Ten years ago, very few African countries could boast of an active innovation space. Only a few had innovation policies, and an even lesser number had implementation plans for these policies. Today, the continent is experiencing more dynamism in the innovation sector, with players that continually accelerate innovation on the continent. The Covid pandemic became a catalyst for innovation as it highlighted the need for technology and efficiency to carry out daily activities.
In recent years, African nations have increasingly tapped into their innovative capabilities. From Kenya’s fintech industry to Rwanda’s medical advancements to various social innovations in low-income communities and the informal sector, the continent is seeing a rise in problem-solving through innovation. According to the UN- World Intellectual Property Organization’s annual report, African countries are now outpacing others in innovation, with more nations climbing the global technology ladder to join the rest of the world in driving an economy based on innovation.
In 2022, African countries made strides in innovation as many leaders ardently tapped into progressive technological advancements like blockchain development and Artificial Intelligence to streamline business processes and improve efficiency. Telecommunications companies have embraced 5G networks, and 16 African nations have been identified as ideal locations for metaverse testing. Additionally, the African startup ecosystem is projected to receive $7 billion in funding as entrepreneurs work to address unique challenges facing the continent. While African countries may still lag behind more developed economies in terms of innovation, recent data from the global innovation index shows that more nations are closing the gap in the rankings. Here are the top ten most innovative African countries in 2022.
Mauritius has retained its position as Africa’s most innovative country. It moved up seven places from 2021 to rank 45th globally and 1st in sub-Saharan Africa on the Global Innovation Index. The island country has made significant strides in its journey from a low-income, agrarian economy to a high-income, knowledge and service-based economy. It has continued to focus on its ICT and emerging technologies sectors to fuel innovation-driven development and transformation.
According to the report, Mauritius boasts a high human development score, a feat that is not common among African countries. The country performed better in innovation inputs than innovation outputs in 2022 and averaged in four pillars of institutions, human capital and research, market sophistication and, creative outputs. Their main strength in 2022 came from venture capital investor deals and the capital received. Thanks to innovation, Mauritius’s economy has grown robustly in the last half a century, especially in financial services, tourism, and information technology.
South Africa boasts a rich history of innovation and invention, with notable achievements such as the development of oil from coal (Sasol), speed guns, smart lock safety syringes, and electric game-drive vehicles. The country was among the first to create electric game-viewing vehicles that were so quiet they startled both people and animals. Despite these successes, South Africa has struggled to improve its position in the global innovation ranking, remaining in 61st place. According to the report, the country produces more innovation outputs than inputs for its level of innovation investments.
However, the report also highlighted some of South Africa’s strengths, such as market capitalization, new businesses, and software spending. In 2022, three out of the top seven most valued VC deals in Africa were from South Africa, all of which were in the financial services sector.
Morocco was ranked as the third most innovative African country and 67th globally in 2022. The kingdom has consistently leveraged innovation to drive growth in its most productive sectors. For example, in 2021, Morocco achieved a 7.4% growth rate, a significant improvement from the 6.3% recorded in 2020, thanks to the implementation of innovative practices in the manufacturing and agricultural industries.
The country demonstrated strong performance in various areas including institutions, human capital, research, infrastructure, market sophistication, knowledge and technology outputs, and creative outputs. Morocco’s higher-tech sectors, such as pharmaceuticals, aerospace, and the automotive industry, also flourished with companies collaborating with international partners to establish integrated supply chains.
In 2022, Tunisia ranked as the fourth most innovative country in Africa and 73rd globally. The country’s performance in areas such as human capital and research, knowledge and technology outputs, and creative output was in line with the regional average. The main drivers of innovation in Tunisia were government funding, a high number of graduates in science and engineering, and high-tech exports. In an effort to further boost innovation, the Tunisian government launched a new strategy in 2022 aimed at creating 840,000 industrial jobs and increasing the value of exports by 2035.
Botswana recorded the highest improvement from 2021 to join Mauritius, South Africa, Morocco, and Tunisia in the top five list, edging out Kenya. Botswana moved from the 106th position in 2021 to the 86th position on the global level. The southern African country ranked among sixteen African countries that improved their global innovation positions. The massive improvement in Botswana’s innovation sector was fueled by the county’s pressing need for post-pandemic recovery.
The country’s strengths for the year centred around expenditure on education, new businesses, and applied tariff. Although the country performed below expectations for its level of development, Botswana performed above the regional average in industrial development and, human capital and research. Key drivers of innovation in Botswana were the expenditure in education, human capital, and research, new business, ease of access to micro-credit, and intellectual property payments.