Research and Development is the Last Bullet Left for African Development.

There is one thing that is very explicit today. Africa is behind Asia, Europe and America in terms of development. We are not doing very well. We can all agree that as a continent we are growing but not developing.

The reason Africa is not developing can simply be traced to our inability to take research and development seriously. Now when corruption creeps in, things worsen, our economies get crippled completely. Numbers ascertain this and they don’t often lie.

Sub Saharan Africa spends averagely about 0.4% investment of their GDP on research and development compared to about 2.4% for North America and Europe. East Asia and the pacific follows closely with about 2.1% investment of their GDP on research and development. This explains clearly why we are not doing so well in terms of development.

In Kenya for instance, about 10% of the approximately 0.6% of our GDP investment that goes to R&D is used in business enterprise. About 80% of that 0.6% goes to government and higher education on an equal basis. The rest of the 10% is used in private non-profit organizations.

When we compare these percentages with South Africa which too invests about 0.8% of its GDP in R&D, something interesting crops up. 45% of that is allocated to business enterprise. 52% gets allocated to government and higher education whereas the remaining 3% gets invested in private and non-profit organizations.

Israel invests about 84% of its total (about 4% of their GDP) investment in R&D in business enterprise. Korea, Japan, and China follows closely at about 70% of  their GDP investment in R&D on business and enterprise.

Israel and Korea among the largest spenders on R&D. Africa spends very little in research and development and we hope it is going to improve.

It becomes surprising when they do so yet their academia still tops in terms of research and development. For instance, USA invests about 26% of its GDP investment on R&D in government and higher education yet it boasts of very high levels of academic research and development.

The reason could lie in in the cooperation between government, private institutions and academia witnessed in those countries. This happens to be a big weakness for the African continent. Kenya for example invests a lot in higher education and government yet we are not doing very well in terms of R&D on a global scale comparison.

A friend of mine shared a piece of writing with me last week about a conversation between an American and a Zambian in a flight to Boston. The American accused the African of brain drain. Simply said, the cream of African academia goes to study overseas and does a lot of research which at the end of the day is left there. Unfortunately their mother country keeps wallowing in poverty and lack of development.

Now, about the huge money allocated higher education and government in Africa, where does it go to? I cannot be sure but misuse and corruption of the resources could be the reason. This is part of the money laundered in overseas accounts maybe. Other allocations could be too good on paper and too far from being true hence find their way through the back door even before they are released.

All is not lost though. We can do a few things to rescue our situation. I will propose a few things which I think if taken into account can form a good beginning for the change we need to see ourselves embrace.

First we need to increase our allocation to R&D but in a more sustainable way. We can achieve this by first being transparent in the allocations and accountability should be required of those receiving the funds. And much of the allocations should go to business enterprise so as to foster partnerships within the various sectors of the economy.

For example, if we cut R&D allocations to government and higher education and encouraged them to be innovative, great relations could be entered into with the private sector to enable them operate or survive at the beginning. After all, if you can’t adapt, the best you can do is get out of the way.

While there is a lot of unemployment, and we keep complaining about it, increasing the funding to R&D and specifically business enterprise could help a lot. This means empowering business leaders who in turn will become keen on continuous growth and then innovation becomes a necessity. At this stage, academia is sought and successful collaborations are entered into, making use of much of the unemployed learned youth and unemployment could begin to decline.

Successful research and developments projects can in turn be developed into successful businesses which will solve unemployment too. We are not seeing this currently perhaps due to low funding for business enterprises from the total money allocated to R&D.

Accountability is key in all these scenarios. Having had a lot of issues to do with corruption in such cases, then, it is sound if we became keen on the how the expenditures are managed. Corruption so far is a big disease in Africa which we must begin to fight with our blood and flesh if any of these approaches are to work.

Research and Development is very critical for any nation keen to develop. Israel, known as start-up nation understood this and Ben Gurion became central in building such a culture which resulted to Israel becoming 2nd to Silicon Valley in terms of innovation.

Many start-ups in Israel have attracted multi-billion companies such as Google, Microsoft, Dell, Intel, Amazon, and Apple among many others who have either set up or bought businesses there.

In terms of agriculture, Israel is supplying food to Africa even though 80% of its land mass is desert and though it has about ten million people only. At the center of all this is research and development that has turned the Negev desert to be the bread basket of the nation. All this has been achieved by huge allocations to R&D and especially business enterprise while keenly encouraging strong public, private and academic collaborations.

We know what R&D can do for this lovely continent. The only thing we need is one Ben Gurion to push the agenda forward. That could be me and you. Together, we can change the face of Africa. Let us hold our hands together towards developing and growing our mother Africa.

Let us make Africa the Silicon Savannah of the world. If we cant be the best in technology, we can feed the world. If we cant feed the world, we can offer the best talent. But at least we should do something for our people and humanity at large.

Copyright @ 2018

Geoffrey Ndege

Geoffrey Ndege

Geoffrey Ndege is the Editor and topical contributor for the Daily Focus. He writes in the areas of Science, Politics, Policy, Technology, Current Affairs, Opinion, Agriculture, Energy, Education, Entrepreneurship, Governance, International Emerging Issues, Society, and culture. For featuring, promotions or support write to us at

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