African Innovation Outlook II – New science indicators

African Innovation Outlook II was launched recently, the second phase in an effort to produce regular and reliable indicators for planning and monitoring the state of science, technology and innovation across the continent. The number of countries participating nearly doubled from 19 in the first outlook exercise in 2010, to 35 countries in the second phase.

The report is an outcome of the African Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators – ASTII – initiative.

While participation in ASTII Phase II increased to 35 countries, in the end only 21 (60%) conducted national surveys and contributed data.

The report presents the results of research and development and innovation surveys and bibliometric studies as well as information on the status of science, technology and innovation, or STI, policies and strategies in each country.

The survey found that most countries in Africa had ministries of science and technology (and innovation) while some were combined with ministries of education or other ministries such as communication and finance.

There were common issues in most countries that required policy intervention including STI governance and capacity, human resource development, boosting research and development performance, and promoting innovation.

Relatively few countries had stand-alone innovation policies or strategies.

“While science remains crucial to innovation, innovation goes beyond research and development. Therefore innovation policies have to move beyond science and technology to embrace the multidimensional nature of innovation,” according to the report.

Funding matters

The survey showed that investment in research and development, or R&D, in most African countries was still far below the 1% of gross domestic product that is the current target for African Union countries.

According to the report, 13 (68%) participating countries performed R&D overwhelmingly in the public sector – higher education and-or government sector – with under-investment very pronounced in the business sector across Africa.

Government continued to be the main source of funding for R&D activities. Outside of South Africa, where business-funded R&D amounted to 40.1% of total expenditure, funding from the business sector in other countries was low.

Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal and Uganda all had more than 40% of their R&D financed from abroad. At 12.1%, South Africa was the least dependent on foreign funding for R&D performance.

Kenya and Zimbabwe devoted more than half of R&D expenditure to basic research, followed by Togo at 37.6% and Uganda at 34.7%. Lesotho, Malawi and Mozambique spent between 60% and 70% of total funding on applied research.

Countries spending more than 15% on experimental development research activities included Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda.


The survey found that Egypt, Kenya and South Africa reported the largest absolute numbers of R&D personnel and the highest numbers in proportion to population per million people: Egypt had 1,688 personnel per million inhabitants, Kenya 1,529 and South Africa 1,108.

Ten out of the 17 countries that provided R&D personnel data indicated that researchers made up more than 50% of personnel. This ranged from 55.6% reported by Ethiopia to 87.7% reported by Cape Verde.

According to the report, the proportion of women participating in R&D activities was about 30% for personnel and 24% for researchers in the countries that submitted data.

Across all countries, between 60% and 80% of researchers were employed in higher education. No country reported having more than half of R&D personnel with doctorates.

Few countries tracked R&D personnel by field of science. However, Cape Verde reported that nearly 36% of researchers were in engineering and technology, and the figure for Mozambique was 22% and for Malawi 20%.

Burkina Faso’s researchers were primarily involved in the medical and health science fields (42%). The largest percentages of researchers in Lesotho (54.8%) and Kenya (40.5%) were in agriculture, while 50.7% in Senegal were in social sciences and 30% in Zimbabwe were in natural sciences.

Productivity and publication

Bibliometrics have shown that African Union member countries’ combined scientific output remains very low – around 2% of the world total.

However, the average growth rate of scientific production in Africa is faster than that of the world as a whole with Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa continuing to produce the largest number of publications on the continent.

There has been an increase in the number of publications across all fields of science.

Fields in which research output was particularly high, with average relative citation scores above the world average, were health sciences (general and internal medicine, tropical medicine, microbiology, virology, health policy and services), applied sciences including agriculture, horticulture and forestry, and engineering (chemical, mining and metallurgy).

“Possibly due to their low coverage in international databases, the level of output in the social and economic sciences and in the humanities is relatively low,” said the report. “However, such research outputs are important because they address local issues and relate to national policy goals.”

Regarding innovation, the report indicated that in most countries, firms sought ideas about innovation from clients or customers, followed by suppliers of equipment and competitors. Institutional sources such as universities, technical colleges, government and private research institutions were low on the list.

The survey found that scientists in African countries rarely collaborated with one another but instead sought international partnerships. Most of the scientists who collaborated internationally had citation scores above the world average and were based in top performing institutions.

Ways forward

The processes leading to the production of the report indicated that considerably more work needed to be done in order to have comparable statistics of good quality across Africa. Countries needed to:
  • • Train more officials and create a critical mass of experts to undertake surveys. Training should be both short- and long-term.
  • • Institutionalise R&D and innovation surveys, creating a culture of collecting and archiving statistics – especially STI statistics – at national level.
  • • Encourage dialogue among countries to share best practices.
To make it possible for African states to have reliable and accurate information to inform policy as well as monitor the impact of STI on the continent on a long-term basis, the report recommended the following:
  • • Countries should be encouraged to join the ASTII initiative. Those already part of it should continue to participate consistently and actively through ownership of the programme as well as the provision of data on a regular, consistent and timely basis.
  • • African Union members should continue to mobilise stakeholders to ensure ownership of the ASTII project within their countries.
  • • Data and information from the surveys should form part of policy-making processes.
  • • Data should be disseminated through popularisation of country reports, policy briefs and use of the Outlook series.