Alongside the R&D carried out by the public sector and universities (see the previous Letter), the African research and innovation community shows remarkable dynamism and diversity.
The AIMS-NEI (1) is one of the most exciting initiatives. This network, started in South Africa by Neil Turok an astrophysicist in 2003, now brings together higher education and research centers in mathematical sciences in Senegal (2011), Ghana (2012) and Cameroon (2014). An additional 10 countries are expected to join by 2023. The Institute provides world – class post-graduate education, taught by an outstanding international faculty including Fields medal (2) winners, to students who graduated in mathematics from an African university. The aim is to create a generation of scientists who will lead Africa’s transformation through science and technology. Since inception, the Institute graduated over 500 young scientists, a third of them women, 72% of whom have chosen to stay and work in Africa.
For their part, multinational corporations have started setting up research centers on the continent to help create products and services more relevant to the African markets. IBM inaugurated, in 2013, an artificial intelligence research center in Nairobi, Kenya and Philips opened, in 2014 in Nairobi also, a research center dedicated to the healthcare and lighting markets. Other large corporations such as Samsung Electronics, L’Oreal, GSK or General Electric recently announced a number of R&D investments in Africa.
The blossoming across the continent of start-ups incubators and « fablabs (3) » allows young innovators to test, prototype and fine tune new and generally cheap solutions to the various challenges facing Africa in a number of fields including energy, agriculture, healthcare, education or telecommunications.
This African innovation drive has scored notable successes which now need to be rolled out on an industrial scale. Vérone Mankou’s tablet 100% designed and engineered in Africa is a case in point. Victor Kosikouma Agbégnénou’s PWCST (4) which allows the distribution of data, voice and images at high speed without using expensive infrastructures such as optic fiber is another.
For its part, the Innovation Price for Africa (IPA) granted by the African Innovation Foundation, based in Switzerland, has been recognizing since 2011 marketable technology solutions to the specific challenges of our continent.
African scientific research is poised to gain momentum and strength in future. However, for it to become a significant lever of growth and development homegrown financing and industrial capabilities will be required.
(1) African Institute for Mathematical Sciences- Next Einstein initiative.
(2) The Fields is the Nobel Prize equivalent for mathematicians.
(3) Fabrication laboratories: collaborative work space allowing innovators from various field to accelerate the migration from concept to prototype and then market of a technology, a device or a software.
(4) Polyvalent Wireless Communication System Technology.