AFRICANGLOBE – The 2014 edition of Innovation Prize for Africa, organised by the Africa Innovation Foundation (AIF) held in Abuja recently served as a wake-up call on leaders across the continent to invest in technology, writes Raheem Akingbolu.
To position Africa as a technology destination that would attract global attention, leaders across the continents were recently advised to invest in human development to drive innovation.
Experts, including Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, Dr. Okonjo Eweala, Minister of Communication Technology Mrs. Omobola Johnson and Director, AIF, Pauline Majuwamariya called on African leaders to rise up and encourage innovation to develop African nations.
They cited the huge natural resources that the continent is blessed with as a good impetus for development. As a result of many years of layback on the part of stakeholders, Pauline Majuwamariya argued that the continent is regarded as a poor one.
She also cited the fact that many of its citizens live below the poverty line as a reason for such conclusion. To right the wrong, the AIF Director, said there is a need to urgently transform the natural resources in Africa into economic wealth for its average citizens.
Majuwamariya also emphasised the need to do away with the toga of importer of technology to innovator and exporter of technology.
She said: “For Africa to compete favorably with other continents, technology would play a critical role. That is why all of us should come together and encourage innovation to liberate the continent and its economy.
As part to the moves to fill the gap and build awareness about innovation and technological growth, The Africa Innovation Foundation (AIF) through the institution of an Innovation Prize for Africa, (IPA) has in the last few years been promoting technology through reward of innovation to boost participation.
The Innovation Prize recognizes and rewards Africans who created practical solutions to some of the continent’s most intractable problems.
The 2014 edition of the award was held in Abuja recently and before the presentation of the award, there was a roundtable discussion.
The first session looked at Africa’ innovation spaces: How do they unleash African ingenuity and are they enough, while the second session considered meeting the needs of the African youth and building a 21st century workforce.
Commenting during the opening ceremony, Professor S. Muhammed commended the promoters of the Africa Innovation Foundation because innovation is critical to the transformation of Africa. He, however, called for more support for the youth to innovate as well as increase access to technology.
Director, AIF, Pauline Majuwamariya, who gave a brief background on the Innovation Prize for Africa, said that the prize is a call to action, noting that there are a lot of youths within the continent eager to create solutions but the enabling environment within which to operate must be created for them.
She appealed to women to apply because fewer applications had been received from women since the award was instituted. She further said that innovation does not come over night; this is why concerted efforts must be made.
The Director General of the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion, Dr Umar Bindir, opined that Africa has not matured providing solutions to some of the challenges confronting it because it has not found the secret of science.
Looking specifically at Nigeria, he wonders why with the large number of higher institutions in the country, Nigerians do not have access to portable water. He maintained that knowledge coming out of the universities must translate to solutions considering the continent has a lot of challenges.
Providing an introduction to the first session of the roundtable discussion, AIF Advisor, Emeka Okafor, noted that the topic is relevant to sustainability development. He observed that there are building blocks that should be put in place to have innovative brains that will transform ideas into solutions.
The panelists were Director of the Abuja technology Village, Hauwa Yabani; Founder of Jokka Labs, S.Y Karim; Chief Executive Officer of Innovation Hub, South Africa, Mclean Sibanda; Founder Fablab University of Nairobi, Kamau Gachigi.
Each of the panelists gave a brief talk on what the technology centres they head has been doing to contribute to innovation in Africa. Kamau said that it is important to have technology centres in spite of the presence of universities and institutes, since the technology centres are not totally formal in teaching and learning like the universities.
He cited the case of a boy who has no university education but created a tea-brewing machine in his country. He however believed the universities and the technology centres must operate hand in hand.
One of the panelists noted that in the drive to promote innovative ideas, the continent must guide against creating more centres without creating the support the young people need, else, more frustration would be created.
In the second session with the theme, meeting the needs of the African youth and building a 21st century workforce, Ndubuisi Ekekwe emphasised the need for multifaceted education, even at secondary school level, instead of restricting students to narrow fields with limited subjects.
He observed that Africans like talking and writing about its problems feeling it has solved it. So for him, Africa needs to begin to take action. He also argued that Africa would not make progress if it does not move from an invention society to an innovative one.
Place Of Policy
The Executive Director of ATPS, Professor Kevin Urama, stated that the policy environment is important to innovation especially for market acceptability, observing that the continent will not move forward if it does not always appreciate that there is a problem to be solved.
Leader of Global Minimum, a creativity platform, David Sengeh, observed that structured education would not create the innovation the continent seeks, as it will not be revolutionary.
On the relationship between informal institutions and the formal ones, he said that there is a huge opportunity for universities to learn in informal institutions.
“We can also formalise a lot of learning that goes on in informal settings into our education system. Our education system is not very practical and it usually expects that people have to be through with their four years training before they can solve problems.
“This is the opposite to informal inventive system. This idea of getting the hands dirty early on is essential and our universities need to grow themselves getting the student’s hands dirty early on,” he said.
He believed that Africa has what it takes to be innovative because there are many communities across the African continent that is very inventive, maintaining that the potential to use the inventiveness in the people to develop solutions is huge.