Ideas & Debate

Science, tech parks will spur African economies growth


Kenya is one of the countries in East Africa recording the fastest economic growth in the recent years, according to the African Development Bank Economic outlook report.

The country is leading two other countries in the region, Comoros and Djibouti, which together form the three which have scaled up the World Bank’s ladder into the lower-middle income category.

It is worth noting that Kenya and by extension the East African region recorded positive economic outlook at a depressing moment witnessed in other African and world economies following the unprecedented effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The larger eastern Africa region, comprising a total of 13 countries, records the fastest economic growth in the African continent. The upward economic trajectory in the region is largely credited to a vibrant service sector in Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Tanzania.

The growth in the service sector in Kenya is mainly a result of the growing knowledge sector, a product of the country’s competitive education system and a growing national innovation culture.

The Science, Technology & Innovation Act of 2012 marked a significant step in providing a framework to Kenya’s transition into a knowledge-based economy, whose ingredients include a skilled human population, growth in research and development, an innovation culture, and the availability of a modern ICT infrastructure.

The National Broadband Strategy is one of the government’s key investments to enable the country’s adoption of broadband technologies to support economic growth, job creation, education, government services, and innovation.

These strategies derive their existence from the Constitution of Kenya 2010, which acknowledges the central role of science, technology (including indigenous technologies) and innovation in national development.

Other complementary legislative frameworks include the Science, Technology, and Innovation Act whose objective is to facilitate promotion, coordination, and regulation of the science, technology, and innovation in Kenya.

The Act assigns priority to the adoption of science, technology, and innovation in the country’s national production system. In addition, the Science, Technology, Innovation, Policy, and Strategy (STIPS) seeks to mainstream the application of ST&I in national programmes.

The Government has further rolled out an ambitious plan to support the innovation culture by establishing 10 science and technology parks spread across the country, with some already operational such as the Konza Technopolis. In addition, there The Startup Bill, 2021, that’s pending at the Senate.

These pieces of legislation together with the modern ICT infrastructure contribute to Vision 2030, a national blueprint whose goal is to transform the country into a middle-income knowledge-based economy.

Other instruments supporting Kenya’s progressive move towards a knowledge-based economy include the Sessional Paper of 2012 by the Policy Framework for Science, Technology, and Innovation and the Digital Economy Blueprint, 2019, which outlines the country’s roadmap towards a vibrant digital economy and a middle-income country.

The rapid growth of science, technology, and innovation, a vibrant youth population, and a steady fast growth of the digital economy, are some of the tremendous opportunities that have helped leap-frog Africa’s development trajectory.

Africa is currently home to over 600 tech hubs, a multitude of technology parks, and emerging smart cities. These are some of the key economic catalysts helping Africa leapfrog the development agenda.

Most African economies are embracing emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, data collection, and analytics, augmented and virtual reality, and blockchain to solve emergent issues in infrastructure, financial inclusivity, renewable energy, agriculture, health, manufacturing among others.

Kenya has been established as a leading hub for entrepreneurship hosting a growing number of international investors, a huge population with access to technology, and a growing number of start-up support organisations active in the ecosystem.

The emerging growth of Science & Technology Parks (STPs) are also key in enhancing entrepreneurship through innovation in Africa, where the concept has significantly taken root in a couple of countries among them Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, Rwanda, South Africa, Senegal, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and the Ivory coast.

To fully maximise the true potential of STPs, African states have a pivotal role to play in driving the innovation agenda, as they set the stage for valuable collaboration within the innovation ecosystem. Through the renewed political commitment, technological innovation can play a vital role in leapfrogging Africa’s economic growth.

Konza Technopolis, the “Africa’s Silicon Savannah” and Kenya’s Vision 2030 development agenda is one of the STPs within a world-class smart city environment to attracting and enable the fast growth of businesses in software development, data centres, light assembly, manufacturing industries, hotels, residential houses, schools, and hospitals among others.

Within phase one of Konza Technnopolis is a world class university, the Kenya Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST), modeled after the KAIST in Korea, which is the tenth most innovative university globally. The graduate-only, research-based university, the first of its kind in the region, will major on Science, Technology & engineering-related courses.

In South Korea, the government established the Daedeok Innopolis, which aims at merging research and development initiatives that support industries. The Innopolis currently accounts for 12 percent of the R&D spending and hosts technology firms to achieving rapid technological advancements and establishing top-notch research output.

In Japan, the Kanagawa Science Park has been significant in job creation and productivity growth. Kanagawa STP features a Tech-pot, a co-working space that offers affordable offices for start-ups and special projects. The STP has also promoted interaction between Higher Education Institutions, Industries, and New Technology-Based Firms (NTBFs) which is a contributor to innovative capacity.

Through amplified research and development initiatives, the African Continent can truly accelerate its economic development as was the case in Singapore, where it established the Singapore Science Park to accommodate R&D-oriented organizations.

The STP houses 350 multinational companies and laboratories. As of 2020, the STP had a full set up of the 5G network featuring higher internet speed, data capacity transmissions, as well as reducing network latency by up to 10 times.

Strategic collaborations with academia are also key facets of supporting STP for Africa’s Advancement. In the USA, besides the Silicon Valley, Research Triangle Park (RTP) located between The University of North Carolina, Duke University and North Carolina State university is the biggest research center, featuring numerous private companies, government agencies, educational institutions, and NGOs.

Complementarily, it is crucial in Africa to implement and establish exemplary innovation frameworks, through collaborations with relevant players in the innovation ecosystem, develop strategic focuses in technologies, amplify research and development as well as benchmark valuable market trends in maximizing the true potential of science parks, while still maintaining true “Africanacity”.

It is evident that the Africa has a great potential to accelerate its economy through amplified research, development and innovation from strategic collaborations through the STPs.