Africa’s rapid acquisition of industrial technologies is an indication that the continent is joining other developing regions in building a sound manufacturing base likely to support the production of value-added goods and services, including high-tech products, according to a study released today by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
“The findings reveal an impressive turnaround from the slow growth in Africa’s share of the number of patents, peer-reviewed scientific publications and technology exports and imports which grew very slowly in the 1980s to 1990s,” said Abdoulie Janneh, the Commission’s Executive Secretary, referring to the study entitled “A technological resurgence: Africa in the global flow of technology.”
“The research provides evidence of a rapid growth rate in Africa’s industrial technology acquisition,” Mr. Janneh added.
He pointed out that inflows of foreign direct investment (FDI), one of the main channels of technology transfer, into Africa soared by over 800 per cent between 2000 and 2008.
“Some of the investment has gone into the production of drugs, steel, automobiles and electronics, among others – areas that require the use of technology owned by others,” said Mr. Janneh.
The research is the first ever comprehensive study that tracks flows of investment and knowledge mainly by developing regions and developed country groupings and specifically looks at technology transfer trends in areas such as royalties and licensing fees, capital goods, business, professional and technical services, research and development, as well as intellectual property rights.
It stresses the need to prioritize technology development and transfer through four core areas, including the promotion of university-industry-government partnership, where existing research centres can be used to acquire, adapt and diffuse emerging technology and serve as technology incubators.
The study also recommends the strategic use of government contracts to encourage technology upgrading of domestic firms and joint ventures with foreign suppliers; promotion of industrial alliances to enable African firms to access emerging and existing knowledge and skills at home and abroad; and entry into international research and development agreements between African countries and leading technology-exporting countries.
None of the measures entail a significant investment in or creation of new institutions and bodies, but rather they constitute innovative ways of using existing mechanisms to promote technology transfer, according to the study.
In addition, the measures would support the current drive to promote investment in research and development and higher education.
The study indicates that in the not-too-distant future, the rise in industrial technology acquisition may diversify African exports from coffee, cocoa, copper, tea, diamonds and petroleum, according to UNECA.