Kenya is among six African nations exhibiting strong capabilities to use frontier technologies compared to their low GDP per capita, a new study has disclosed.
According to an index of 158 countries released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Kenyan which is know as Silicon Savannah is exceeding expectations, thanks to a vibrant technology ecosystem that boasts of more than 55 tech hubs.
The survey, Technology and Innovation Report 2021, shows that Kenya is way above developed economies such as the United Kingdom and Russia in utilising Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies to address various challenges, when per capita income is weighted against ability to adopt modern technologies.
The technologies include artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things, Big Data, blockchain, 5G, 3D printing, robotics, drones, gene editing, nanotechnology and solar photovoltaic.
“Frontier technologies are redefining our world, especially our post-pandemic future,” said Shamika Sirimanne, director of UNCTAD’s division on technology and logistics.
The data indicates that the greatest overperforming country in Africa is South Africa, followed by Tunisia, Morocco, Kenya, Togo and Ghana which all appear in the top 20 of Third World nations leapfrogging hurdles to record substantial digital success.
According to the World Bank report of 2019, Kenya’s per capita income is Sh199,400 which is way below Nigeria, Egypt, Mauritius and 15 other African countries that remain firm in the shackles of traditional systems of business and governance.
The index spotlights developing countries that perform better on frontier technologies than their per capita GDPs would suggest. Their over-performance is measured as the difference between the actual index rankings and the estimated index rankings based on per capita income.
The report provides a “country readiness index” that assesses the progress of countries in using frontier technologies, considering their national capacities related to physical investment, human capital and technological effort.
It scores countries on their readiness for frontier technologies based on five building blocks: ICT deployment, skills, research and development (R&D), industry activity and access to finance.
The greatest overperformer is India, whose actual index ranking was 43, while the estimated one based on per capita income was 108. Hence, India overperformed by 65 ranking positions. It is followed by the Philippines, which overperformed by 57 ranking positions.
Kenya tied with and Nepal, as they overperformed by 28 positions, while Morroco, Tunisia and South Africa exceeded expectations by 29 positions.
In the index, Kenya outperformed Russia (24), the United Kingdom (21) and Serbia (25). Togo had 23 overperfoming positions while Ghana closed the top 20 with 20 positions.
China and India perform well for research and development, reflecting their abundant supplies of qualified and highly skilled human resources available at a comparatively low cost.
“They also have large local markets, which attract investment by multinational enterprises. In China, the progress is partly a reward for spending 2 percent of GDP on research and development.”
It also shows that Philippines, a developing country, had a high ranking for industry, reflecting high levels of foreign direct investment in high-technology manufacturing, particularly electronics.
“Multinational enterprises are attracted by the country’s strong supply chains and solid base of parts manufacturing,” it notes.
However, the report reveals that the top five overperforming developing countries have lower rankings for ICT connectivity and skills, adding that the drawback is true for developing countries as a group.
According to the index, the United States, Switzerland and the United Kingdom are best prepared for frontier technologies.
“The top overall performers have well-balanced performances across all building blocks of the index and are typically associated with high innovation and GDP.”
Ms Sirimanne said despite some negative realities associated with the technologies, such as their potential to worsen inequality, widen the digital divide and disrupt socio-political cohesion, they could be transformative in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
To catch up and forge ahead, UNCTAD urges developing countries to adopt emerging technologies while continuing to diversify their production bases by mastering many existing technologies.
These countries need to strengthen their innovation systems, as most of them are weak and prone to systemic failures and structural deficiencies, the report says.
“A whole-of-government approach is needed to absorb these technologies, as opposed to working in silos,” Ms Sirimanne said.
Developing countries have also been urged to align science, technology and innovation (STI) policies with industrial policies.
“New technologies can re-invigorate traditional production sectors and speed up industrialization and economic structural transformation.”
UNCTAD calls on governments to draw in various actors who can help build synergies between STI and other economic policies – industrial, trade, fiscal, monetary and educational.
“The state, industry and labour unions should work together to optimize the potential of these technologies for faster productivity.”
The report also urges policymakers to help people acquire the necessary digital skills and competencies to adopt and adapt frontier technologies into their countries’ existing production bases.
“Governments should also seek to connect everyone online, focusing on the farthest behind, as frontier technologies demand greater digitalization and connectivity. They should provide incentives and subsidies not just for internet access but also for the devices through which people get connected,” the survey recommended.