STI POLICY GAP: A BARRIER TO ECONOMIC PROGRESS IN AFRICA
By Dr. Jaro Arero
Deputy Director, Basic Sciences & Engineering Division at the Kenya National Commission for UNESCO and a STI Policy Expert.
As global economic trends move from commodity to knowledge economy, ideas have become an important constituent of the modern day trading process. Ideas have replaced goods and services and are critical factors of production for start-ups and in some cases entire economies.
In the 21st century, national economies rely on the ability to create sustainable jobs or robust economies, capable of withstanding fluctuations in global markets through harnessing the power of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI); strengthened and up to date STI frameworks and policies will be central to realizing the African Union Agenda 2063 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Unfortunately, most African countries do not have a functional STI policy in place, the few that have do not regularly review them to ensure they are in tandem with the fast changing national priorities and global trends. Like any other policy, STI policy needs to be championed at high levels of governments and this is also an indicator of the priority attached to it and which also comes with funding. A desktop search shows that only 52% of African countries have published STI policies. Very few countries have ministries or state departments dedicated to Science, Technology and Innovation.
Figure 1 below shows that 27 % of African countries have Ministries dedicated to STI Policy while 23 % do not have a dedicated ministry nor infused in another ministry.
Figure 1: Proportion of African Countries with Ministries Dedicated to STI
STI is an enabler for economic progress and sustainable development considering all the challenges posed by population growth, diminishing wetlands, fresh water scarcity, food insecurity, pollution, loss of biodiversity, rising sea levels and climate change. African countries cannot afford to continue operating on a business as usual policy model, but need to have a paradigm shift and harness the benefits of STI to break out of poverty, dependence on foreign aid, export of raw agricultural produces and a work force unprepared for the jobs of the 21st century.
Without sufficient funding of Research and Development, countries will only be at the bottom of knowledge food chain where they can only consume knowledge generated elsewhere. Different continents have different regional priorities and so are their R & D priorities. Evidence-based solutions to societal challenges do not always work by copy pasting from one region to another. In 2010, the percentage of GDP allocated to R&D (GERD) in Africa ranged from 0.02 to 0.79 far below the recommended 2%. Compared to R&D investments in 2015 of tech giant countries such as Israel (GERD, 4.27%) and South Korea (GERD, 4.23%) a pattern comes out. These two countries economically stand outs despite being both being natural resources-scarce.
African countries still fare badly in other indicators of a strong STI culture. There is a positive correlation between research output and economic development. According to Elsevier, in 2012, the share of the world’s articles with African authors was 2.3%, which is a significant improvement compared to 1.2% in 1996. But considering that in 2012 population of Africa was 15% of the global population, Africa’s contribution in 2012 to knowledge generation was still disproportionately dismal.
Effective Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) laws and regulations are critical in knowledge economies, as it provides a favourable environment for creators, innovators and investors. Using patent output to measure entrenchment of innovation culture, Africa as a region is an underperformer. It is not that innovations are not taking place in Africa or Africans are not innovative enough, the challenge emanate from weak Intellectual Property policies and poor enforcement of the existing ones. Small and micro-enterprises form the basis the continent’s economic base and also the epicenter of innovation; however, they are made vulnerable by unawareness of their IPR, weak enforcement of existing legislations and these exposes them to loss of their ideas. In 2013, Africa contributed only 0.1% of patents generated.
Africa’s poor performance in research output has its genesis in the shortage of researchers. Even of the few researchers produced by the universities in Africa, a significant number leave the continent due to lack of infrastructure and resources. According to UNESCO Science report 2015, in 2013 Africa’s share of researchers was 2.4 %; a ratio that has not changed since 2007 when it was 2.3%. The situation is more dire when looked at in absolute terms, the continent has just 79 scientists per million of inhabitants compared to better performing countries such as Brazil and United States where the ratio stands at 656 and 4,500, respectively. This lack of skilled human capital will certainly continue to slow down the continent’s economic take off and realizations of development goals such as the Sustainable Development Goals. It is estimated that to achieve the goals of SDG 6 (Clean water and Affordable sanitation); sub-Saharan Africa needs 2.5 million engineers. The bulk of students in African universities are enrolled in arts and business courses, in some countries they make up to 70% of the student population.
Without change in policy approach going by this current trajectory, Africa may not produce enough Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics professionals critically needed for socio-economic transformations to knowledge economy and sustainable society. As with other industrial revolution, the 4th industrial revolution may also by pass Africa.