R&D spending is irrelevant without links to SDGs
The past decade has witnessed a surge of interest in science and technology in Africa. At the January 2007 African Union (AU) summit, leaders agreed a target to increase gross national spending on research and development (R&D) to at least one per cent of GDP (gross domestic product). This may reflect the leaders' recognition of the economic role of science and technology in general and R&D in particular. However, many African countries mistakenly equate high levels of R&D spending with investment in technological change.
In some instances, R&D expenditure is considered a prerequisite to economic growth - but this is also misguided. Economies can grow without high R&D spending. Some of Africa's largest and fastest growing economies - such as Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique - spend less than 0.5 per cent of GDP on R&D, while South Africa spends around 0.8 per cent but has relatively low growth.
One should not underestimate the potential benefits of R&D, which are not just economic: they also include scientific advancement and contributing to the shared knowledge pool, so countries can assert themselves better globally. However, a misleading view that R&D automatically leads to economic growth pervades many policies of African countries. And it comes with a misplaced emphasis on quantity rather than quality.
The author: John Ouma-Mugabe is professor of science and innovation policy at the Graduate School of Technology Management (GSTM), University of Pretoria, South Africa. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed in this article are his and do not reflect the official position of the GSTM and the university.
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