Jul 14, 2016 BIH Articles, BIH News

The Legacy of IPA 2016

By Tigele Mokobi

There is a school of thought that posits that before an economy can transform from being factor driven to an innovation driven economy, it has to pass through not only an industrialization phase but also the second stage of an efficient economy that endeavors to eliminate waste or perform better with less costs. Khumoetsile Kgosidialwa argues that, “Botswana seems to be way ahead of itself and somehow forgetting that the country is a factor driven economy that needs to encourage efficient use of scarce resources before it becomes an innovative economy.”

He contends that, “Botswana cannot be in a position to become an innovation hub before it eliminates unnecessary bureaucracies that create waste and renders the economy inefficient. Fortunately, Botswana’s challenge is not money but how money is used to transform the economy, create jobs and eradicate poverty.”

The counter argument to the linear approach to a knowledge-based economy observes that innovation itself entails efficient and effective use of resources. Proponents point to the Tiger Economies as examples of economies that leapfrogged the industrial stage of development in their transition to knowledge-based economies. The trajectory of Ireland’s economic development is used to illustrate how the Celtic Tiger transitioned from an agrarian economy to a modern knowledge-based economy in just over half a century.

Contemporary thought asserts that the old economy paradigm of efficient resource accumulation only will not suffice and may even fail. Instead, intangible assets like human resources and intellectual capital are outstripping traditional assets such as land and labour as the dominant drivers of   growth.

Back home, Botswana managed to defy convention and beat the odds, going against popular post-independent African trends. The country averted the African resource curse following the discovery of diamonds and transformed itself from one of the poorest countries in Africa to become a development success story.

However, The World Bank report of 2016 states that, “In contrast to the country’s impressive economic growth, good governance and prudent macroeconomic and fiscal management, the country faces high levels of poverty and inequality as well as low human development indicators.”

The slowdown in overseas economies, particularly Asia, has resulted in low commodity prices and a daunting forecast that mineral revenue will continue to decline substantially over the next two decades. The outlook for commodity prices is arguably the worst it has been since the 2008 global economic meltdown, and China’s slow recovery and soaring input costs for domestic commodity extracts is not helping matters.

In an effort to diversify the economy and create a knowledge-based economy, the Government of Botswana established new institutions such as Botswana Innovation Hub, Botswana Institute of Technology Research and Innovation (BITRI), Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BUIST) and the University of Botswana’s new teaching Hospital to promote research, technology transfer and innovation.

Botswana Innovation Hub has been set up as an innovative and networked organisation that promotes technology, entrepreneurship and commercialisation on a purpose built Science and Technology Park which will contribute towards diversifying the economy and transitioning to a knowledge-based economy. In growing the national innovation ecosystem, the company in collaboration with the Ministry of Infrastructure, Science and Technology and the African Innovation Foundation (AIF) hosted the Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) 2016 at the Gaborone International Convention Centre (GICC) in June, 2016.

The IPA is a flagship program of the AIF which recognizes, rewards and mobilizes African innovators through promotion of home-grown, market-driven solutions that address intractable challenges in agriculture, health and well-being, manufacturing and service industry, ICT’s and environment, energy and water.

“Hosting the award ceremony and celebrating African ingenuity in Gaborone afforded Botswana the opportunity to showcase its commitment to putting innovation at the center of its development strategy,” said Minister of Infrastructure, Science and Technology, Honorable Nonofo Molefhi.

For his part Botswana Innovation Hub CEO Alan Boshwaen said, “Batswana innovators will benefit from the networks, cooperation, collaborations and business opportunities that have been presented by IPA 2016. The awareness, exposure and confidence to participate in the continental competition will embolden local innovators and foster the national innovation ecosystem for years to come.”

Cluster Development Director at Botswana Innovation Hub, Dr Budzanani Tacheba said, “One of the important pre-conditions for the development of the knowledge-based economy is local, regional and international cooperation, IPA 2016 has brought together the right partners around opportunities for impact.”

He went on to say that worldwide, Research and Development do not receive sufficient funding and hosting the IPA 2016 demonstrated the importance to invest in R&D. “Research burns money to produce knowledge and businesses use the knowledge to make money,” he said.

In his keynote address at the prestigious award ceremony, His Excellency the President Lt. Gen. Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama said, “We should mark the beginning of a new era, in which we embrace knowledge and rewarding of innovation towards national competitiveness.” The President emphasized that the legacy of the IPA 2016 will be the enhancement of the national innovation ecosystem.