Ethiopia needs to invest in research

November 22, 2014

As Ethiopia’s economy matures and moves higher up the value chain, it will no longer be able to rely on its robust domestic consumption. If the country wants to realize its ambition of being a top five African economies by 2020, it will have to innovate and create its own technology. For this to happen, the country needs researchers and scientists who can carry out cutting-edge research in medicine, pharmaceuticals, consumer products and social trends. It need only look at South Africa to see how far they have advanced due to investments in research. Other countries are also spending a considerable chunk of their budget on research. Egypt, for example, has developed world-class biotechnology research labs and attracts global talent to work in the labs. Where does Ethiopia stand on research and innovation? Sadly the country only spends less than one percent of its GDP on research per year. The country is estimated that it needs some 150,000 additional researchers across the sciences in order to catch up with the rate of technological advance in countries with strong research programs. At present, the number of researchers in Ethiopia is insignificant. This means the government and the young private sector in the country must do more to promote the sciences and invest in new research facilities. In research, the more the country invests the more rewards it will have for decades to come.

An Ethiopian Airline at Bole International Airport
An Ethiopian Airline at Bole International Airport

Currently there are only a handful of such facilities in the country and if this situation is not rectified, in the longer term it will affect economic growth and social progress. Addis Ababa Government need to support planned, stable and appropriate investment in research over the long term, which is essential if the country, is to tackle large, complex problems and opportunities facing it. To ensure the country attract and retain the best researchers, Government must offer appropriate conditions and must set a stable and sustainable funding framework for infrastructure buildings, equipment and the technical experts to keep them operating, especially for national facilities without which critical work cannot continue. Regional collaboration with countries like Kenya, Egypt and South Africa is more necessary than ever with the rise of international research, commerce, communication and other systems that transform lives and opportunities. Ethiopia’s best researchers must be able to work with the best in Africa, building on the credibility country’s researchers already have across a wide array of disciplines. When industry and researchers work together effectively they innovate and multiply their strengths. They must ensure there are clear and reliable policy incentives that facilitate deep and sustained collaboration between industry, public sector, university and research institutes. This will not only ensure that the benefits from basic research are translated into practice in Ethiopia, but also harnesses national talent and creates knowledge, opportunity and new jobs. There’s need to create an environment which encourages industry to invest more in research and which makes Ethiopia an attractive place for international companies to undertake research. Improving industrial productivity has become critical to ensuring strong growth and innovation underpinned by research and development and investment plays a key part in meeting this objective.

Contador Harrison