African countries perform 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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  • Of 126 nations ranked by innovations, the last ten include eight from Africa
  • Only seven countries from Sub-Saharan Africa are in the top 100
  • African nations should prioritise investments in innovations and data collection

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

The GII, which was released last month (10 July), measures components of innovation inputs such as human capital, research and business sophistication and results of innovation.  

According to the index published by the World Intellectual Property Organization, Cornell University in the United States and INSEAD, a global business school, the top 100 innovation countries feature Botswana, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.

Of the 126 countries ranked, the ten worst performing countries include Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Niger, Nigeria, Togo and Zambia. The remaining countries are Bolivia and Yemen.  The report ranks 29 countries in Africa.
Bruno Lanvin, co-editor of the 2018 GII and the 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.

“The 2018 theme — energising the world with innovation — resonates well with what constitutes successful innovation ecosystems in the energy field,” says Lanvin, adding that index promotes, measures such performances through capturing multi-dimensional facets of innovation by providing a rich database of detailed metrics for different economies.

“African governments are not prioritising collection and collation of innovation information from statistical agencies, relevant ministries to collaborate for better innovation measurement.”

Bruno Lanvin, INSEAD

“The GII does not cover a selected number of economies that do not report sufficient official innovation-related data as this leads to biased results,” he explains. “Countries have a greater incentive to properly measure innovation and report comparable data. In this case African governments are not prioritising collection and collation of innovation information from statistical agencies, relevant ministries to collaborate for better innovation measurement and evaluation in their countries.”

Lanvin attributes 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 as efficient innovators, which means they maximise higher returns with small innovation. For example, whereas Kenya is ranked 78 globally in the innovation ranking, its innovation efficiency ranking is 41.  

According to Lavin, African countries mostly likely to come up with innovation inputs and outputs in the near future that may push them amongst the top globally if they continue to support innovation budgets, prioritise innovation reporting are Botswana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania and Tunisia.

Sacha Wunsch-Vincent, a WIPO economist and GII co-author, tells SciDev.Net that many innovations in finance, drone delivery of medicines, new heating and energy storage solutions abound in Africa.

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 their practical needs while also addressing global challenges.

According to Yogi Naik, director of research and innovation at the National University of Science and Technology, Zimbabwe, Africa has the potential to grow and create employment if it invests in innovations.

“The greatest mishap that confronts Africa is its reluctance to dedicate massive budgets for technological and smart development,” 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)