda.”


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