Kenya has been ranked the second leading innovation hub in sub-Saharan Africa by the World Intellectual Property Organisation in its latest Global Innovation Index (GII) 2019 report.
Kenya’s so-called Silicon Savannah only trails upper middle income economy South Africa, with Mauritius coming third.
“Kenya has a track record for recording high levels of innovation, outperforming on levels of innovation relative to GDP for the ninth consecutive year, an excellent record at par with other lower-middle-income countries like India, the Republic of Moldova, and Vietnam,” reads the report.
Kenya’s innovative strength has been attributed to startups’ easy access to credit and microfinance loans.
“As in previous years, Africa shines in terms of innovation relative to level of development. Out of the 18 innovation achievers identified in the GII 2019, six (the most from any one region) are from the sub-Saharan African region,” says the report.
“Importantly, Kenya, Rwanda, Mozambique, Malawi, and Madagascar stand out for being innovation achievers at least three times in the previous eight years.”
When comparing levels of innovation to the level of economic development, India, Vietnam, Kenya, and the Republic of Moldova stand out for outperforming on innovation relative to GDP for the ninth consecutive year, which is a new record.
Noting that the geography of innovation is shifting from high-income to middle-income economies, the report nonetheless points out that innovation expenditures remain concentrated in a few economies and regions. Also, the survey adds that moving from a successful middle-income economy with innovation potential into an innovation powerhouse remains a big challenge thanks to “an impermeable innovation glass ceiling” that divides middle and high-income economies.
Most of the drive to break through that ceiling comes from China and to some extent India, Brazil, and Russia.
The research also points out differences in the effectiveness of economies in “translating innovation inputs into innovation outputs”. Some economies, it says, simply achieve more with less, with such discrepancy existing even among high-income economies.
“While Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Sweden effectively translate their innovation inputs into a higher level of outputs. Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, for example, produce lower levels of output relative to their innovation inputs,” says the study.
The report further notes that assessing the quality, rather than only the quantity, of innovation inputs and outputs has become an overarching concern to the innovation community.
The GII makes an attempt at measuring innovation quality by looking at the standards of local universities, the internationalisation of patented inventions and the quality of scientific publications.
Taking into account these parameters among the high-income economies, the United Sates regains the top rank, ahead of Japan, which drops to third place this year. For the first time, Germany has moved up to second.
Globally, Switzerland continues to be the leading innovation hub in 2019 followed by Sweden and US respectively. South Africa was ranked 63, Kenya at 77, and Mauritius at number 82 globally.
Overall, the survey notes that innovation is blossoming around the world. In developed and developing economies alike, formal innovation as measured by research and development and patents — and less formal modes of innovation are thriving.
“Today, developed and developing economies of all types promote innovation to achieve economic and social development. It is now also better understood that innovation is taking place in all realms of the economy, not only in high-tech companies and technology sectors. As a result, economies are firmly centering their attention on the creation and upkeep of sound and dynamic innovation ecosystems and networks,” says the report.
There are, however, challenges that prevent the benefits of new advances in technology in one region from having a widespread impact across the globe.
The GII survey says increased protectionism that impacts technology-intensive sectors and knowledge flows, poses risks to global “innovation networks and innovation diffusion”. If left uncontained, these new obstacles to international trade, investment, and workforce mobility will lead to a slowdown of growth in innovation productivity across the globe, the report warns.
“Waning public support for research and development in high-income economies is concerning given its central role in funding basic projects and other blue sky research, which are key to future innovations— including for health innovation.”
However, the research believes that in the years to come, medical innovations such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), genomics, and mobile health applications will transform the delivery of healthcare in both developed and emerging nations.