Kenya is outperforming most lower-middle-income countries on innovation despite many challenges, a Nation Newsplex review of the Global Innovation Index for the last five years reveals.

Kenya is among 17 middle and lower-income economies that perform significantly better on innovation than their current level of development would predict. Nine of the countries come from the sub-Saharan Africa region and three economies come from Eastern Europe, according to the 2017 Global Index.

Though Kenya does not prioritise investment in research and has experienced sporadic political instability compared with other East African countries, except for Burundi and South Sudan, it is the third most innovative country in sub-Saharan Africa. This is its best placing in the decade that the gauge has been compiled by the World Intellectual Property Organisation. The country is ranked 80 globally, a leap from five years ago when it was at number 99.

Highest share

In the fiscal year 2016/17, the Kenyan Government spent Sh3.5 billion, equivalent to 0.05 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP), on research, science, technology and innovation, according to data from the Ministry of Finance.

In contrast, Israel that ranks 17 on the index spends more than four per cent of its GDP on research and development, the highest share. Overall, 10 countries account for 80 per cent of research and development spending, according to Unesco.

Prof Reuben Marwanga, the chairman of the Kenya National Innovation Agency (KENIA), believes that Kenya’s performance is proof that the country is on the right path to becoming an economy driven by innovation. “This is a clear manifestation of the Kenyan spirit. It implies that Kenyans are able to convert whatever little that has been provided into meaningful knowledge and creative products, thus performing above its economic peers.”

The index measures the quality of 81 innovation-related inputs such as research funding, human capital, education, business environment and outputs including knowledge creation, new technologies and creative products.

Among the indicators, Kenya’s highest score of 83 per cent is in the ease of starting a business. The country’s other strengths were in information and communication technologies (ICT) use and services, and credit and microfinance loans.

STEM Courses

An earlier review by Newsplex revealed that only one in four undergraduates studies a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) course despite the large number of related programmes.

Kenya also did fairly well on the regulatory environment, scoring 65 points and ranking 63 globally. Prof Marwanga attributes the good score on the adoption of the Science, Technology and Innovation Act 2013. The law prioritises the development of science, technology and innovation through the Kenya National Innovation Agency, the National Research Fund (NRF) and the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation. The Act also provides that the Treasury should allocate two per cent of the country’s GDP to the NRF, which is far from being achieved.

Most innovative

Switzerland is the most innovative country in the world for the seventh consecutive year, with a score of 68 points, followed by Sweden (64), Netherlands (63) and the United States of America (61). Yemen, which has been engulfed in civil war since 2015, came last at 127 with a score of 16 points.

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