03 November 2014, Abidjan – Closing the technology and innovation gap in Africa has been hampered by the lack of coherent national innovation policies including appropriate regulatory frameworks and incentive regimes, panelists at the ongoing 9th Africa Economic Conference in Addis Ababa have said.
During the plenary session on the “Role of research and innovation in enhancing productivity and competitiveness in Africa”, participants noted that lack of strategic public-private partnerships on education and skills development, and insufficient policies aimed at enhancing the availability of venture capital in Africa continues to undermine its efforts to bridge the innovation gap.
Panelists and participants also underscored that each country should develop a coherent innovation strategy with a clear roadmap based on its specific reality and situation to facilitate monitoring progress.
They emphasized the need to not only have a targeted approach but also streamline policy priorities to improve coherence and reduce duplication.
“It is going back to understand what are our comparative advantages, and then focus on those comparative advantages and build centers of excellence around it,” said the session moderator, Antonio Pedro, Director of the Sub-Regional Office for East Africa, UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), who summarized the key messages discussed during the session.
In his remarks, Abebe Shimeles, Acting Director of the Development Research Department at the African Development Bank (AfDB), underscored the need for governments to put in place coherent and consistent policy to facilitate the private sector to drive innovation.
“In most low-income African countries even basic things are challenges to the private sector,” said Shimeles.
“The role of the state needs to be defined in a way that the private sector can have a conducive environment,” he said, emphasizing that public-private partnerships can be effective if the role of government and the private sector are clearly defined.
For his part, Kasirim Nwuke, Chief, New Technologies and Innovation Section, ECA, noted that to improve on the technological competence, the productive sector in African countries has to be able to master imported technologies, adapt them to local conditions, improve them and finally use them as a base for creating innovations locally.
Participants also noted that for African enterprises to develop and influence the breadth and depth of industrial linkages, they would need skills and technologies to upgrade production processes, and identify market opportunities.
Similarly, entering global supply and value chains implies that African enterprises will need to upgrade operational competitiveness, meet global technical standards and adopt world-class manufacturing practices – in many cases these require a level of expertise that is not readily available.
Participants also noted that the pace of skills and technology development and innovation has been slow in Africa mainly because of the lack of a large university-educated skilled labour force, high quality laboratories and scientific equipment, the availability of long-term finance, strong private sector initiative and managerial capacity.