Africa has a technology problem, just how bad is it?

by Imara Africa Securities 0

Africa has a technology problem

With global exports of high technology rising by 18 percentage points since 2000, it has been found that developing countries accounted for 52% of the gross amount, although African countries continued to lag behind, representing just 0.3% of the total, the latest UNCTAD Technology and Innovation Report has stated, reads the Guardiannews.

The report, subtitled Fostering Innovation Policies for Industrial Development, examines how Africa’s governments can better implement science, technology and innovation policies, and coordinates them with industrial policies and industrial development plans.

The report found that, mainly because of difficulties in coordinating those two policy frameworks, even African countries that spend more on research and development as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) do not manage to export more high- and medium-technology products. Similarly, the report provides in depth analyses of industrial and science, technology and innovation policies in Ethiopia, Nigeria and the United Republic of Tanzania, along with regional trends and initiatives in policies in other African countries. The report also shows that patterns of policy conceptualisation, design, planning and implementation are critical to the success of companies and hold the key to making technology work for business. According to UNCTAD, recent studies have shown that it is not enough to just have a policy emphasis on technology-led growth; instead, the success of policies depends on how policy processes work to facilitate collaboration and cooperation between policy agencies, companies, businesses and research.

UNCTAD noted that policymakers need to formulate industrial policies not as a standalone framework but in coherence with other policies, like the innovation policy. “As subjects of the study, the Ethiopia, Nigeria and the United Republic of Tanzania were chosen for their differing economic profiles: while Nigeria is an oil-rich developing country, Ethiopia is a least developed country with a resource-concentration in agriculture, mainly coffee. These countries are juxtaposed with the United Republic of Tanzania, which has a mix of resource-based activities and other sectors. Thus, each country serves to illustrate a developmental challenge in the realm of coordination of industrial and innovation policies for developmental outcomes.

“Each country also has national vision documents, new industrial development strategies and science, technology and innovation policies that embody the aspiration of their Governments to transform the nations into middle-income economies within the next two to three decades. “In addition, all three countries had relatively impressive GDP growth rates over the past decade, if not longer, and increased research and development expenditure as a percentage of GDP in the 2000s. Despite this, they have faced difficulties in focusing those investments into greater technological learning, particularly in firms, as demonstrated by the lack of medium- and higher-technology products in their exports.

“Almost all countries in Africa, including the three countries that were studied, and more generally in the developing world, are currently at a developmental stage where industrial development through technological change should be a central, if not the most important, priority. Not only is there a policy transition in that direction, the field surveys showed the extensive degree of political commitment to enacting elaborate industrial policy frameworks and revising science, technology and innovation policies towards innovation”, UNCTAD explained.

Technological development in Sub-Saharan Africa has clearly lagged behind that of developed countries and we believe that African countries should increase their investment into technological infrastructure and education. Outlays into upgrading of internet facilities and speeds will be an essential element of this as it will assist countries in bridging the digital divide whilst also advancing the provision of education and educational resources through widely available.