Knowledge for Development

Strengthening science, technology and innovation policy processes in Africa

Author: John Ouma-Mugabe, University of Pretoria

Date: 28/03/2014


In the beginning of the 21st century, after many years of limited interest in research for development, many African countries initiated projects to design national policies for science, technology and innovation (STI). Now, a decade later, at least 37 African countries have adopted new STI policy regimes, or will do so soon.  


Countries that have implemented new STI policy regimes include Angola, Botswana, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Lesotho, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Gabon, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.  

This resurgence of interest in STI policy was triggered by several factors. First, African politicians began to appreciate the role that STI could play in the socio-economic development of their countries and recognized the need for increasing investments in STI. Second, public support for STI gained in strength. In the last two decades of the 20th century, scientific research and technological innovation in African countries was debated and promoted only by a small group of African scientists. Today, however, there are many civil society organizations and think tanks dedicated to raising awareness of STI policy issues. And third, a number of regional, continental and international initiatives promoting STI policy development in Africa have been launched in the past 10 years. For example, the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development updated the Consolidated Plan of Action on Science and Technology and launched the African Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators initiative to support countries to generate statistical evidence for STI policy development. Moreover, regional economic communities have integrated STI policy issues into various treaties and protocols.  

African countries have had different experiences managing STI policy processes. Indeed, these countries’ human and institutional capacities and capabilities for formulating, implementing and evaluating STI policy vary. However, one common characteristic of STI policy formulation in Africa is the long gestation period from agenda setting to the actual adoption and implementation of STI policy regimes: most countries need five years or more to complete the policy development process.  

African governments face a plethora of challenges. First, many African countries simply lack information on the available expertise in the field of STI policy development. It is therefore difficult for them to identify and locate expertise that could support their policy formulation processes. Second, policy makers are not sufficiently aware of new and emerging STI policy issues, and their technical staff in ministries and departments responsible for STI policy making do not keep abreast of the latest developments in their professional fields. Third, these ministries need more staff members with the relevant research and analytical skills, so they must invest in training this staff in STI policy formulation.  

As a consequence, the institutional infrastructure for STI policy research, analysis and public policy making is generally weak in most African countries. Many ministries responsible for STI policy tend to operate in isolation from other governmental departments, such as those responsible for industry and trade, and have weak links with academic institutions, research institutes, think tanks and the private sector. If African governments truly wish to reap the benefits of STI for socio-economic development in their countries, they urgently need to address these capacity gaps. This is also true for countries in the Caribbean and the Pacific region.