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Africa needs innovation hubs for home-grown solutions

01 Oct, 2020 - 00:10 0 Views
Africa needs innovation hubs for home-grown solutions Maxwell Chikumbutso is a clear example of the calibre of innovators and researchers that Africa boasts

The Herald

Ruth Butaumocho
African Agenda

Africa is home to a large proportion of global challenges that need interventions and solutions.

The continent is lagging behind in innovation and research, but the absence of innovations and research does not mean that Africa does not have capable scientists.

Failure to support the continent’s robust innovations is historical and is mainly as a result of lack of trust by fellow Africans, who feel that only international researchers and innovators are better placed to come up with credible researches.

In April this year when Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina announced that his country had found a possible cure for Covid-19, the herb was quickly dismissed as “hypothetical treatment”.

While it remains unclear whether the Artemisia tonic was indeed effective in curing or lessening the medical challenges of Covid-19, it was never given a chance.

The manner in which it was dismissed by all and sundry points to a sad narrative of a people, who are not confident of their capabilities, and have to largely rely on foreign endorsement.

It also points to a globally held narrative that Africa is not good enough in research and innovation.

While the narrative may not be true, it has created raging debates over the years, which have not been based on facts, but are sadly argued along racial lines.

A closer look will show that the continent boasts researchers and innovators of note, but the reason  the continent has not been getting the accolades and recognition is because innovative projects are being driven from outside.

This is being done through published research papers, training and financial investments from countries, institutions and individuals that are outside Africa, but supporting African innovators.

While such initiatives are good for the continent, they at some point drown African’s contribution towards innovation and research.

To this day, several African countries boast innovators and researchers, whose contribution to the body of science has largely gone unnoticed.

This is not because their work is of poor quality, but their respective countries have not accorded them the necessary financial and material support, as well as supporting systems to further and sustain their innovations.

Even locals are not even convinced that solutions to some of African problems are within.

When self-taught engineer Daniel Chingoma designed a helicopter in 2003, his invention became a source of ridicule.

He was ridiculed by organisations and many people who could not imagine how one of their own could actually dare to dream and even think of designing a helicopter.

With no adequate funding and supporting mechanisms on how to carry the project forward, Chingoma’s attempt to fly the helicopter never took off the ground.

This is just an example of how African inventors and researchers struggle to break through.

Many other Zimbabwean innovators like William Gwata of the Gwatamatic sadza cooking pot, and several unheralded  African researchers in various scientific fields, also faced a similar fate.

Others simply failed to get enough funding to carry out their research, while some “aborted” their great innovations because of lack of support. Buoyed to change the world, several African researchers have taken up different global offers, with the hope that one day they will return and contribute to Africa.

One of Zimbabwe’s own prolific inventor, Maxwell Chikumbutso, has found a home in California in the United States, where he continues to raise the country’s flag high.

Chikumbutso, who met President Mnangagwa in February this year, is widely acclaimed for his innovations that include the world’s first evergreen power generator which can produce electricity using radio frequencies.

A clear example of the calibre of innovators and researchers that Africa boasts, but largely go unnoticed, Chikumbutso is a Form Two drop-out from Harare who also designed and built an electric-powered vehicle and hybrid helicopter.

When many thought the young lad would eventually succumb to fatigue, he persevered amid a myriad of challenges.

Today, Chikumbutso sits on the high table with renowned innovators.

While he might not have been schooled in the best institutions, he has proved that there is so much talent in Africa that needs to be harnessed.

Unlike many whose innovation ingenuity were honed by some of the best technical schools and minds, Chikumbutso was self-taught.

He realised his talent in 1997 through experimenting with various gadgets while residing in Harare’s high density suburb of Kuwadzana.

In no time, he was getting recognition from different institutions.

At one time, Chikumbutso had his fair share of fame when he was profiled on ZBC-TV as an innovative young man.

Determined to pursue his passion, Chikumbutso developed the first green power prototype generator which produces 100 percent clean consumable energy using radio frequencies.

Through passion and a high level of ingenuity, Chikumbutso continues to make a name for himself, albeit from afar and in a foreign land.

His effort is something that Africa needs to harness and improve the continent’s capacity to solve its own problems through innovation and research.

Scientific efforts and capacity on the continent will not become sustainable without Africans increasingly taking a leading role.

For Africa to achieve sustainability, it needs to allocate resources, expertise and manpower towards innovations and research.

Once countries have set up innovation hubs, it would be easy to start working on innovations and researches that proffer solutions to some of the scientific and health related challenges the continent faces on a daily basis.

The effects of the current Covid-19 pandemic on the continent highlight the need for local research capacity.

Already, respective member countries have in the past few months been working on enhancing innovation and research hubs, after it emerged that health-related challenges that countries were facing as a result of Covid-19 required them to look within for solutions.

When it became obvious that the movement of medication, goods and services would not be possible following lockdown restrictions that paralysed transportation services, countries immediately activated their innovation incubators so that they could manufacture equipment like ventilators.

It should not take a challenge for Africa to mobilise resources towards innovation and research, but the continent should come up with African led efforts in research.

The immediate benefits of African-led efforts for African researchers will enable the continent to solve its own problems without looking up to the West or other continents for assistance.

African-led efforts will also ensure local ownership of activities, while creating new opportunities for sustained skills development as employment.

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