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INNOVATE OR GRIND

African countries still lag in global innovation ranking, but there is good news

By Kemi Lijadu

Tech hubs are popping up all over Africa and high-level academic programs to train the next generation are being launched, yet Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest average rate of innovation in the world.

With an average region-wide score of 25, only eight of the countries in the top 100 were from Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Global Innovation Index 2018 report. The report examines the innovation performance of 126 countries with 80 indicators averaged to reflect the capacity for, and success in innovation.

Of the ten countries with the least success in innovation, eight were Sub-Saharan African countries. North America is the most innovative region with an average score of 56, Europe is not too far behind with a score of 47.

The report ranks 22 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, and of them South Africa takes the lead on innovation with a GII score of 35.1 and it ranks as 58th out of 126 countries surveyed. For context, the country with the highest innovation score is Switzerland coming first with a GII of 68.4.

However, despite Africa’s global standing, there continue to be improvements in innovation on the continent. The GII highlights what it terms “innovation achievers”, 20 countries that outperform on innovation relative to their level of development. Of these 20 economies, six come from Sub Saharan Africa the most from any region.

And there is the wider point that innovation in Africa thrives in spite of its environment as individuals from some of the most challenging circumstances figure out ways to address their problems. For example, this year’s Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation was awarded to Brian Gitta, a 24-year old Ugandan engineer for his invention of a bloodless malaria test and this month a team of five Nigerian schoolgirls picked up top prize at a Silicon Valley competition for their app which helps identify fake drugs. Quartz’s annual Africa Innovators list also identifies such individuals.

There continue to be many examples of individual ingenuity and more African countries like Kenya, Rwanda, Mozambique, Malawi, and Madagascar stand out for being innovation achievers at least three times in the previous eight years as they try to improve the environment for promising innovators.

Country Years as

innovation achiever

India 8
Kenya 8
Ukraine 6
Malawi 6
Rwanda 6
Madagascar 3
South Africa 1
Tunisia 1