The innovations that are sweeping across the African continent, from the M-Pesa, a mobile banking service invented in Kenya to the Square Kilometer Array, a powerful radio telescope present in South Africa tend to prove that it is entirely possible to industrialize Africa by innovating. Relying on or replicating the pattern applied by Asia or the United States when these countries began their industrialization seems to be a bad option. Hence the importance of wondering how to innovate by industrializing Africa.
ITS at the service of African industrialization
The African continent must now reform and advance Africa’s science, technology and innovation (STI) agenda. These three areas should contribute to the industrial transformation of the continent. A 2012 AU / NEPAD survey in 19 African countries highlights that only Malawi, Uganda and South Africa invest more than 1% of their GDP in R&D, compared with 0.2% to 0 , 5% for the others. African investment is 7 times lower than that made by industrialized countries.
If African innovations multiply, their value, quality, relevance and impact are forgotten due to lack of investment in the production and marketing of knowledge. Despite this delay in terms of industrialization in the rest of the world, it is undeniable that the rapid adoption of new technologies by the African population and the multiplication of innovation poles play an important role in the transition from Africa to the ‘industrialization.
African countries such as Kenya, Rwanda, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa have the means to industrialize quickly. For example, China, in the space of 30 years, thanks to the reforms implemented by Deng Xiaoping, has managed to rapidly industrialize the country. The origin of this success? The appearance of many specific economic zones associated with industrial groupings.
In less than 15 years, these groups have managed to contribute 50% of gross high-tech industrial production.
What type of innovation should Africa turn to?
For rapid industrialization, it is essential that the African continent get out of the trap of moving towards sectors whose productions are of low added value. Some countries are already investing in the innovative renewable and clean energy sectors. By relying on its abundant and unexploited resources in renewable energies, Africa has the necessary means to rapidly move to a new model of clean techno-economic industrialization.
The growing awareness of the impact of environmental degradation and climate change has had a positive influence on the priorities towards which African R&D must turn. These include clean energy technologies or bio-agriculture.
African youth, experts in the use of digital technologies, must help accelerate industrialization. The informal sector in Africa, often criticized, constitutes one of the most inventive environments. This is fertile ground for economic innovation and for entrepreneurs capable of transforming scrap into treasure.
Specialists in this informal economy constitute an important reservoir of local talent that Africa must associate with its industrialization process. The informal sector already accounts for a very large part of the economy. Having been associated for decades with local poverty and harsh working conditions, the informal sector is now attracting many investors.
The democratization of ICT offers opportunities for the African continent to leapfrog the industrialization stage while bridging the technological gap. Africa is already avoiding traditional steps thanks to wireless technologies, satellite bandwidth and inexpensive mobile technologies.