Regional overview: Sub-Saharan Africa

UNESCO Science Report, Towards 2030

For sub-Saharan Africa, the years 2010–2015 have been a period of strong economic growth, a growing policy focus on science, technology and innovation (STI) and emerging examples of good practice in this area, even though the region as a whole is still characterized by relatively low resources devoted to research and development (R&D): although Sub-Saharan Africa gained an additional percentage point of world population between 2007 and 2013 (to 12.5%), its gross domestic product (GDP) grew by just 0.3% and gross domestic expenditure on R&D (GERD) by just 0.1%.

At the same time, sub-Saharan Africa has experienced some promising developments. For example, several countries have seen strong growth in their scientific production, including Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique and Rwanda. Although South Africa accounted for 46% of sub-Saharan Africa’s publications in 2014, low-income countries such as Benin and Gambia have scientific productivity levels (articles per million inhabitants) comparable to those of middle-income economies. Ethiopia (0.61% in 2013), Kenya (0.79% in 2010) and Mali (0.66% in 2010) have all increased their R&D effort (GERD as a percentage of GDP) in recent years to the level of a middle-income economy. Malawi even devotes 1.06% of GDP to R&D, the highest ratio in Africa; scientists from this country publish more in mainstream journals – relative to GDP – than any other country of a similar population size.


West African scientific output has not progressed as quickly as in the rest of the continent but the recent creation of networks of centres of excellence in the subregion in disciplines ranging from applied mathematics to environmental sciences or agriculture, through projects involving the World Bank and the West African Economic and Monetary Union should help scientists to develop co-operation and enjoy greater mobility, as well as increase their output. Burkina Faso hosts the African Biosafety Network of Expertise set up within Africa’s Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action (2005 –2014) and two of the five African Institutes for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) are based in Senegal (2011) and Ghana (2012). The other three nodes are situated in South Africa (2003), Cameroon (2013) and Tanzania (2014).

Foreign funding of R&D plays a key role in several countries, , notably those with some of the highest research intensities (0.4–0.8% of GDP), such as Kenya (47% of GERD is funded from abroad), Mozambique (78%), Senegal (41%), Tanzania (42%) and Uganda (57%).


Clusters and innovation hubs are playing a key role in interconnecting different public and private players and in raising the overall level of investment in STI, as in Kenya. Land-locked, Rwanda has been developing its ICT infrastructure and interconnection with global (sea-based) broadband networks through co-operation with its neighbours Tanzania and Uganda.


There are also examples of manufacturing R&D striving to move beyond the experimental development stage. In Uganda, the College of Engineering Design, Art and Technology at Makerere has developed a prototype of a two-seater an electric car (brand-named Kiira EV), which it hopes to commercialize. A Nairobi-based company, M-Kopa, provides households with solar-lighting systems that customers pay for through a mobile-phone money-transfer service.

Most countries plan to diversify their economy in order to reduce their reliance on raw materials. They are conscious that a much larger pool of skilled personnel will be needed to drive the new economy. Currently, 14 countries devote more than 1% of GDP to higher education: Botswana, Burundi, Comoros, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Senegal, Seychelles, Swaziland, Tanzania and Togo. Four of these countries also devote 10% or more of GDP to agriculture, the target fixed by the Maputo Declaration in 2003, namely Burundi, Malawi, Mali and Senegal, along with Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Niger and Zambia.

As the region begins implementing its forward-looking Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024), it has a much stronger base to build on than five years ago. However, STISA will need to overcome one of the shortcomings of its predecessor (Africa’s Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action, 2005–2014), the failure to establish an African Science and Technology Fund to ensure the viability of the centres of excellence set up since 2005. Such a fund will also be necessary to realize STISA-2024’s goals.