Death of innovation is cause of Kenya’s economic stagnance

There are many reasons and theories that have been attributed to Africa’s slow, stagnant economic growth.

There are the usual suspects, top of which include corruption and misgovernance.

Definitely, these are valid reasons. But there is a bigger picture that involves our model of development, and identifying the right strategies to spur faster sustainable development.

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‘Innovation’ is a word that has been largely and loosely used. Basically, innovation is defined as the process of translating an idea or invention into a product or service that creates value, or which customers pay for.

It is often viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, either potential or actual market needs. Therefore, for an idea to be called innovative, it must be replicable at an economical cost, and must satisfy a specific need in the society.

It involves use of information, knowledge and creativity in deriving greater or different values from resources, and converting these into useful products.

Now, the question begs, why do we seem bereft of simple solutions to basic problems facing us? Why do we keep grappling with silly and needless problems for generations, until foreigners bring us solutions that were right under our noses? And, for which we proceed to pay a fortune from our meagre resources? In the developed world, there is a solution for everything.

May be due to environmental vagaries and man-made disasters, these societies learned the art of survival the hard way, and have today perfected their art. You simply need to pick up a trade or industry publication to see the continuous discoveries and products being churned out from these countries institutions.

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Some are simple but highly practical gadgets, which eventually become indispensable, both domestically and in industries. Others are big ideas that take years to fruition, but whose periodic new knowledge is invaluable to the world’s current social and economic demands.

China and the Far East learned from the best, that is, Europe and America. While China has been accused of having a large counterfeit industry, it has also become an economic behemoth and is today first among equals when it comes to producing transformational products and ideas. We keep asking ourselves how come South Korea, with who we shared the same GDP about 25 years ago, is today light years ahead.

The answer lies in massive investment in research and development. Innovation is the driving force behind entrepreneurship. It is a mutual relationship where one feeds on the success of the other.

According to a publication by Owls Foundation titled, “Breakthrough: From Innovation to Impact”, up to 93 per cent of French and American firms in a 2013 survey by Accenture admitted that the long-term success of their business depends on innovation.

This is rather obvious with growing competition as symbolised in the information and communication technology sector.

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But how can we move from lethargy to innovation? One of the main solutions to the innovation lethargy is in uncompromising patent protection and adequate reward.

There are hundreds of potentially world changing ideas dying in the villages and informal settlements, for the simple reason that the inventors cannot access decision makers in various fields.

Worse still, the former are paid peanuts for their ideas, which are then sold or used to make fortunes for those who have the means to turn them into reality. Many great ideas are also dismissed because they emanate from the “wrong” people.

According to the publication, Breakthrough: From Innovation to Impact, we should develop a strategy for the conception, development, acquisition and implementation of innovation.

Ad hoc solutions and happenstance are medieval ways of doing business, and will keep us relegated to the bottom of the global social and economic barrel for millennia. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. Let us think of new, relevant, cost effective and efficient ways of doing the same old things.

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—The writer, Stephen Ndegwa, is an author, communication specialist and public policy analyst. [email protected] gmail.com

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InnovationEconomic GrowthTechnologyStephen Ndegwa