Furthering Innovation in Sub-Saharan Africa

Thursday, January 17, 2019

For several editions, the GII has noted that the Sub-Saharan Africa region performs relatively well on innovation. For example, the GII 2018 recognizes twenty countries as ‘Innovation Achievers,’ a group consisting of countries that outperform on innovation as compared to their peers at similar levels of development (see Table). Six out of the total twenty come from Sub-Saharan Africa, the most of any region.
























Sub-Saharan Africa has seen innovation in many areas including most notably in mobile based financial transactions. A 2016 article in Science, authored by Tavneet Suri and William Jack noted that the vast majority of Kenyan households have adopted mobile money, a service that allows money to be stored in mobile phones and transmitted to others via text messages. The authors estimate that access to the Kenyan mobile money system M-PESA has increased per capita consumption levels and lifted 194,000 households or 2% of Kenyan households out of poverty.


The Silicon Savannah is the innovation ecosystem located in Sub-Saharan Africa and is one of the fastest growing tech innovation ecosystems in emerging markets. Companies such as Intel, IBM and Microsoft have invested more than $1b in supporting the growth of over 200 start-ups here. Tech companies such as BRCK connects off the grid schools to the internet using solar powered routers and tablets. The company AB3D turns electronic waste into affordable 3D printers that spit out artificial limbs.


Despite ongoing successes, much needs to be done to enhance the innovative success of Sub-Saharan Africa. Nations need dedicated innovation policies targeting innovation actors and the linkages among them, for example, via collaborative research projects, public-private partnerships and clusters. These policies should support a strong human capital and research base (including research infrastructures), sophisticated firms and markets, innovation linkages, knowledge absorption, and fostering innovation outputs as captured by the GII. Direct support for business R&D and innovation should be provided in the form of grants, subsidies or indirect measures such as R&D tax credits. There is also a need to create an “innovation culture” within businesses, students and society at large, with the intent to spur greater entrepreneurial activity and increase public appreciation for science and innovation.


Strengthening the management capacity of key public and private sector actors in Sub-Saharan African nations is essential to further develop the innovative potential of the region. 


By Soumitra Dutta, Co-Editor, GII

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