It’s not yet Uhuru for Africa, as the continent has historically lagged behind other regions in terms of innovation. Africa has been consistently ranked as the least innovative continent by the World Intellectual Property Organization in the last 13 years in terms of technological development, and economic growth, despite increased interest from investors and tech enthusiasts, as well as noticeable progress in its tech startups space in the last five years.
World Intellectual Property Organization released the 15th edition of the Global Innovation Index (pdf) for 2022, which captures key innovation trends across four broad stages of the innovation journey: science and innovation investments, technological progress, technology adoption, and the socioeconomic impact of innovation. According to the report, Mauritius, South Africa, and Morocco are the most innovative countries in Africa, having moved significantly closer to developed economies in the rankings over the last few years. Also, Botswana witnessed the most improvement from 2021 to join Mauritius, South Africa, Morocco, and Tunisia in the top five lists, edging out Kenya.
Additionally, Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe outperformed expectations in the lower-middle-income category, while Rwanda, Madagascar (which has Africa’s fastest internet), Mozambique, and Burundi outperformed in the low-income category.
South Africa outperformed expectations in the upper middle-income group, while Mauritius performed within expectations. In the lower-middle income category, Ghana and Senegal’s innovation performance was in line with their economic development, as were Ethiopia, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Togo, and Niger.
Sadly, the rest of the countries, including the continent’s largest economy, Nigeria, and Botswana, underperformed in 2022.
Guinea is this year’s least innovative country, according to an index of 31 African countries. Africa remains the least innovative continent in comparison to the rest of the world.
Factors Militating Against Africa’s Innovativeness Potential
Numerous factors are hindering the continent’s potential to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of innovation, some of these factors are:
- Limited access to education: Many parts of Africa, particularly in rural areas, have limited access to education. This can make it difficult for people to acquire the skills and knowledge required to develop new technologies or launch new businesses.
- Political Instability: Political instability has made it difficult for people in some parts of Africa to focus on innovation and economic development. This could be a result of conflict, corruption, or other factors.
- Lack of Infrastructure: In many parts of Africa, basic infrastructure such as roads, electricity, and telecommunications are lacking. This can make it difficult for businesses to operate and for people to gain access to new technologies and information.
- Lack of access to capital: Many African entrepreneurs struggle to obtain the capital they require to start or grow their businesses. This can be attributed to a lack of access to traditional sources of financing, such as banks, or more systemic issues, such as a lack of investor legal protections.
World’s most Innovative Nations
While the survey ranks Switzerland as the world’s top innovation destination, it is followed by the United States, with China and G7 members Japan, France, Italy, and Canada failing to make the top ten list.
How Africa can become one of the most innovative continents
Despite these obstacles, Africa is home to many innovative and enterprising people who are working to overcome them and drive economic and technological development in their respective countries and regions. Many initiatives and organizations, such as accelerators, incubators, and venture capital firms, are also working to support innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa.
The continent has the potential to become one of the world’s most innovative regions, but it will take a collaborative effort from governments, businesses, and individuals across the continent. Here are some of the ways that Africa can promote innovation and become a global leader:
- Invest in education and research: A solid educational system is the bedrock of any innovative society. African governments should prioritize investments in education at all levels, from primary school to higher education and research. Not only will this provide the next generation of Africans with the skills and knowledge required to drive innovation, but it will also create a pipeline of talented and educated individuals who can contribute to the continent’s economic and technological growth.
- Encourage small businesses and entrepreneurship: Small businesses and startups are frequently the driving forces behind innovation, and Africa has the potential to become a hotbed of entrepreneurship. Governments can help by creating an environment that encourages small businesses to thrive, such as by providing access to funding and business development resources.
- Encourage the adoption of new technologies: Africa has the opportunity to bypass some of the technological infrastructure challenges that more developed countries face and directly adopt new technologies. Many African countries, for example, are already relying on mobile money and other digital financial services rather than building traditional banking infrastructure. Governments and businesses should continue to investigate and implement new technologies that can drive innovation and improve people’s lives.
- Collaborate with the global community: Africa can benefit from working with other countries and organizations all over the world. Partnerships with multinational corporations, international research institutions, and other organizations that can provide expertise and resources could fall under this category.
- Foster an innovative culture: Finally, it is critical to establish a culture that values and encourages innovation. This could include investing in programs that encourage creativity and risk-taking, as well as recognizing and rewarding individuals and organizations that are driving change and having a positive impact on society.
Africa can become a global leader in innovation and make a significant contribution to the world’s economic and technological development by focusing on these key areas.