Innovation Policies for an Innovative Culture and Modernity in Africa

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Science and technology policies in Africa have been too narrowly focused on higher education, research and development.  Although these are essential elements of any effective science and technology policy, it only involves a very small percentage of the population – perhaps a few thousand scientists and engineers or less than one percent of the population in the majority of African countries.  Such narrowly based policies cannot produce spectacular results because science and technology for sustainable development and accessing modernity must be the object of popular efforts and needs the involvement and contribution of all the population.

 

There is a need to reorient science and technology policies towards “technological innovation policies” and a “culture of science and technology”.  This reorientation will embrace a much larger percentage of the population in the technological development effort of the country.  One useful concept that originated 150 years ago is the “national systems of production” (F. List) which gained popularity in the 1980s and 1990s with the Sussex School of Thought and its application in Nordic Countries as the “National System of Innovation Approach (NSI)”. The approach provides a relevant framework for promoting development, provided that innovation is not only limited to the technological aspects but also embraces the social and cultural context.

 

A National System of Innovation “can be thought of as a set of functioning institutions, organizations and policies which interact constructively in the pursuit of a common set of social and economic goals and objectives”.  Used as the central organizing concept for the elaboration of science and technology policies, it lays emphasis on linkages, interactions and relations between elements and actors instead of resource allocation. It also includes all institutions and structures related to competence building in all parts of the economy.  It provides an alternative to the ‘linear’ model (research-push model).  In the NSI approach, knowledge is a key resource and learning is a key process. 

 

Furthermore, the NSI approach emphasizes policy coordination and provides a better understanding of innovation than traditional approaches (neo-classic model, macroeconomic, microeconomic, etc.). Accordingly, technological innovation is seen as a new combination of elements, often from different areas. It is also the result of a process where feedbacks from market and knowledge inputs form users interact with knowledge creation and entrepreneurial initiatives.  In this approach, the use of local, traditional, indigenous knowledge is as important as scientific and modern knowledge. 

 

Therefore, science, technology and innovation policies must emphasize the development of a science and technology culture for sustainable development. To this effect, a variety of means can be used, such as:-

 

  • strengthening science and technology curricula,
  • using radio to broadcast programs with scientific contents,
  • recognizing achievements through awards and prizes,
  • promoting scientific journalism,
  • subsidizing scientific publications,
  • translating and adapting popular scientific pamphlets and brochures into mother tongues,
  • promoting rural and community telecenters, etc.

 

In summary, to be effective most science and technology policies in Africa need to be reoriented from a narrow emphasis on higher education and research to an emphasis on innovation and the development of a popular culture of science and technology.

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