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[CAPE TOWN] Kenya, South Africa and Tunisia have emerged as the top innovators of Africa in a report on the continent's competitiveness launched last week.

The three countries — which scored highly on ratings of their scientific capacity — are on a par with such innovative countries as Brazil and India, according to The Africa Competitiveness Report 2009, produced by the World Economic Forum, the African Development Bank and the World Bank Africa.

In a league table that included 33 African countries, and 134 countries overall, Tunisia ranked thirtieth for innovation factors (and first in Africa); South Africa thirty-sixth (second) and Kenya fiftieth (third).

"These countries have high-quality scientific research institutions, invest strongly in research and development, and are characterised by a significant level of collaboration between business and universities in research," said the report, which was launched at a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Cape Town, South Africa, last week (9 June).

Egypt, Nigeria and Senegal also appeared in the top half of the international innovation rankings "demonstrating the existing potential for innovation in Africa", said the report.

Innovation is just one of 12 "pillars" of competitiveness compiled by the authors using data from a variety of sources.

The report says that the ability to innovate does not become crucial to a country's success until it is striving to achieve the third of three "levels" of development — "factor-driven", "efficiency-driven", and "innovation-driven" respectively. Countries in the top category need to devote 30 per cent of their resources to innovation.

"As productivity increases, countries reach a point where further competiveness can't be gained by being cheaper or doing things better and this is where countries need to focus on being innovative," Jennifer Blanke, senior economist for the World Economic Forum and one of the authors of the report, told SciDev.Net.

The report allocates no African country to the third, innovation-driven phase or the transition from the second, efficiency-driven to the innovation-driven stage. Algeria, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa and Tunisia are in the efficiency-driven phase, while Botswana, Libya and Morocco are in transition from factor-driven to efficiency-driven.

Kenya, despite its high innovation rankings, remains in the first stage.

The other African countries in the survey are all in stage one but their low ranking in terms of innovation "should not be of significant concern at this stage given the importance of focusing on the more basic areas for improvement first".

In terms of overall competitiveness Tunisia was the top African country, ranked thirty-sixth down from thirty-second in the previous year's report. South Africa was the top country in Sub-Saharan Africa at forty-fifth down one position year-on-year but maintaining the same score, ahead of India in fiftieth position and followed by Botswana (fifty-sixth), Mauritius (fifty-seventh), Namibia (eightieth) and ahead of Egypt in eighty-first place.

Link to full World Economic Forum report