As part of our special focus on innovation in Africa, we have developed a list of 40 remarkable African innovators. Actually, it’s more like 47 but we counted teams as one. Our decision to celebrate these idea creators and solution providers stems from our belief that the true wealth of Africa is not buried under its soil, but in the brains of its best minds. This list is a testament to that belief. It comprises Africans from every part of the continent, across diverse fields. We have brought them together because of the impact and potential of their ideas and processes in transforming the continent.
Selecting 40 African innovators (or teams of innovators) to watch from across the continent and in the Diaspora was always going to be a tough job, as our continent is peppered with incredible brains and creative hands. And while we found many talented individuals, it is important to say that African innovators remain hampered by inefficient (almost non-existent) public and private sector support. As Andrew Forbes, a world renowned scientist from South Africa and member of our list said to us in an interview, “Innovation is expensive. In my experience it takes a long, long time from the starting point of developing expertise to the final outcome of seeing commercial products. In Africa we are in a hurry for success – maybe because we feel we are so far behind – so we don’t have the patience for this game. You cannot start with the commercial product in mind from day one. We need to raise our investment in science-related fields, attract the best people back to our countries, and wait. In time, we will see the outcomes.”
Another reason for the slow manifestation of African innovations is society’s reluctance to shift base from exploiting natural resources to empowering human capacity. Professor Tebello Nyokong, the Lesotho-born scientist who led the development of photodynamic therapy for treating cancer, told us, “Innovators and innovations should be worth much more in the long run than natural resources. We need to copy countries like Norway, who have used their natural resource [oil] to invest heavily in emerging technologies. I firmly believe that we need to push for a move to a knowledge-based economy for Africa. As a final motivator, we all know that in many African countries the people often do not benefit from the vast natural wealth. This is yet another reason for investing in people so that they can create the wealth themselves through new start-ups.”
Despite these challenges, African innovators are marching on. The number of African start-ups is rising even as more people seek funding for their ideas. As the individuals on our list show, the time to innovate in Africa is now.
40 African Innovators to Watch