African countries fare poorly in innovation ranking

Priests take turns to view a phone within a virtual reality box
Priests take turns to view a phone within a virtual reality box in Ethiopia Copyright: Panos

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  • Eight of bottom-ten nations ranked by innovation prowess are in Africa
  • Only seven countries from Sub-Saharan Africa in world’s top 100
  • To rise up ranks nations need to prioritise investment, data collection

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[MUTARE, ZIMBABWE] Africa’s quest to use innovation for sustainable development could suffer as only eight countries in Sub-Saharan Africa were ranked among the top 100 in the latest Global Innovation Index (GII).

The GII, which was released last month (10 July), grades countries by measuring components of innovation input such as human capital, as well as research and business sophistication and the results of innovation activities.

“African governments are not prioritising collection and collation of innovation information,”

Bruno Lanvin, INSEAD

According to the index, which was published by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Cornell University in the United States and INSEAD, a global business school, the African countries featured among the top 100 are Botswana, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.

Out of the 126 countries included in the ranking, the bottom ten include Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Niger, Nigeria, Togo and Zambia. A total of 29 African countries were included in the index. 

Bruno Lanvin, co-editor of the 2018 GII and executive director of INSEAD’s global indices, tells SciDev.Net that data for the report were obtained from governments through their respective ministries, statistical agencies as well as international public and private sources.

A small number of economies that did not report enough innovation-related data had to be excluded so they would not bias the results, he explains — in this sense, the index offers countries an incentive to measure innovation properly and report the data that will allow comparison with others.

“In this case, African governments are not prioritising collection and collation of innovation information,” says Lanvin.

He attributes the success of high-performing countries to the role of their governments. “One of the top reasons for this performance is usually the persistent pursuit of an innovation agenda over time at the highest policy levels. This then translates into an improvement of innovation inputs and outputs as measured in the GII,” Lanvin explains.

The GII also shows how some economies are considered efficient innovators, which means they maximise returns with small-scale innovation. Kenya, for example, is ranked 78 globally in the innovation ranking, but its innovation efficiency ranking is 41.

According to Lanvin, the African countries mostly likely to rise up the global rankings — if they continue to support innovation budgets and prioritise innovation reporting — are Botswana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania and Tunisia.

Francis Gurry, director-general of the WIPO, tells SciDev.Net that many innovations abound in Africa and can be seen in finance, drone delivery of medicines, or new heating and energy storage solutions.

The report shows that grassroots communities in Sub-Saharan Africa are applying simple innovations to improve their production and use of wood fuels in ways that address practical needs alongside global challenges.

According to Yogi Naik, director of research and innovation at the National University of Science and Technology in Zimbabwe, Africa’s potential for growth is currently not matched by investment.

“The greatest mishap that confronts Africa is its reluctance to dedicate massive budgets for technological and smart development,” says Naik. “The continent has a competitive human capital to drive innovations agenda.”

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.


The Global Innovation Index 2018: Energising the world with innovation (Cornell University, INSEAD, and WIPO, 2018)