African countries needs to invest in research and development

November 28, 2013

As African economies matures and moves higher up the value chain, they will no longer be able to rely on their rich vast natural resources that have for decades been fueling civil war with Nigeria, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and now Mozambique among the many countries that have suffered turmoil for ages as a result. Statistics shows that most of countries in sub Saharan Africa have robust domestic consumption. For African countries to achieve the economic developments of the western countries they will have to innovate and create their own technologies that caters for local challenges and not importing solutions that have worked elsewhere where there are no similarities with African countries. For this to happen, Africa countries needs competent researchers and scientists who can carry out cutting-edge research in engineering, consumer products, medicine, pharmaceuticals and social economic trends. Investing in research and development will help African Governments push private investment to drive their economies as relying on private consumption is not sustainable in the long run and there is need to support private investment growth that largely depends with local researchers and scientists.

Research has shown that in sub Saharan Africa domestic demand will still continue to support   economies moving forward and indicators are indicating that countries are shifting growth from private consumption to private investment. In the recent past, Sub Saharan Africa has seen that private investment growth is higher than the private consumption growth rate. In a document released last night, domestic demand recorded a 15% growth against 10% in the same quarter last year, lead by growth in household and business spending, and public sector expenditure with Nigeria, Angola, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa leading the pack. Private consumption has also expanded supported by favourable employment conditions and higher wage growth, especially in the domestic-oriented sectors. Sub Saharan Africa spend less than 1% of their annual national budgets on research. Finland, for example, has developed world-class research labs and attracts global talent to work in the labs and the same I believe can happen in Africa in the coming decades.

Sadly sub Saharan Africa countries are the laggards in the world when it comes to research as they only spends 0.5% of their GDP on research per annum. It is a unfathomable that a researcher with Ph.D. is paid less than $1,000 per month in some African countries a factor that has contributed to massive brain drain in the continent. Countries like Kenya, Egypt, South Africa and Mauritius attract the best brains because of valuing their talent and paying more than $3,000 per month depending on the field of research. Remote estimates shows that Africa, the home of more than one billion people will need some 1,000,000 additional researchers across the sciences in order to catch up with the rate of technological advance in countries like Brazil, Turkey, China, India, Europe and North America which have among the strongest research programs. There is need for government and the private sector to do more to promote sciences and invest in new research facilities to help the continent catch up with the rest of the world. Currently there are only a handful of such facilities in the sub Saharan Africa and if this situation is not rectified especially in Central and West Africa, in the longer term it will affect economic growth and social progress of the most appetizing investment destination in the world.

Contador Harrison