06 Nov 2014
Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, Director of UNDP's Regional Bureau for Africa
In Kenya, M-pesa – a cell phone based peer-to-peer money transfer system – had more than 14 million users in 2011.
Across Africa, many nations are aspiring to become emerging countries. Beyond growth, they want to transform and diversify their economies, rapidly improve the standards of living of their people, and assert internationally their economic and political clout.
As participants in the African Economic Conference concluded, innovation is necessary to achieving that objective. Why? First, because high economic growth can only be sustained with innovation. With diminishing returns, jobs and livelihoods will only continue to grow if more productive sectors are sought. And only innovation – understood as the application of new and existing knowledge to improve processes – can do that systematically.
For instance, when irrigation and fertilizer use improved in Asia in the 1960s, crops grew bigger and leafier, but yields didn’t increase. However, with the help of science and technology, Asia eventually experienced the Green Revolution.
Despite impressive efforts in countries like Ethiopia, a similar breakthrough is needed in Africa. Boosting agricultural productivity will require adopting new practices.
Innovation also matters in the delivery of social services and often requires low-tech interventions. For instance, in Senegal, between 2005 and 2010, the under-five mortality rate declined by almost 10 percent a year while India took 25 years to achieve similar …