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For a long time, Africa has shown promise but has never quite become the proverbial “promised land” for its 1.2billion people. With a young growing population, expectations are high for Africa to rise up, claim the next decade(s) and be counted as a key player in the global economy. It remains uncertain whether this high expectation will be met….lest it becomes yet another African nightmare. Realising the African dream is our generation’s collective responsibility, and let’s be honest, the African dream cannot be deferred any further. What happens to Africa’s next 100years largely depends on you and me.
The innovation lever
In today’s knowledge economy, innovation is an important lever for economic transformation. As such, innovation must be the foundational bed rock of our plans. Achieving the African dream demands that the innovation agenda gets the elevation and seriously practical attention it deserves. This must be reflected in our policies and actions, beyond political rhetoric and state commissions. Policies and actions that stimulate innovation, R&D efficiency and improve entrepreneurship mortality rates are likely to have the greatest impact for all our people in the next decade(s).
For Africa to move ahead with a realistic chance of success, it must first pause and look back into history. A critical understanding of what exactly it takes to become an innovation powerhouse and an essential piece of the world’s economic engine is key. Africa needs to comprehend the magnitude and urgency of this task, as well as put its ambition in context. In this respect, the case of Asia, (particularly China), is instructive.
What does it take: A quick look at China
Some have argued that China’s transformation has been a 40-year journey which started with the adoption of the “open door policy” in 1978. Since then, its GDP per capita has increased by more than 50 times from below US$200 to above US$8000. Its once agrarian economy has now become a digital and innovation powerhouse which leverages the quantity and quality of its human capital and scale of domestic market to dominate the international export market.
This transformation has not been accidental and the numbers shared by the Sweden’s Office of Science Innovation earlier this year give us an indication of what exactly it takes to be a key player in the global economic arena. Today, China has:
• 2.15% R&D to GDP ratio
• more than 4million R&D personnel
• 130k Science and Innovation Small to Medium Enterprises
• 83 out of the 310 unicorns were from China (a unicorn is a tech startup worth more than US$1bn in value)
• is ranked #17 in the Global Innovation Index
• is #2 in the world for science publications and citations
• has 2% of the highly cited AI publications
• is ranked #1 in the world of patents granted
As Africa, where do we currently sit against these or any other innovation metrics?
This is the China story and Africa must write its own. Challenges of poverty, unemployment, inequality, conflict, corruption, policy uncertainty and ineffective leadership are some of the obstacles in our way that must be overcomed. We can not wish them away, but we can not let them continue to define our destiny.
It will not be easy but it must be done and it must be done by us. With the 4th Industrial Revolution already here, we must grab the opportunities and position ourselves for the 5th+ Industrial Revolution(s). We need to leverage our human capital and significant domestic consumer base to advance innovation and improve the mortality rate of SMEs through strategic policy interventions. Domestic stability as well as Pan-African Economic co-operation and integration are key; they must be expanded and accelerated in very practical ways. As the saying goes; “If you want to go fast, go alone If you want to go far, go together.” We are stronger when we stand together, united as one Africa. We need purposeful leadership that is bold, courageous and visionary, yet practical.
Above all, you and I need to really care about Africa and its future.
by Grant Chivandire an African working in the innovation space
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