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Africa Rebooting

We all know Africa is a continent full of innovation. Now policy makers at all levels must put this strength, along with scientific and technical development, at the centre of economic strategies. Fortunately, the African Union has recently adopted a strategy that seeks to do exactly that.

Strong demand for raw materials, especially by China, and a growth in consumption by an expanding middle class has driven Africa’s growth in the past decade. Seeking sustainability, policymakers are shifting their attention from raw materials to an economic outlook that is driven by technological innovation.

The 10-year Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024) recently adopted by the African Union (AU) embodies this vision. Its mission is to “accelerate Africa’s transition to an innovation-led, knowledge-based economy.” The strategy is part of the longer-term Agenda 2063 – the AU’s development vision and action plan.

Acting strategically

The strategy takes into account Africa’s current level of development and its persistent challenges. It seeks to deploy science, technology and innovation to address six key challenges. These include building infrastructure, eliminating hunger, improving human development, protecting the environment, enhancing social cohesion and spreading prosperity.

These priorities have been extensively discussed and are not new. What is different is the determination of African leaders to leverage existing and new technologies to address them in ways that are sustainable and inclusive.

STISA-2024 builds on a series of previous efforts to leverage science and technology for development. Most of the previous efforts assumed a linear relationship between research, development, demonstration and deployment. As a result, much of the policy emphasis was on allocating at least 1% of GDP to research and development (R&D).

Africa still values the importance of research, but no longer considers this linear view to be viable. Based on experiences in the rapid adoption of mobile phones, the continent is now looking into combining R&D with leveraging existing technologies and using them to create new enterprises. This approach provides Africa with a more hopeful future for tapping into an exponentially-growing global knowledge reservoir.

The plan also includes seeing innovation emerge as a result of interactions between government, academia, business and civil society. For example, South Africa has become a major player in the world wine market through interactions between private producers, research institutes, universities and government. Similarly, the emergence of the mobile money transfer industry in Kenya was a result of interactions between government, business, development organisations and the research community.

STISA-2024 has identified four strategic actions that reflect the continent’s statement of development while accommodating differences among states. These are investing in infrastructure development, building human competence, incubating and growing enterprises, and providing an enabling environment for innovation.

Infrastructure development

Africa has identified two critical areas of infrastructure development that have a direct impact on innovation. The first is physical infrastructure and the associated institutional and legal arrangements. Africa needs nearly $93 billion annually over the next decade to meet its infrastructure needs, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB).

Such projects are inherently technological and provide a basis for accumulating scientific and technical capacity. But being able to do so requires procurement procedures that emphasise the domestication of the associated technologies and knowledge.

The design and implementation of such projects involves expertise in mechanical, civil, electrical and chemical engineering, among other fields. Africa’s design of infrastructure will, therefore, need to be directly linked to the creation of engineering capabilities. Egypt, Kenya and Ghana have recently created universities that focus on telecommunications technologies.

The second area involves the creation of research infrastructure, especially laboratories. Many of these can be directly linked to infrastructure projects, but others need to be set up at universities and research institutes. Engineering projects can be used to acquire equipment needed for scientific research.

Technical competence

African countries will need significantly to expand the availability of quality postgraduate education, and in particular programmes that lead to doctoral qualifications. Achieving this requires a systematic and coordinated approach to human capital development by popularising science and technology. More will need to be done to bring research, teaching and commercialisation under more coordinated management. In much of Africa, research is carried out in national research institutes that do not teach, and universities offer educational programmes with little research capacity or funding. This situation will need to change.

A typical response to such inefficiency is to call for increases in university research funding. An additional approach is to add teaching functions to research institutes to create a new generation of innovation universities. Another path is to encourage the creation of new research universities under technology-oriented businesses, as is being done in Tanzania and Ethiopia.


Enterprises — whether public or private — are the primary vehicle for turning knowledge into goods and services. They are, therefore, the primary driver of economic transformation. It is also in enterprises that technological capabilities accumulate. These capabilities are the fuel for competitiveness.

Africa is investing in enterprise development. But the growing awareness of technical knowledge and entrepreneurship will require forging close connections between business and academia. Other ways to spur entrepreneurship include using universities as incubators for new companies. Creating this role for educational establishments will require reforms to redefine the missions of some universities.

As businesses grow, they demand more technical knowledge. Some of this can be generated internally. Focusing on the scaling up of business, therefore, increases a country’s knowledge base.  As firms grow, they also produce new technical knowledge that makes them suitable locations for training future generations.

Universities serve as incubators of businesses. Enterprises also act as midwives of new knowledge-based universities. Africa can learn from South Korea, which has considerable experience in supporting enterprises to create universities. Some African enterprises have internal training programmes that could be upgraded to the level of university-level courses.

Enabling environment

The approaches outlined above demand greater creativity and flexibility from African policy makers. Enlightened leadership is required with heads of state or government acting as innovation champions. In addition to providing coordinated policies that fit specific purposes, African countries will need to create policy environments that nurture innovation.

Fostering a culture of innovation requires continuous policy adjustment. This process is best achieved with the support of effective Offices of Science and Innovation Advice for heads of state and government. So far, no African country has a statutory Office of Science and Innovation Advice. Their creation should be a priority in the early stages of the implementation of STISA-2024.

Getting it done

STISA-2024 will be implemented over four phases at continental, regional and national levels, through flagship programmes that reflect local priorities, needs and capabilities. The strategies outlined above make it possible for countries to leverage their regular investments in infrastructure, education and entrepreneurship to support innovation.

The first task is therefore exploring how to integrate innovation into ongoing activities. Making innovation a routine aspect of existing activities involves considerably less additional financial investment than other routes.

The main task facing Africa is identifying opportunities for innovation in existing programmes. New and additional resources are important. But they are not as critical as using local resources to leverage international cooperation. In the final analysis, making Africa an innovation-driven economy will require creativity and imagination. There is no shortage of these two intrinsic assets.

Source: NewAfricanMagazine

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2 billion people in emerging developing countries priced out of internet

More than two billion people in emerging and developing countries worldwide cannot access the internet due to high costs of connectivity, new research by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) has found.

According to A4AI’s annual Affordability Report, released today at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, across 51 developing countries surveyed for the report, the average cost of broadband internet for an individual is 40 per cent of their monthly income – much higher than the 5 per cent target set out by the UN Broadband Commission.

The average cost of mobile connectivity is lower, although still double the target threshold, at 10 per cent of an individual’s monthly income.

Based on these figures, A4AI finds that over two billion people worldwide are priced out of internet connectivity

“In the 21st century, inability to pay should not deny anyone access to the Internet. Universal broadband can easily become a reality if leaders commit to ending anti-competitive policies that keep prices artificially high, prioritising more well-planned infrastructure investment, and expanding public access programmes to ensure the poorest are not left behind,” said A4AI executive director Sonia Jorge.

According to the Affordability Report, women and rural populations face the highest barriers to internet access; income disparities and social norms affecting the former in particular, with infrastructural challenges added for the latter group. These challenges increase the cost of internet access for these groups, and serve to further marginalise and exclude them from connectivity.

The research highlights five points for action, which when developed concurrently will serve as a roadmap to address the internet affordability issues faced by developing countries. First, A4AI recommends the development of an effective National Broadband Plan; followed by the creation an environment which promotes enhanced competition. Strategies which permit efficient spectrum allocation are named as the third prerequisite; while the fourth recommendation is to put in place models designed to encourage or mandate infrastructure sharing. Finally, A4AI advocates widespread public access through libraries, schools, and other community venues.

“Unnecessarily high prices, in tandem with a failure to expand public access, are still conspiring to bar billions from accessing the life changing potential of the Web. Those most in need of upliftment — women, rural populations and those living in poverty — are hit the hardest,” Jorge said.

“The good news is that a clear roadmap to progress has emerged. Global experience has delivered a set of policies and principles which — when implemented in an integrated fashion and combined with strong leadership — can deliver real change, fast. We urge policy makers in all countries to follow these recommendations.”

Latin America accounts for six of the top 10 affordability rankings, with the report saying the region leads the way in policy reforms aimed at lowering connectivity costs.

Among developing countries – defined by the World Bank as low to lower-middle income countries – the top five ranked countries for internet affordability were Rwanda, Nigeria, Morocco, Uganda and Kenya – although none of these came into the global top 10.

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Africa’s top science and development stories of 2014

Ebola, energy, gender and agriculture topped articles published by SciDev.Net Sub-Saharan Africa region in 2014. 
With Ebola dominating news on Africa last year, one could be forgiven to think that other topics got lesser attention. But a review of stories we published in 2014 shows the continent, in addition to Ebola stories, had plenty to offer readers of articles on science and technology for development. In particular, many readers became active on the region’s Facebook page and ‘liked’ some of the top stories.

Health, not just Ebola

Many healthcare challenges, not only just Ebola, became prominent last year. There was a story that highlighted a report about the continent’s unlikelihood of achieving its goal of eliminating measles by 2020. A WHO official cited countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Nigeria — where many children with the disease live — to do more to increase vaccination rates.

“A review of stories we published in 2014 shows the continent, in addition to Ebola stories, had plenty to offer readers of articles on science and technology for development.”

Bernard Appiah

HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis were not left out in 2014. Early in the year, we published a story that indicated that intermittent screening and treatment of malaria in schools did not have benefits in low- to-moderate malaria transmission settings in part due to reinfection from untreated cases in communities. Another story showed that there were gaps in implementing recommendations for treating tuberculosis in Africa, such as continued use of outmoded medicines.

And how about a story on an annulled anti-gay law in Uganda that is still having a rippling effect on conducting HIV research in that country? Or the fact that regulatory bottlenecks could make it difficult for African women to access combination tools to fight HIV/AIDS?

But not all health news painted gloomy future of Africa. The use of information and communication technology (ICT) to promote healthcare on the continent received a major boost when a global mHealth giant decided to relocate its head office to South Africa.

Two mHealth projects to improve mental health also won grants. Mobileapp to help locate Ebola cases, another app to screen hearing loss in children, and healthcare workers’ strategy of using a buddy system to treat patients with Ebola received attention too.

A story about a project that aims to help blind students in Kenya visualise data by using computer-aided audio recordings was ‘liked’ by more than 2,000 ‘friends’ of SciDev.Net Sub-Saharan Africa’s Facebook page — the highest figure for any particular article we published in 2014.

Calling for home-grown support

Stories about international donors funding major R&D projects, includingclinical trials, maternal health, agriculture and  radio astronomy, got readers’ attention. And while these seemed good news for the continent, a story we published later in the year showed donors are driving Africa’s health R&D.

“Indeed, the year 2014 demonstrated that despite the challenges of Ebola, there are other issues Africa has to address and other good solutions that should be promoted across the continent to aid development.”

Bernard Appiah

A group of ministers also called for Africa-led research. Experts argued that African governments should do more to fund R&D, noting that had they made enough progress in fighting neglected diseases such as Ebola, perhaps the virus could not have been so devastating to West Africa.

A story based on a World Bank report showed that Sub-Sahara Africa’sresearch output in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields doubled, although still low, for the period 2003 to 2012. But the story added that Africa should build more research capacity in STEM, and called for both governments and donor to increase funding to boost R&D.

Reforming Africa’s energy sector

News on Africa’s energy sector indicated a need for reform. For example, delegates at the 2nd High Level Meeting of the Africa-EU Partnership called for the continent to reform the energy sector if Africa is to achieve her development goals. Among the reforms cited were the goals need to provide sustainable energy services such as generating more energy from wind and the sun, and tripling other sources of renewable energy.

Uganda appeared to have taken a major step to providing renewable energy as the country announced that it hopes to increase renewable energy access to 61 per cent.

The role of journalists and gender in boosting renewable energy access was not left out too. Journalists in East Africa attended a workshop in Rwanda on energy reporting and became enlightened that good energy stories should have certain angles such as energy policy, investment or quality.

A story from 2nd High Level Meeting of the Africa-EU Partnership also revealed a need to consider gender in addressing challenges that face the continent’s energy sector. Experts called for stakeholders to create energy policies that bolster women’s economic capacity to eliminate ‘feminised’ poverty.

Two women ‘solar engineers’ from Cameroon, with middle-school leaving certificates, through a grant from the United Nations Development Programme, went to Barefoot College in India, and were trained in solar electrification for six months. Upon their return, they began to light their village by mounting solar panels for homes.

Gender in other sectors

More than just renewable energy, gender featured in some stories we published in 2014.  In agriculture, there were calls such as a need for more women scientists and providing key roles in R&D to boost food production, as identified in a report that showed the domination of men in agricultural research.

Our story that female-headed households are likely to suffer from food insecurity also called for policymakers to facilitate easy access to information, market outlets and credits for groups of smallholder farmers.

In ICT, the power of radio to help women tackle challenges in Uganda was highlighted. Also, stakeholders called for empowerment of girls in ICT education. Women also received a major boost through funding schemes to empower them in ICT and to encourage them to get PhDs.

Other focus on agriculture 

Beyond the influence of women in agriculture, there were other agricultural stories that many readers ‘liked’ on Facebook. These included making agriculture attractive to the youth, a new laboratory that has been launched in East Africa to protect bees  and a technology for drying fish in Uganda that aims to improve food security.

Experts also selected high-yielding, drought-tolerant rice varieties for African farmers.

Indeed, the year 2014 demonstrated that despite the challenges of Ebola, there are other issues Africa has to address and other good solutions that should be promoted across the continent to aid development.

Source: Sub-Saharan Africa desk.

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Meet the digital natives trailblazing internet use in Africa: 6 facts you need to know

In 1998 there were less than 2 million mobile subscription in Africa. Today there are over 630 million.

Photo from an MTN Zambia ad making the point that the young ones have crashed the digital party.
Photo from an MTN Zambia ad making the point that the young ones have crashed the digital party.

THE United Nations recently observed “Safer Internet Day”, joining the global call for child online safety. It is a call driven partly by the fact that creatures known as “digital natives” will double in the developing world, growing from 22.8% to 53% of young Internet users.

These are worries that were inconceivable in Africa just 20 years ago.

In the late 1990s, Africa was in the throes of a privatisation spree, particularly in the telecoms market. Five countries privatised their telecom operators between 1996 and 1997 – Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Ghana, Senegal and South Africa – compared to just one privatisation in 1990-1995.

Fifteen new private mobile cellular companies started up operations between 1995 and 1997. Ghana awarded its second network operator licence in 1996 to ACG Telesystems, a consortium led by Western Wireless of the United States. Around the same time, Uganda awarded a second network operator— the MTN Uganda consortium— a full service license including cellular.

In Kenya, a local company called Kencell – which would later go through three turbulent rebrandings and burn through nearly a dozen CEOs in just over a decade – had just clinched the country’s first mobile operator license.

We all know how the story unfolds: mobile takes Africa by storm, with a compounded annual growth rate in subscriptions growing at 2,000% in a decade.

At the start of Africa’s mobile revolution in 1998, there were less than 2 million mobile subscriptions, says data from the African Development Bank (AfDB), and 86% of these were in South Africa. By 2008, South Africa’s “market share” had been whittled down to 18%, and today, latest data from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) indicates that there are 630 million mobile subscriptions on the continent.

In that time, there is a generation that has grown up with no inkling of what the world was like before mobile phones, or the Internet. Meet the “digital natives”, defined as a young person between the ages of 15 and 24 with five years or more experience using the Internet.

1. About 5.2% of the world population is considered to be digital native, shows latest data from the ITU in a report titled Measuring the Information Society 2013. It may seem like a tiny fraction, but the overall figure masks great variations between and within nations, from a low of 0.13% to a high of 16%.

Where the online population is concerned, youth are clearly overrepresented, so when we take digital natives as a proportion of youth, globally the figure shoots up to 30%. The global leader is South Korea, where virtually all young people – 99.6% – are digital natives.

2. In Africa, the fraction of youth said to be digital native is about 9.2%. Morocco’s youth are in the lead, with nearly half of young people aged 15-24 (45.8%) in 2012 being digital natives, followed by Mauritius (42.8%), Tunisia (36.7%), and Egypt (34.9%).

But position five is a country you may have written off, for its abysmal economic performance in the past fifteen years. It’s Zimbabwe, with fully 25% of its young people considered digital natives, ahead of more prosperous countries like South Africa (18.6%), Nigeria (16%), or Kenya, that gets much of Africa’s IT accolades and is angling to be the continent’s “Silicon savannah” – about 18% of Kenya’s youth are considered digital natives.

A country will have a high percentage of digital natives if it has relatively high levels of youth and at least medium levels of Internet use; high levels of Internet use; or some combination of the two.

Having a big youth bulge, and a large rural population, tends to bring this figure down, such as in Nigeria.

3. Digital nativism is correlated with secondary, and especially tertiary education levels. Zimbabwe is Africa’s most literate country, so that makes its reading habits (and by extension, its media and information-seeking habits) rather insulated from the day-to-day vagaries of the economy.

Read More Here

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All is now set for the maiden Social Media Africa Summit and Award events in Lagos – Nigeria.

The two-in-one event billed to hold on Saturday 24, 2015 will during the summit session host Africa’s best from various sectors to discuss, analyze and forge a new development path for Africa through social media while the award event will recognize and reward excellence, creativity and impact of social media on human socio-economic development – through its tools and platforms – by individuals and organizations across the continent.

According to the Project Lead, Social Media Awards Africa, Femi Aderibigbe ,  ‘The reality of advancing sustainable development through digital and social media in Africa is been established whilst we recognise and reward the productive usage and best practices on the continent’s social space’.


With the theme ‘Social Media for Leadership, Governance and Development’, the summit  represents a unique opportunity for participants to discuss social media impact and applications at the highest level, and produce strategic recommendations and action imperatives for the future of the social media sphere for continental development.

During the Award ceremony tagged ‘Night of Virtual Wonders’ Fifteen (15) out of the Forty-three (43) Finalists from across the continent will be rewarded with award prizes for the featured 15 Awards across 4 Categories for the 2014 edition of the awards which opened with a continent-wide call for nomination and recorded over 3,000 entries accounting for about 923 nominations.

Winners of the 2014 Social Media Awards Africa will be rewarded with US$1,000, SMAA Plaque, Institutional Trainings, Access to relevant social influencers amongst other benefits.

The summit starts at 9.00am while the Award Ceremony starts at 6.00pm.  Both events will be streamed live online via www.sterlingbankas well as covered online using the hashtag, #SMAA

The Social Media Awards Africa is an initiative of Development Diaries and sponsored by Sterling Bank PlcAIESEC AfricaWest African NGO Network (WANGONET)Beat FMFan Milk NigeriaZisat,Trace TV and African Media Initiative (AMI)  are also Partners.

For more information on SMAA: ProcessJuryAdvisory Board; visit


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The Impact of Social Media on Africa’s Politics

John Oyadougha

Few years ago, only a minute fraction of social observer could picture the current ‘penetrating effect(s) of social media on Africa’s political landscape and structure. Today, the once perceived ‘social play-ground’ is now the hub for strong political discourse and developmental engagement on the politics and policies of Africa.
From Kenya to Botswana, Nigeria to Egypt, social media is setting a new agenda for Africa’s political manoeuvring through active citizens’ engagement and pro-active social consciousness and public connectivity.
In 2013, Kenya held its presidential election which was adjudged free and fair by electoral observers. Whilst Twitter – a fast growing microblogging platform in Africa played a significant role in the outcome of that election which Uhuru Kenyata eventually won, the hashtag #KenyaDecides was helpful before, during and after the election to monitor events, exchange opinions, get update and rally support for choice candidates.
Just like in Kenya, social media played a vital role in the presidential election in Algeria and Tunisia in 2014, Zimbabwe and Mauritius in 2013, amongst other non-presidential elections conducted across different African countries.
To speak or write of the impactful role of social media in Africa’s politics without recourse to Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya etc is to be unfair to history. In the wake of the uprising, Egyptians made use of social media to inform and organise movements for public interest and protest. Social media provided the platform for people who were dissatisfied with the status quo to voice their opinion and gather support for cordinated protest. This finally led to the resignation of the then president, Hosni Mubarak on the 11th of february 2011.
The recent resignation of Burkina Faso’s Blaize Comparee as the country’s president which was first received by the online community, also lends credence to the undeniable force and impact of social media in Africa and its politics.
Today, multitude of socio-political, economic and developmental issues are constantly debated and contested on a number of online platforms by Africans, hence, increasing citizens’ understanding and engagement in political cum policy processes and programmes.
In the coming year, 2015, new vista of political and social media connection will be explored as Africa’s most populous country –#NigeriaDecides amongst other African countries.
One thing has become very clear though, technology is influencing not just the political landscape but all spheres of our lives in Africa and will continue to do so in ways we cant imagine yet control.

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Development Diaries, a Pan-African media-for-development (Media4D) initiative has unveiled The Social Media Awards Africa (SMAA) in Lagos-Nigeria. The SMAA is a premier continental initiative established to recognize and celebrate excellence, creativity and impact of social media on human socio-economic development – through its tools and platforms – by individuals and organizations across the continent.

Speaking during the unveiling ceremony, Project Lead of the Social Media Awards Africa, Femi Aderibigbe explained that with over 700 million mobile phones active and over 200 million internet users – with more than 110 million on Facebook – Africa’s twitter timeline in restless motion – development may be hinged on its ability to explore the technological revolution of the 21st Century.

With nomination opportunities into 4 categories of 15 awards, interested individuals and organizations can nominate from October 1 till 27, 2014 for a chance to win any of the already coveted awards. All entries will be judged on influence, originality, creativity, scalability and impact. The judging process will see winners emerge through an open and credible system involving the general public, a virtual council and jury.

Award prizes include: $1,000 USD, professional and institutional trainings on social media, access to mentorship opportunities among other benefits for excellence and impact in social media practice.

The Social Media Africa Initiative is supervised by an Advisory Board of respected individuals such as: Toby Daniels, CEO, CrowdCentric & Founder, Social Media Week; Tunji Lardner, Executive Director, West African NGO Network (WANGONeT), Ini Onuk, Lead Consultant/CEO, ThistlePraxis Consulting; Abdul Tejan-Cole, Executive Director, Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) among others.

Leading the judging process is a Jury which consist of: Ken Banks, Founder,; Francis Ebuehi, Vice President, Value Added Services, Airtel Nigeria; Obi Asika, Chief Executive Officer, Dragon Africa; Ryan Silberman, CEO, Popimedia South Africa; Dele Fatunla, Communications Coordinator, Royal Arts Society, London; Muyiwa Moyela, External Relations Lead, IBM West Africa; Hetal Shah, Chief Operating Officer, Mara Group of Companies and many more.

The Social Media Awards Africa is sponsored by Sterling Bank, Africa Media Initiative, AIESEC and WANGONeT.

For more information about the Social Media Awards Africa (SMAA), follow @sma_africa on twitter and find SMAAfrica on all major social media platforms.

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