African Countries on Fast Track to Improve Scientific Innovation

There are many opportunities for growth in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in African countries, but due to gaps in capacity in infrastructure, workforce and training, and investment, STI has not flourished as predicted within the last decade. The “Africa Capacity Report 2017,” released last month by the African Capacity Building Foundation, examines the STI policies and initiatives African countries have established and how they can be improved.

The Report focuses on finding the frameworks needed to better improve STI in Africa by closing capacity gaps in the field, as STI is seen as a critical factor of economic development across the continent.  Capacity is defined as the “ability of people, organizations and society as a whole to manage their affairs successfully; and capacity development as the process by which people, organizations and society as a whole unleash, strengthen, create, adapt and maintain capacity over time.”

In June 2014, heads of states and governments in Africa adopted a 10-year Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa to accelerate scientific R&D and innovation throughout the continent. STI is seen as a key factor for improving the sustainability of economies for many African countries. Although in 1980 and 2005, African countries pledged for R&D expenditure to reach 1% of the countries’ GDP, currently, the average African R&D expenditure is 0.5% of GDP.

Many STI institutions across the continent lack proficient workforces, financial means, infrastructure and equipment to effectively promote and develop STI. Ninety-one percent of the 44 countries surveyed for the Report indicated that training in STI is a High or Very High priority. Other High or Very High priorities include infrastructures for information and communications technology (80%), investment (75%), publication of scientific papers (72%), policy and strategy (70%), and laws and regulations (65%).

The African Capacity Index is a composite index based on four sub-indices on policy environments, processes for implementation, development results in each country and outcomes of capacity development. No country in Africa is at Very Low or Very High capacity levels, as 75% of countries have Medium Capacity, 21% are at High Capacity and 5% are in the Low capacity level. Only 7% of countries ranked as Very High for capacity development, which is a key issue in the Report.

Overall, the capacity score increased 13.7% in 2016 from the year before to 59.1. According to results in the Report, African countries show great policy environments and implementation policies but capacity development remains an issue, as many countries do not have adequate resources for capacity building. Morocco is the highest ranking country in the Index, with excellent results for policy environment, and processes for implementation and development results in the country. Malawi had lost its ranking in the top 10 in 2015, but made a comeback to ninth place in 2016.


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Although they have good policy environments, the Central African Republic and Swaziland are amongst the lowest ranking countries due to their poor performance in implementation and development results in the country. The Report indicates that more effective policies are required for these countries to move up in rank.

Gross domestic expenditure for R&D (GERD) for countries in West Africa rose to 0.3% of GDP in 2016, with Mali leading at 0.66% of GDP. Government funding is the main source of GERD, but foreign investments also play a large part in some countries. In Ghana, for example, 31% of GERD comes from foreign sources, 41% in Senegal and 60% in Burkina Faso. In Gambia, almost 50% of its GERD comes from private and nonprofit sources.

In North Africa, GERD is, on average, higher than in Sub-Saharan Africa. Morocco, the leader of the Index in 2016, had a GERD of 0.79% in 2015. South Africa R&D has greatly declined since 2008 despite its rising public expenditure on R&D. Overall, GERD increased the most in Ethiopia and Morocco, with the government serving as the primary investor in R&D.

A major impediment in STI capacity development is the shortage of researchers in many African countries. Many countries have improved their STI education systems, as well as education policies for technology transfers, and this has led to small improvements in human capital.

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Lack of infrastructure, small numbers of researchers and minimal scientific output due to low investments in STI has affected the acceleration of scientific innovation in Africa. The Report indicates that STI capacity building can be greatly improved if African countries increase the number of researchers. The majority of countries had less than 300 researchers per million citizens in 2013 (or the closest year that data were available). Tunisia had the greatest number of researchers in 2013, with 1,394 full-time researchers per million people, with Morocco following at 864.

The Report recommends that governments of African countries must seriously commit to establishing top-tier academic institutions and labs by developing better investment and research funding mechanisms. Additionally, regional communities dedicated to improving the economies of their countries, such as the Economic Community of West African States and the Southern Africa Development Community, need to create a better link between regional and national STI systems for a more harmonious and cohesive flow of standards and regulations for STI R&D.

The Report posits that building STI capacity is a major factor in transforming the African economy as a whole, including food security, diminishing poverty, creating jobs, and providing access to energy technologies and health care. Since the majority of African countries rank in the Medium or High sectors, the outlook for STI growth is promising; however, a lack of researchers and human capital, infrastructure and investments in STI is stagnating progress. Because of this, the Report suggests that better integration between regional and national STI frameworks is needed to improve integration and coordination between existing STI initiatives and policies.

Government and business sectors are also recommended to come together to provide better financial investments into STI to promote exchange programs, improve human resources and accelerate innovation in private companies. All African countries are recommended to focus more investments on capacity development in order to transform Africa into an STI hub, consequently improving their economies.

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