Innovation leading IT investments in Africa

March 10, 2017

Innovation is key to meeting Africa’s future challenges, enhancing business competitiveness through improvements in productivity, and supporting jobs.Africa’s best performing economies tend to have innovative and sophisticated manufacturing sectors compared to their laggard counterparts. In contrast, the same countries have relied too much on the minerals boom and has squandered a unique chance to foster competitive industries with Nigeria, Angola, Algeria and South Africa being prime examples.It is common to find characteristic feature of economic booms that those caught up in the excitement believe they will go on forever like Gold in South Africa, copper in Zambia and Diamond in Botswana. Africa’s intellectual capital, commercial focus and collaborative approach make it an ideal partner for business and investment activities. International organisations have opportunities to collaborate with African research institutions, invest in or incorporate African solutions into existing products, or enter into joint ventures to take them to the global market.Unlike in the past, African countries now have a strong record of innovation, underpinned by their significant government and private sector research and development investment and quality enabling ICT infrastructure. Some countries like Kenya, South Africa and Egypt have a higher percentage of people employed in knowledge-intensive services. African research institutions including universities, medical research institutes, businesses and publicly funded research agencies have over the last three years achieved above average impact across their publications output.The trend highlight that IT investments by African governments are being channelled into resource optimisation like innovation and internationalisation as well as traceability and resilience. According to experts, resource optimisation involves streamlining redundant processes and optimising IT resources through next generation analytics for better performance and efficiency and thats already happening in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Ghana while innovation and internationalisation aim is to spur domestic industry IT innovation and export growth which Kenya and Nigeria are taking the lead.

African governments are likely to explore innovative sourcing techniques and justifications for third-platform technology pilots and investments.However, it is essential that the governments continue to ensure prudence in procurement practices for IT investments such as fairness for all goals, transparency and accountability drives, as well as value for money choices.As Arica’s traditional growth industries like manufacturing, retail and agriculture continue to stagnate in the current economic climate, the role of innovation has never been more important. African countries are at a tipping point and the need for industry and government to foster and reward innovation is imperative for our future global competitiveness. In order for African countries to compete on the global stage, not just on price but also quality, consistent, fresh and new ideas are key. Big economies in the continent like Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt who have no choice but to be innovative, are pushing to educate their future leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and it is providing them with an innovative edge. ICT tertiary education and training rates in Africa, however, have not grown in the past three years. As such, it is time for African industry and government to ask the question how they are going to compete without fresh, innovation focused minds.Your blogger expects to see an increase in the level of regional socioeconomic and political volatility in the next five years due to global uncertainties such as political instability in the continent, Brexit and migration crisis among others.African government executives are most probably likely push for a more resilient national security and online security domestic ecosystem to protect national and regional interests as well as put in place more protectionist approaches toward non African-based suppliers as a reaction to protect their domestic industries. However, this could affect the uptake of ICT solutions and much-needed innovation, especially with digital transformation goals to assimilate cloud and next-generation analytics solutions in particular.

In particular, I think Brexit will pose short to mid term challenges for African governments as their national governments need to figure out new trade, export and innovation exchange opportunities as well as navigate tighter regulations on government IT procurement and national cybersecurity interests which are largely supported by EU countries.Africa’s geographical distance from hubs such as Silicon Valley puts it at a disadvantage. Encouraging large multinationals to Africa is a must because it is an outstanding place to develop, encourage and appreciate new ideas.Am of the view that talent leaving African for more innovation friendly locations and an increasingly competitive global business environment can be addressed by business and government encouraging and nurturing disruptive individuals and companies, rather than penalising them with policies. Also of concern is the fact that African countries are adopting US IP laws which are becoming somewhat of Africa standard. Such plans can stifle innovation rather than encourage it. While global corporations continue to purchase smaller companies to build patent farms to protect product development, they are preventing innovation in areas like Africa just to protect their market share. By making IP laws more specific and easier to understand African countries could ensure continent’s innovators and inventors have power to control their ideas, but not to a degree that might damage or hold back innovation itself.Africa has a natural advantage in many sectors. African countries are rich in natural resources, have credible legal and education sectors, and as such number of local businesses in these areas are overcoming the hurdles to become real pioneers, not only Africa, but internationally like it is the case with Aliko Dangote, the Nigerian billionaire. In order to encourage further home-grown innovation African countries first need to recognise those who are pushing boundaries and there’s need to recognise the achievements of those at the cutting edge of technology innovation as well as leading professionals across the ICT industry.The innovative minds Africa has to offer must be nurtured and encouraged to remain on African soil in order for Africa to progress and remain competitive on the global stage. Those who are pushing the boundaries must stand up and be recognised, so that others may be inspired to follow their lead but don’t expect your blogger to be one of them.

Contador Harrison