Efforts to improve educational levels are crucial and are already being carried out by companies and organizations to fill critical skills shortages in Africa. Several expanding ICT companies are unable to find adequately trained personnel. Microsoft’s South African Innovation Centres and the International Youth Foundation promote the Student2Business job enablement programme that aims to place 10 000 graduates in jobs by 2010. IBM is setting up an Innovation Centre in Johannesburg to help companies develop ICT skills and workers meet business challenges. The center will give access to 38 innovation centers and 60 R&D laboratories that IBM has worldwide. MTN is investing in skills development to deal with South Africa’s human resources shortage. CISCO is also investing in skills development with the Global Talent Acceleration Program in South Africa.
The AfDB is investing in information and technology skills at two regional Centres of Excellence in ICT in Tunisia and Rwanda and in a High Tech Centre in ICT in Mali. These centers train senior-level managers, entrepreneurs, government and private sector employees, and university students pursuing advanced ICT studies. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is promoting a scholarship for ICT studies, a Youth Education Scheme (YES), and an internship to develop ICT professional skills, the Youth Incentive Scheme (YIS). Applications for YES can be 12 times higher than for scholarships. Only Alcatel-Lucent and Thales Communications are participating on YIS by offering training, but taking into account the large number of ICT companies in Africa, more should be involved. The ITU is also promoting a project aiming to raise ICT awareness in indigenous communities. The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is providing custom training for engineers and technicians from least developed African countries under its Connect Africa project. Lesotho is the first pilot project and gets 220 computers and open-source software. UNCTAD is also working on courses that concentrate on biotechnology and ICTs. Nine courses were held between 2006 and 2008 in China, Egypt, India, South Africa, Tanzania, and Tunisia. There are three times more applications than there are places.
To help the staff of regulatory agency personnel, the World Bank and InfoDev are working with the ITU on an ICT in Regulation Toolkit. The World Bank Institute has since 2001 worked with the Centre d’Études de Politiques pour le Développement (CEPOD) in Senegal, to create the first francophone platform for training on infrastructure regulation. Between 2001 and 2005, CEPOD organized 21 seminars and has trained 736 students from 22 countries. The World Bank Institute has also supported a research centre on infrastructure regulation, the Centre de Recherche Micro-économiques du Développement (CREMIDE) in Côte d’Ivoire. The center has trained a large number of economists who were later hired by operators and regulators. There are a master’s in Telecommunications Regulation organized by the World Bank, Télécom ParisTech and regulatory authorities in France, Burkina Faso, and Senegal, which seeks to upgrade skills in regulatory agencies, ministries, and operators in francophone Africa.
Incubating African business
Africa is mainly an importer of information and communications technology. The NEPAD initiative has sought to promote technological change and innovation by building skills in local software R&D. The project will be implemented through the African Virtual Open Initiatives and Resources (AVOIR) program that currently works in Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. To support and promoting access to scientific knowledge for African scientists, decision-makers, students and researchers, UNECA has launched the “Access to Scientific Knowledge in Africa (ASKIA)” initiative seeking to provide ways for African scientists to tap into global scientific knowledge and develop indigenous knowledge that supports economic and industrial growth.
Microsoft has opened the Innovation Laboratory in Cairo with cutting edge technology. To promote business and social values in local cultures, efforts are made to measure, analyze and enhance Web searches in Arabic and to digitalize books in Arabic by using images instead of the optical character recognition used for the Latin alphabet and others. The laboratory is trying to make it easier to browse and search multimedia content through platforms with limited connectivity such as mobile phones. Microsoft’s 3 innovation centers in South Africa promote software innovation and help open source solution builders test software on Microsoft to ensure compatibility. Other Innovation Centres are going to be launched in Morocco, Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda.
Compared to other regions of the world, new business incubation is in its infancy in Africa and the opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurial networking are not as developed as in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Latin America. There are still some interesting initiatives. The World Bank is developing InfoDev’s Business Incubator Initiative in Africa to work on more than 26 ideas, with a special focus on micro and small and medium-sized companies. This financial and technical assistance aims to help entrepreneurs to leverage ICT on a global level. Knowledge sharing is a key element promoted across Africa through the pan-African network on business incubation (ANI) launched in 2006. Seeking to work with Asia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean and Middle East, infoDev has its Incubator Support Centre (iDISC). This is a virtual platform seeking technology to help entrepreneurs and new business creation in developing countries.
Several InfoDev incubators are being developed in North Africa. The Elgazala Park of Communications Technologies is the first of 24 incubators in Tunisia, the Casablanca Technology Park, Al Akhawayn University Incubator and Morocco Incubation and Spin-off Network are being developed in Morocco and the Biotechnology and Engineering Technology in Libya. In Sub-Saharan Africa, BusyInternet in Ghana was created in 2001 and has already seen 11 ICT companies set up. In Nigeria, InfoDev’s first privately owned and managed incubator, Nextzon Business Incubator, has brought on 15 companies. In Uganda, the Industrial Research Industry offers training to rural companies that turn raw products into semi-finished or processed commodities. Other examples can be found in Angola, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, and South Africa.
Measuring Africa’s technology progress
There is no doubt that Africa is making strides in technological and scientific development and innovation. But indicators are crucial to formulate policies. The ITU, OECD, UNCTAD, UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the UN Regional Commissions, the World Bank, and EUROSTAT all took part in the development of indicators for ICT for Development in 2004. It was an important attempt to compare experience across several countries, but does not fully account for the continent’s innovation. NEPAD is going to develop a pan-African Science, Technology and Innovation Indicator (STII) and an African Science, Technology and Innovation Observatory that will prepare an African Innovation Outlook. These are expected to be developed with the OECD, Eurostat, and UNESCO. The African Ministerial Council on Science and Technology recently confirmed the decision of the first inter-government meeting on STII in Maputo in 2007 to adopt the Frascati and Oslo manuals for collecting statistics on Africa. There is widespread agreement between the OECD, EU, and Africa on the definition of innovation in Africa.
The World Bank uses a knowledge economy indicator (KEI) composed of ICT, education and innovation parameters that can be seen in Figure 24. Fifteen countries are missing but the data still gives good preliminary evidence. Africa’s knowledge information indicator lags behind the Middle East, Latin America, East Asia, the Pacific, and Western Europe. Sub-Saharan countries, especially resource-scarce landlocked countries, are the worst African performers and they are closely followed on the world scale by South Asia. The score of North African countries is between Sub-Saharan and Middle East and Latin American nations. While the educational sub-index is smaller in all developing regions than in Western Europe, this component is particularly low in Sub-Saharan Africa. This indicator might not be the best way of measuring innovation, but it indicates the scarcity of education in Sub-Saharan Africa to build innovation-based economies.