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How African Innovation can take on the World

By Calestous Juma Special to CNN | 8/7/2013, 5:24 p.m.

Infrastructure

The draft report focuses on the urgent need to invest in basic infrastructure, such as energy, transportation, irrigation and telecommunications. The World Bank has estimated that the continent will need to invest nearly $93 billion a year in the next decade to meet its infrastructure targets.

African countries are already starting to respond to the challenge. For example, last year South Africa allocated $97 billion to infrastructure projects over the next three years. This magnitude of investment will require considerable creativity that will involve the participation of sectors such as the military. In addition, it offers a new opportunity for building up the much-needed capacity in engineering by creating new research and technical training institutes to support national infrastructure backbones.

Training

"On the Wings of Innovation" pays particular attention to the importance of technical training of the youth and recommends the creation of a new generation of universities that combine research, teaching and product commercialization. There is a prototype for universities: The Nelson Mandela Institute of African Science and Technology in Arusha, Tanzania. The institute is located in the Ministry of Telecommunications, Science and Technology.

Africa's technology-based line ministries have a wide range of research and technical institutes that can be upgraded to create a new family of universities that promote innovation for economic development. Their success will also inspire traditional universities to adjust their missions, syllabi and teaching methods to become more relevant to the challenge of human improvement.

Tech entrepreneurs

Finally, the report stresses Africa's need to foster technology-based business incubation. There are two areas that require attention. The first is supporting start-ups. There are good examples of this across Africa, which include initiatives such as iHub in Nairobi and InnovateLagos in Nigeria. The next frontier of policy focus should be scaling up new businesses.

Flying on the wings of innovation will require long-term vision, policy focus and change-management capacity among African leaders at the continental, national and sub-national levels. Much of the practical action will occur in sub-national regions such as cities, provinces and counties. It will demand smarter governance styles that are supported by evidence rather than political rhetoric.

Creating technology-driven economies will demand greater investment in smart government than is required in the age of extractive industries. Countries that fail to upgrade their governance systems to reflect the competitive challenges of modern global markets will fall by the wayside.