Innovation and Growth in Africa

During the MIT-Sloan School Africa Business Conference, held the past 1st of April, Mr. Okonjio-Iweala (Managing Director, World Bank) gave a  speech on innovation, in his opinion the main ingredient to spur growth in Africa in the decades to come. Putting voluntarily apart the issue of endogeneity between growth and innovation, the speaker pointed 4 strategic sectors could make the African economy take off once and for all:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Pharmaceutical sector
  3. ICT sector
  4. Arts

‘With these four sectors I have tried to show you what opportunities exist in Africa for growth through product, process, organizational or marketing innovations. And I am sure you would agree with me that there are enormous. But Africa would only be able to benefit fully from these opportunities if the governments create the right incentive framework for innovation.  Africans need the freedom and space to think and innovate. For this to happen the following things must be in place; macro-economic stability, affordable and easy access to capital, openness to trade, the appropriate competition policy laws, a solid intellectual property rights and patent laws regime and an overall good governance regime’ (Okonjio-Iweala).

In other words, institutions and governments have to support the process. Easterly points out aid ineffectiveness and debt insolvency can be explained, ceteris paribus, by instable political elites who discount heavily the future, i.e. the high probability of being suddenly divested of power make them to think about their interests hic et nunc (here and now). Could we transpose the same argumentation for innovation? Which effect will have the Meddle East’s revolutions on the discount rates of the elites to come?

It is for posterity and smart analysts to judge.


2 responses to “Innovation and Growth in Africa

  1. It’s been long time that I didn’t look back at this post, however, today it tasts different, or let’s say more interesting.
    It seems to me Opportunity is the main theme here. I cannot say that I am not agree with this insight, but my question here is that this OPPORTUNITY is who’s opportunity? Because we all know business is a battle not a charity, so who are going to take the responsibility of the fairness in while developed country dealing with developing country? (especially, there has already been a huge difference in both side’s education level)
    Looking forward your reply!
    Good luck Antonio.

  2. Finally! I was waiting for a comment like this! I believe Okonjio-Iweala’s speech was quite provocative, i.e. it’s hard to think Africa is ready to be on the top of a business oriented process in order to fight poverty. Indeed, I don’t think that focusing the attention on innovation as a panacea without attention to the negative side effects of wild competition, which in a poor context can be devastating in terms of inequality and violence, is a myopic – or ‘cleverly naive’ – strategy. However, I think that a part of the debate should be concentrated on business, innovation and their ruling process. Finally, I believe innovation is negatively correlated with waste of resources (and positively with productivity), a major problem everywhere, highly affecting rich and poor countries.
    Thank you, looking forward for your next comment!
    Good luck to you, too.

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