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Africa is lagging in technological innovation says TED Fellow, Ndubuisi Ekekwe. The continent’s obsession with consuming technology has left it lagging as a technological creator.
Ekekwe emphasises five things that can pull Africa from a “technological downstream to a technological upstream” at this year’s Tech4Africa conference. He calls on all African technological enthusiasts to “Think. Invent, Redesign Africa”. This is how he proposes going about this redesign:
The right ecosystem
Ekekwe believes that Africa needs an ecosystem for ideas, a comfortable space where Africa’s young innovators can come together to share and implement ideas. He also believes that this ecosystem should be accompanied by a good legal system to protect people’s ideas — “When people create, it should be protected and not taken until they give you the right to it.”
Education system need to be result oriented
Africa’s education system should be built on “getting things done”. Ekekwe feels that “Africans should stop going to university just to get a degree but rather to apply knowledge and build on new ideas”. The big challenge with Africa he believes is that the continent does not have a model for creating engineers or a model to sustain what already exists. He also says existing models don’t “bring new innovation”. Ekekwe recommends that Africa needs to become oriented toward building more innovative ways of learning and teaching that way “we can apply knowledge rather just absorb it”.
Broaden what is technology not just IT
Technological innovation is not exclusive to IT says Ekekwe — “We need to communicate holistically in terms of technology so we can make better technological decisions as well motivating people to work in other technologies such as agriculture and mining”.
The John Hopkins graduate cites examples such as the usage of western tools to solve African problems. “The tools we import from the west aren’t Africa ready, by innovating within these specific areas we can grow our own tools and innovate. By simply focusing on IT we lose in other areas.”
The potential for growth in other areas will help Africa move further upstream in the technological debate as it is an area Africa has a unique insight in these other area because it area that we need. “Africa needs better means of farming because its people’s livelihood. These technologies will work better because people in Africa need them,” he says.
A blueprint for a tech cluster in Africa
An African Silicon Valley will help control and the ecosystem of ideas as well spread the ideas. “If we set up technological hubs in Cape Town, Lagos, and Nairobi we don’t have to compete with Silicon Valley and we shouldn’t. By building our own technological cluster we can build our own community of innovation around Africa’s needs. There is a mobile industry but can we create a new industry on our own?”
Africa’s lack of an entrepreneurial culture is one it’s biggest challenges, Ekekew says. “People become entrepreneurs in Africa in order to survive. Very few people do it because they are passionate and love what they do and because they wish to innovate. It is the path to success not to change, a means to an end. Real entrepreneurs have a drive to solve a problem and they follow through with a mission.”