Africa rebooting.

Author:Juma, Calestous
Position:Africa Innovates

We all know Africa is a continent full of innovation. Now policy makers at all levels must put this strength, along with scientific and technical development, at the centre of economic strategies. Fortunately, the African Union has recently adopted a strategy that seeks to do exactly that.

Strong demand for raw materials, especially by China, and a growth in consumption by an expanding middle class has driven Africa's growth in the past decade. Seeking sustainability, policymakers are shifting their attention from raw materials to an economic outlook that is driven by technological innovation.

The 10-year Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024) recently adopted by the African Union (AU) embodies this vision. Its mission is to "accelerate Africa's transition to an innovation-led, knowledge-based economy." The strategy is part of the longer-term Agenda 2063--the AU's development vision and action plan.

Acting strategically

The strategy takes into account Africa's current level of development and its persistent challenges. It seeks to deploy science, technology and innovation to address six key challenges. These include building infrastructure, eliminating hunger, improving human development, protecting the environment, enhancing social cohesion and spreading prosperity.

These priorities have been extensively discussed and are not new. What is different is the determination of African leaders to leverage existing and new technologies to address them in ways that are sustainable and inclusive.

STISA-2024 builds on a series of previous efforts to leverage science and technology for development. Most of the previous efforts assumed a linear relationship between research, development, demonstration and deployment. As a result, much of the policy emphasis was on allocating at least 1% of GDP to research and development (R&D).

Africa still values the importance of research, but no longer considers this linear view to be viable. Based on experiences in the rapid adoption of mobile phones, the continent is now looking into combining R&D with leveraging existing technologies and using them to create new enterprises. This approach provides Africa with a more hopeful future for tapping into an exponentially-growing global knowledge reservoir.

The plan also includes seeing innovation emerge as a result of interactions between government, academia, business and civil society. For example, South Africa has become a major player...

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