AFRICAN states should work on closing the science and technology gap in order to take full advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
The historic AfCFTA was operationalised on January 1 this year and creates the world’s largest single trading market.
During the recent 5th AfreximBank’s annual lecture, it was revealed that Africa was lagging behind the rest of the world in science, technology and innovation (STI progress).
“Only 0,1 percent of all patent applications are registered in Africa compared to 65 percent in Asia and 25 percent in North America, said AfreximBank, quoting Mauritius former President Professor Ameenah Gurib-Fakim.
“Africa is also responsible for only two percent of the world’s research output and one percent of research spending.
Furthermore, the laggards in Africa have 11 researchers per million people whilst the best performing countries in the world such as South Korea and Denmark have between 7 000 and 8 000 scientists and researchers per million people.”
The platform queried why the continent, which has the largest share of arable land, the youngest population and natural resources, has dismal research statistics highlighted above.
Prof Gurib-Fakim said the chronic deficit of researchers and scientists has undoubtedly contributed to the poverty trap that the continent finds itself in.
“The deficit of investment in science and technology and absence of economic and scientific infrastructure has undermined the process of economic transformation both at the structural level and at the sectoral level,” she said.
Prof Gurib-Fakim said the consequences of that deficit have been significant and include continued reliance on the colonial model of resource extraction largely responsible for the debilitating poverty trap and aid dependence trap.
Africa’s failure to advance in science and technology has been compounded by the fragmentation of its markets hence the presentation praised the establishment of AfCFTA for overcoming this hurdle and creating the largest single market in the world by membership.
However, the economic transformation anticipated by the free-trade market hinges on Africa “closing its scientific and technological gap with the rest of the world” and “sustainably producing the right set of skills to expand both extra and intra African trade”.
This will require collaboration and partnerships to create the right conditions to develop centres of excellence on the continent.
Academia, governments and the private sector, would have to collaborate much more closely to ensure the funding is provided and that the conditions for science to thrive are put in place, experts say.
Speaking at the same occasion, AfreximBank president Prof Benedict Oramah, said failure by Africa to secure Covid-19-related equipment such as face masks and ventilators shows that the continent must start manufacturing its own technological products.
“While the AfCFTA was a necessary condition for the transformation of African economies, it was not a sufficient one, especially in a world where trade has been largely driven by manufactured goods with increasing technological content,” he said.
Among the set of constraints undermining the capacity of the AfCFTA to deliver on its full potential, none is as critical as closing the region’s scientific and technological gap.
“The most competitive countries in the world are also the ones leading in ICT, innovation, scientific research and development. Africa cannot be kept at the back of the queue,” said Prof Oramah.