15 July 2018

Kenya: When Innovation and a Clean Economy Meet

The Global Innovation Index, a respected international ranking of countries by their capacity for and success in innovation, this week published its 2018 report.

The index, published jointly by leading business schools and the World Intellectual Property Organisation, is widely regarded as the highest international measure of the innovativeness and ingenuity of a society, basing the ranking on 80 different indicators. And so, when the GII speaks, sensible observers listen.

This year, Kenya was ranked the third most innovative country in sub-Saharan Africa, behind South Africa and Mauritius. Kenya's particular strengths include access to credit, innovation linkages and exports of creative services, workforce efficiency, printing and other media, with the GII commending the country for its "high levels of innovation relative to its level of development".

Sometimes we are naturally quick to criticise when things are going badly, but we are somewhat slower to give credit when it is due. And here, credit is due.

In the modern global economy, the information age, innovation is a key contributing factor to economic growth.

INNOVATION

Innovation creates jobs, brings in foreign currency, attracts investment and builds infrastructure. It is no surprise that the top countries in the GII - Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, UK and Singapore - are also among the world's leading per capita economies.

These are countries that generally lack natural resources, and it is their innovation that causes them to thrive.

When President Uhuru Kenyatta came to office in 2013, Kenya was seventh in the region, lagging behind countries such as Uganda, Senegal, Ghana and Botswana.

Globally it was 99th. Today we have overtaken these countries, while leapfrogging 21 others and rising to 78th.

This is part of a concerted effort by the government to advance Kenyan innovation and creativity.

VOCATIONAL TRAINING

The administration has made teaching innovation promotion a key part of the national education system, expanding technical training institutes and vocational training facilities and supporting innovation hubs across institutions of learning.

One important move was the establishment of Enterprise Kenya, a State-run start-up accelerator, to support young entrepreneurs and has promoted and backed initiatives such as Nairobi Innovation Week.

In 2015, it also brought the prestigious Global Entrepreneur Summit to Nairobi to open the eyes of young Kenyans to the possibilities out there.

Recently, at the opening of the Young Scientists Kenya National Science and Technology Exhibition in Nairobi, President Kenyatta stated that "the solution (to our challenges) lies in scientific innovation and the harnessing of new ideas that create the ability for Kenya to leapfrog directly into new technologies."

But promoting innovation alone is not sufficient to grow our economy and build a better future.

CORRUPTION

As long as corruption is prevalent, the gains in our small and medium enterprises and creative sectors will only take us so far.

Young innovators, the job creators of tomorrow, will simply leave the country if they see that the only way to succeed here is through graft.

That is perhaps why the second Kenyatta government has made stamping out corruption a key strategic goal, with the President describing corruption as "a vice that denies us our ability to develop our country and to protect the next generation".

And in the past few months, there has been some significant signs that we are on the right track.

Tens of public officials have been arrested and charged in court on suspicion of corruption by a new and uncompromising Director of Public Prosecutions.

And new anti-graft measures have been announced by the President -- including lifestyle audits for all public servants and fresh vetting for heads of procurement bodies.

Ms Kaparo is a banker.

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