Innovating Innovation for Africans to Finally Own Africa.

By Mammo Muchie

October 31, 2019

The biggest challenge Africa continues to face is the unending reality that Africans still have not succeeded to own Africa. We have been talking about unity, but we have failed to unite. We remain divided. Unity is talk; division is a reality. Ubuntu is talk, and trustful human relations is still absent. 

Africa needs an innovative theory of social capital now to unite us more than at any other time. If Africa unites, the well-being of the people will be fully realised. It is time to engender an innovation of hope by uniting Africa and creating social technology, social innovation and social entrepreneurship. I have created an advanced course for creativity, innovation and social Entrepreneurship to make our youth to create venture start-ups by becoming job creators rather than job seekers. This new culture and trust anchored collaboration are much needed.

I am now in the first Africa-Innovation Week representing my university of the Tshwane University of Technology where we have over 200 innovations presented and an award will be given to these young African innovators. It has been truly inspiring to join all the young innovators. How great to turn the youth as innovators by releasing them from being involved in many non-constructive distractions.

We need to create a new smart, integrated, sustainable African innovation system to make Africans own Africa and prevent huge wealth from flowing out of Africa.

Africa needs to create a system of innovation that can remove poverty, unemployment and inequality. Norway has created a sovereign wealth fund to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and elevate its people to rank high in the world happiness index. Let us do all we can to make the African future brighter rather than making predictive lamentations.

Let us address the unending problems of Africa. Poverty, inequality and unemployment have to be replaced with additive and multiplicative well-being for all the people. There is now a demographic explosion and climate change with informal and agriculture economy remaining still largely where the majority of the African people live. We are now also entering into what is being described as surveillance capitalism which is connected to the knowledge, digital, artificial intelligence, internet of things, mobile miracle, robotics, machine learning, disruptive and exponential technology stage of the fourth industrial revolution. 

Two additional challenges facing innovation systems relate to the following critical concerns: Firstly, innovation systems should be re-framed and re-designed to address fully the African context. Secondly, the innovation systems have to include African integration, sustainable development, capacity building for all Africans, especially the youth and build human and social capital to realise the unity and renaissance to create smart, green and well-being anchored Africa.

There is a need to reconceptualise both innovation and development. We cannot copy and mimic the national innovation system when we have not been able to unite the 55 states made by boundaries drawn during the colonial era to put on the agenda the Making of the African Innovation System we published about in 2003.

We need also to re-define innovation to relate to African associational values. In general, Innovation has been defined with novelty and usefulness. But how have novelty and usefulness been validated? They have been validated narrowly by commerce and market that individuals through competition gain. The validation criteria for both novelty and usefulness has to be transformed. There should be an inclusion of collaborative innovative engagement, to produce and provide wellbeing, services provision, environmental protection, humanitarian criteria above the current dominant validation by merely market, commerce and economics including the current dominating e-commerce expansion. There is a need also to relate it to Africa’s associational relations rather than the individualistic and egoistic commerce validating preferences that have influenced governance, leadership, institutions and systems making corruption in Africa the unending curse.

In Africa, the development also should not be measured merely by economic growth. A county may have rapid economic growth but not development that transforms, performs and reforms the livelihood of the people. Development should also be re-conceptualised beyond aid, loans and debts. A country with huge debt faces the challenge to pay debt despite whatever level of economic development it can find itself in. Development should be anchored on how the wellbeing of people and nature are promoted to create where no citizen begs, where no one starves and where no one is homeless and all have opportunities to learn and work, invent, innovate and create with collaboration to make everyone live a decent life.

There is a need now to build new synergy between the African integrated and sustainable development and innovation system. Economic gain to make a profit is not sufficient. The African contextualised conceptual and theoretical framework of the innovation and development system can re-engineer how African unity, renaissance and empowerment of all Africans to own rich Africa’s resources with fulsome social-wellbeing and environmental protection gains. Synergise does not prioritize the economic or commercial variable gain by excluding the social capital, human capital, well-being, and environmental gains to reframe at the conceptual level, the innovation and development theory.

Both the dominant development and innovation theories have evolved mainly dominated by economics. There is also the need to generate problem-based knowledge creation by applying all the disciplines using the unity of knowledge including the currently excluded and largely unrecognised rich African knowledge and spiritual heritage. There is a need to deal with all Africa’s specific problems and challenges by drawing from all the sciences, engineering and technologies with the African-contextualised unified conceptual framing and theories linking the re-designed and re-worked integrated African innovation system with tangible and measurable sustainable developmental comprehensive outcomes.

I strongly suggest that the ontology, axiology and epistemology of innovation with a development need transformation by re-thinking them to address the challenges Africa is going through. We have suffered in the first, second and third industrial revolutions. We should not suffer in the current 4th and coming the 5th Industrial Revolutions.

Currently, the fourth industrial revolution is upon us. There are opportunities and challenges. Africa can leapfrog into the knowledge economy; but also, if not handled well with the appropriate innovation and development contextualisation, there can be risks and dangers.

The dangers are robotics can increase youth unemployment if actions are not taken how to create jobs and how to manage job losses through digital automation. There is also now digital gangsters and cybercrime and social media awash with the unregulated explosion of all kinds of morally and emotionally not intelligent information. There is a need for transformative innovation that can contribute to wellbeing anchored the development of both humans and nature. There should be research on how to apply transformative innovation and sustainable development to the African context. The book on Putting Africa First: The Making of African Innovation Systems (2003) highlighted the critique of the current development promoted by both national and international organisations. No imitation of national innovation for Africa. No imitation of development economics for Africa. Africa needs a contextually anchored new model that synthesises innovation with an African integrated and sustainable development innovation system.

The real challenge is to discover how can Africa build an integrated, networked and unified innovation system for sustainable development by dealing with and responding navigating the complexities of the current global value chain?

Africa needs to construct an integrated, networked and unified sustainable development innovation system path by coming together rather than by going alone facing the prisoners’ dilemma being caught within the boundaries of each of the 55 states.; What to produce and where to produce and how to add value to which minerals and what market in Africa can be created are much needed to address. A new innovative approach to handle the rich resources and how to create both production applying high technology and innovation and creating consumption by making the African production to consumption value chain is much needed to address now more than at any time as the global value chain is changing dramatically by the current 4th Industrial Revolution time the world is in today.

It is possible to generate several models trying to capture as realistically as possible the uneven and lopsided existence of the innovation landscapes in the different regions in Africa. (e.g. Muchie et al, 2003). The rise of Africa is now on the development agenda. The question is what development trajectory is evolving with this rise. A study by the McKinsey Global Institute (2010) stated: “If Africa can provide its young people with education and skills they need, this large workforce could account for a significant share of global consumption and production”. “Some African countries, termed the African Lions, are showing a clean pair of heels to the much-vaunted BRICS emerging markets…10 African countries have per capita incomes greater than China; 17 enjoy a greater per capita GDP than India. Life expectancy in the African Lions countries is higher than the average in the BRICS – 75 years compared to 69 in the latter” (Versi, 2012, p.13). Despite these very hopeful developments, Africa remains an agricultural and mineral-based economy where much of the export is from the mines of African countries and farmland. It is at the primary stage of the global value chain. It needs to climb up by catching up along the global value chain or breaking through it by creating an integrated sustainable smart and innovative path by applying a networked, unified, integrated and sustainable new path of African development.

At present agriculture-manufacture-services are weakly integrated into nearly all current African StatesAgriculture has remained the primary occupation for the majority African population, with manufacturing growing very unevenly and slowly and, service also growing in some states more than manufacturing such as South Africa. The informal and formal economies are bifurcated and not connected. The informal is very large, the formal is smaller; in most states. There is still a job to be done: to integrate agriculture, manufacturing and services to enter into the global value chain that is going through a data revolution that is creating products with senses. Africa cannot remain an economy mainly and largely that exports primary resources: minerals and agriculture. The unified and networked innovation system is needed to make Africa catch up in the current global value chain. Time to bring provide a new paradigm of innovation and development which is now much needed to empower, enable, capacitate and anchor the wellbeing of the African people and nature without fail once and for all.

Finally, there is an urgent need for new African innovation and sustainable development system (AISDS) founded and anchored on the African context to eradicate corruption and illicit financial flows. Africa’s resources are stolen every year with over 50 billion dollars flowing out. Africa does not need any donors if the Africans can create an innovation and sustainable development road map to own Africa and its rich wealth by learning to collaborate and work together for the betterment of all the people.

Prof Muchie is the DST-NRF SARChI Chair in Innovation Studies at the Tshwane University of Technology.