Is Africa investing enough in Research and Development?

By Alexander Maune*

The contribution of research and development to innovation and productivity growth has been widely recognized globally. As the world is currently faced with several challenges that include; COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of the Ukrainian war, climate change, and the global financial crises, many countries are turning to research and development (by the academia, public, and private sectors) for solutions. Research has shown that countries that have developed have developed themselves. Countries need to forge strong social contracts, build open economies, and invest in human capital as strategies for development.

Economic development is characterized by a process of extending knowledge and using such knowledge to increase economic growth and welfare. Research and development (R&D) has become a critical component of economic development and countries that have invested in R&D have done well economically. Israel, for example, has dominated the world through R&D. Israel has become a global leader in R&D, and it is this strength that has attracted many of the world’s major international high-technology firms for decades. The Israeli brains are now the global heart for innovative idea generation, scientific breakthroughs as well as an essential element for ground-breaking innovative solutions to the global challenges. This, Israel has managed to accomplish due to its investment in R&D and strong collaborations between the academia, public institutions, and private sector. Israel invests on average 4.5% of GDP towards R&D. R&D not only creates new knowledge but also increases the ability to learn and the ability to use existing know-how.

A number of countries are using their natural resources to develop their economies though others are in a deplorable state due to a number of factors. Corruption has been cited as the number one factor for such failure. Colonial legacy is another biggest challenge currently facing Africa. There is need for serious mind shift in Africa. For example, countries such as Zimbabwe, though endowed with a number of mineral resources (chrome, coal, copper, gold, nickel, palladium, phosphate, platinum, diamonds, rhodium, and ruthenium) remains poor with a GDP per capita of USD 1128.21 (2020), life expectancy at birth, total of 61.74 years (2020). These figures are way below the average standard of examples of successful development (USD 3500.00 and 70 years). The sad part is that all the mineral resources are exported in raw form and fetching very low prices on the global commodities market. There is no value addition to all the minerals. The continent is exchanging real assets (commodities) for fake assets (fiat currencies).

Africa, for example, was hard hit by HIV and AIDS but no meaningful research or investment towards research was done by the whole continent of more than 1.341 billion people. Up to now the whole continent does not know the origins and the nature of the disease. The whole continent relies on medication from its former colonial masters. Does the continent lack financial capacity? Does it lack the expertise? A lot does not add up. Some ask why Africa does not partner more with China and Russia, for example, to do serious research. In 2019 the continent was caught unaware by the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed the lives of many people and nothing much if any has been done to develop vaccines towards curbing the disease. It is time Africa invest enough in R&D. Besides HIV & AIDS and COVID-19 pandemic, Ebola has caused havoc and is currently a threat to Central and West Africa with nothing much being invested in research and towards vaccine development by African countries. Africa is still sleeping from the realities of the world. It is time Africa wakes up from her sleep and from the thinking that Europe or America will solve its problems. As was said by Osward M. Siabwanda, a 10 year old Grade 5 pupil in his book, Seize your Moment, Africa must think, because right now Africa is not thinking. The African Union together with other African development agencies must establish and promote R&D institutions.

Nothing is impossible for a made up mind. Our biggest enemy is fear. We are our biggest enemy. Genesis 1:26-31 tells us the power that God gave to man. How did Henry Ford manage to develop the V8 engine against all odds? When Ford decided to execute his final great idea, a V8 engine, he assembled a small group of engineers at Greenfield Village, his historical theme park. There under Ford`s direct supervision and at a safe distance from the experts who knew it could not be done, they developed the first Ford V8 in 1932. Why can`t Africa follow the same model to solve her current problems.

Greed and corruption among other reasons have killed Africa. The Jewish Bavli Talmud (Shabbos, 31a) states that: “The first question an individual is asked in the afterlife at the final judgment is: ‘Were you honest in your business dealings?'”

Professor Rudolph R. Windsor in his 1969 book entitled, “From Babylon to Timbuktu: A history of the Ancient Black Races including the Black Hebrews,” argues that until comparatively recent times, knowledge that black Africa was the seat of highly evolved civilizations and cultures during a time when Europe stagnated was limited to a small group of scholars. That great empires such as Ghana, and, later, Mali, flourished for centuries while Europe slept through its Dark Ages almost has been ignored by historians. Because of the scarce literature on the contributions of blacks to world civilization, most people today hold the erroneous opinion that the black races have little real history. It was not known, for instance, that the ancient Hebrews, Mesopotamians, Phoenicians, and Egyptians were blacks.

Dr Walter Rodney wrote an intriguing book entitled, “How Europe underdeveloped Africa.” In the book Rodney argues that the phenomenon of neo-colonialism cries out for extensive investigation in order to formulate the strategy and tactics of African emancipation and development.

But can Africa rely on Western aid for economic development? In their February 2021 report, “How Nations Succeed: Analyses of National Transformation” the Legatum Institute argues that even the most committed advocates of aid would be forced to concede that the more than US$1 trillion of development aid delivered to African nations between 1960 and 2010 has failed to create the level of prosperity envisaged by donors. The 2021 Legatum report clearly states that nations that have developed, developed themselves. Professor Paul Collier, a British development economist who serves as the Professor of Economics and Public Policy in the Blavatnik School of Government and the director of the International Growth Centre argues that, we the West cannot save them, the poor (Africans), that is the great delusion of a lot of Western thinking we are the saviors who will save them from their menace.

The time is now for Africa to map its developmental path and not just follow the wind. Africa has some of the big brains that are doing wonders the world over. So it is not that the continent lacks the intellectual capacity. It is high time universities, and research institutions are properly financed. Furthermore, there is need to promote military-university-industry cooperation. Universities are knowledge creators and most innovations have come out of these institutions. African universities need to create innovation hubs that promote networking among universities, research, development institutions, close cooperation with the military and government support. Universities need to change their modus operandi. Universities need to be flexible in the way they operate. For example, they must allow its members to work in the private sector and come back if they need to. This allows cross pollination of ideas. Public institutions must be driven by meritocracy. Meritocracy is a unique and powerful model of managing public institutions.

Africa does not need to wait for other nations to tell her what to do or what is good or bad for her. The continent needs to formulate its own development path, that is, “the Africa We Want.” The future now belongs to those who innovate with those that do not innovate falling behind. African countries need to develop their own Science, Engineering, Technology, and Innovation (SETI) ecosystems that involve the activities of the government, research universities and institutions, medical centers, industry, and not-for-profit research organizations.

Governments need to create environments that ensure true prosperity for their people. But what is true prosperity? The Legatum Institute defines true prosperity “as when all people have the opportunity to thrive. It is underpinned by an inclusive society, with a strong social contract that protects the fundamental liberties and security of every individual. It is driven by an open economy that harnesses ideas and talent to create sustainable pathways out of poverty. It is built by empowered people, who create a society that promotes wellbeing. True prosperity means everyone has the opportunity to fulfill their unique potential and playing their part in strengthening their communities and nations. Because ultimately, prosperity is not about solely what we have; it is also about who we become.”

In conclusion, there is need to strengthen good governance in Africa. The need for investor protection and good governance in Africa cannot be overemphasized. Too many African entrepreneurs go elsewhere to develop and commercialize their ideas because of poor governance and rampant corruption at home.

*Alexander Maune is a lecturer, Talmudic scholar, researcher, and consultant as well as a member of IoDZ. Mailto:

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