The 3rd AfricaLics Conference is being held at a time where commodity prices have for the most part stagnated, while others (notably oil and gas) have experienced a significant decline. Given the dependency of many African countries on commodities, this development is showing once more the vulnerability of African economies. The conference also takes place in the first year of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – including Goal 9 related to Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure. Further, it takes place at a time where global commitments to combat climate change through the Paris COP21 convention are being challenged.
To overcome the vulnerability of many African countries to changes in commodity prices and to establish a more stable foundation for future development, both researchers and international organizations advocate that African countries should embark on a new industrial policy. This policy should be centered on manufacturing development as an important pre-condition for the structural transformation from low to high productivity activities that is necessary for sustained high growth, poverty reduction and employment creation in Africa.
Yet, African countries still account for a very low share of global manufacturing value-added and global manufacturing exports, and remain locked in resource-based manufacturing. Diversification of African economies is needed more than ever before particularly for inclusive development including creation of youth employment.
Promotion of industrialization policies in Africa faces many obstacles which include de-industrialization, the weight of the informal sector in annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP), everlasting flight of competencies with heavy loss of accumulated knowledge and dismal innovation performances in a world economy largely driven by innovation and knowledge. Innovation led industrial development is of utmost importance for Africa. This is not an easy task, however, as innovation systems are in most African countries in the early stage of construction and often uncoordinated, incomplete, badly governed and immature as characterized in the literature.
The mode of emergence of innovation systems in Africa is not often clear and depend on a variety of parameters specific to the country, to the sector and the region. This makes it difficult to implement effective Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) policies. Very little is known of the rationale and the dynamics of these modes of emergence making the prospects of structural transformation even further remote. Experience from other regions including the BRICs countries shows that structural transformation is possible when proper STI policies are in place at least at sectorial level and at a territorial level.
Consequently, the issues facing both policy makers and researchers relate to the following related questions: (i) How to impulse new innovation dynamics for accelerated industry driven sustainable development pathways in Africa? (ii) What are the driving engines for innovation emergence in African Countries? (iii) How can innovative activity get off the ground and emerge while the innovation system of a country is in the infancy stage? (iv)What are the characteristics of these Emergent Innovation Systems?