Countries across the continent are racing to develop innovation hubs in a bid to attract the global and regional talent needed to become globally competitive knowledge economies. Shoshana Kedem reports
African countries need to develop the environment and infrastructure to capitalise on the opportunities of a global digital economy that is poised to rake in over $60 trillion in revenues by 2025. A recent meeting of stakeholders of the Africaso infrastructure fund warned countries that if they continue at the current rate of industrialisation, and fail to invest in their knowledge economies, they will face loom jobless citizens across the region by 2050.
"What we need to do as Africa is recognise that it's not oil or gas or minerals that's going to determine our competitiveness in the world, it's knowledge and the ability to innovate and create mega-businesses that are going to be the Google and Facebooks of this world," the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Akinwumi Adesina tells African Business at the Africaso meeting in Kigali.
"It is passe to say that the comparative advantage of your country depends on the natural resources you have," he says. "Today you don't need to have any resources, but you do need very smart brains."
In order to nurture homegrown talent, governments need to develop world-class innovation hubs, like the US tech capital Silicon Valley, he argues.
Around 440 innovation hubs and centres across the continent are providing a forum for entrepreneurs and startups to access the technology, industrial expertise and financial instruments needed to develop and scale up their businesses.
"Innovation hubs come into play when there's an environment that allows them to prosper," says Nathalie Munyampenda, the managing director of the Next Einstein Forum, which runs a series of conferences for Africa's science and technology talent.
Innovation ecosystems require basic infrastructure, such as road networks and ports, digital infrastructure including cheap broadband, supportive business and regulatory environments, technology, and talented scientific and mathematical minds, Munyampenda explains. And in too many countries these basics are desperately lacking.
"Today, if we in Africa do not invest in these five pillars, if we do not create affiliations and consortiums that tap into private sector money, and have governments that are pushing ahead, we will be left behind," she warns. "We are already 97% behind what we...