African countries need to develop the environment and infrastructure to capitalize on the opportunities of a global digital economy that is poised to rake in over $60 trillion in revenues by 2025.
A recent meeting of stakeholders of the Africa50 infrastructure fund warned countries that if they continue at the current rate of industrialization, and fail to invest in their knowledge economies, they will face 100m jobless citizens across the region by 2050.
“What we need to do as Africa is recognise that it’s not oil or gas or minerals that’s going to determine our competitiveness in the world, it’s knowledge and the ability to innovate and create mega-businesses that are going to be the Google and Facebooks of this world,” the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Akinwumi Adesina tells African Business at the Africa50 meeting in Kigali.
“It is passé to say that the comparative advantage of your country depends on the natural resources you have,” he says. “Today you don’t need to have any resources, but you do need very smart brains.”
In order to nurture homegrown talent, governments need to develop world-class innovation hubs, like the US tech capital Silicon Valley, he argues.
Around 440 innovation hubs and centers across the continent are providing a forum for entrepreneurs and startups to access the technology, industrial expertise and financial instruments needed to develop and scale up their businesses.
“Innovation hubs come into play when there’s an environment that allows them to prosper,” says Nathalie Munyampenda, the managing director of the Next Einstein Forum, which runs a series of conferences for Africa’s science and technology talent.
Innovation ecosystems require basic infrastructure, such as road networks and ports, digital infrastructure including cheap broadband, supportive business and regulatory environments, technology, and talented scientific and mathematical minds, Munyampenda explains. And in too many countries these basics are desperately lacking.
“Today, if we in Africa do not invest in these five pillars, if we do not create affiliations and consortiums that tap into private sector money, and have governments that are pushing ahead, we will be left behind,” she warns. “We are already 97% behind what we should be doing in terms of research and development.”
Financing the future
Rwanda is courting investors for a $1bn innovation hub, the Kigali Innovation City. Co-financed by the Rwandan government and Africa50, the project hopes to create over 50,000 jobs a year. But innovation hubs will lie empty without the talent to fill them, experts say.
“You cannot think about the fourth industrial revolution if you don’t have the pool of talent to participate in it and to support it,” says Africa50’s CEO, Alain Ebobissé.
Africa50 is drawing from a $871m fund to deploy early-stage risk capital to help lure local and global talent to Africa by giving early-stage startups and hi-tech ventures the financial freedom to grow.
Source : African Business Magazine