Engaging African private sector in science, innovation

photo: Green Prophet, creative commons

Technological progress and innovations do not occur spontaneously, they result from long-term investment. In Africa, innovations are much needed, but possibilities of achieving them are low, according to Nordic Africa Institute (NAI) guest researcher Samia Nour, co-author of ‘Africa Capacity Report 2017’.

A survey conducted for the report shows that two-thirds of African countries have adopted national strategies for promoting science, technology and innovation (STI), but few have the resources to realise the plans. Yet, Nour points out, some examples show how investments in science have big effects on societies.

Important achievements
In less than ten years, Zanzibar has succeeded in reducing the prevalence of malaria from 40 percent to below one percent, through combined efforts of technology and education.

In Ethiopia, the national STI strategy has improved health care in rural areas. Accessibility of health facilities increased to reach over 90 percent of the population from 76 percent previously, and the average time to reach a clinic in rural areas decreased from one hour to 30 minutes. These achievements show the impact STI investments have on development in Africa. However, challenges exist and engaging the private sector is one of them.

Nordic Africa Institute’s Guest Researcher Samia Nour is co-author of ‘Africa Capacity Report 2017’

“Private companies in Africa often have limited resources, which first must secure payment of regular production costs such as salaries, costs of raw materials, paying energy and water bills, and so on.  That is why companies in Africa lack incentives to prioritise investment and spending on research and development. Still, l think companies shouldn’t focus too much on seeking short-term profits – investments in science and technology may pay off even better in the future”, Nour remarks.

Framework of cooperation
She did her PhD in the Netherlands and witnessed several examples of companies funding doctoral studies at universities. This framework of cooperation between private companies and universities is a win-win, Nour observes, because the researcher receives training, the university gets publications and the company gains the employee’s knowledge after graduation and sometimes even patents.

“This framework doesn’t exist in Africa and is one reason for the lack of technological progress and innovations on the continent”, Nour states.


Johan Sävström, Nordic Africa Institute