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Kenya: Africa’s R&D Gains will Impact other R&D Investments
Source: Saudi Gazette
Source Date: Thursday, January 09, 2014
Focus: Institution and HR Management
Country: Kenya
Created: Jan 09, 2014

“We are currently experiencing the emergence of a new Africa - one where science and technology are enabling a pivotal ‘leap-frog’ moment allowing governments and businesses to drive economic growth, raise the standard of living and compete with their global counterparts,” said Dr. Kamal Bhattacharya, Director, IBM Research – Africa. “The launch of Africa’s first full-scale, technology research facility signifies a new era in African innovation - one where commercially-viable solutions to Africa’s grand challenges are developed in Africa for Africa, helping to lay the foundations for the continent’s future scientific and economic independence.”

IBM Research – Africa will be deeply embedded into Africa’s innovation ecosystem and will forge partnerships with businesses, research organizations and universities across Africa and around the world. Already operational, IBM Research – Africa has a number of important projects underway based on collaborations that include:

Twende Twende (Let’s Go)

Urbanization is a global trend but one with unique urgency in Africa with some cities expected to grow by as much as 85 percent in the next 15 years. As the pressure on city systems increases, IBM is researching solutions which address interconnected urban issues such as public safety and human mobility. According to government estimates, traffic costs Nairobi $600,000 a day. In an effort to tackle this growing problem, IBM has partnered with Kenyan internet service provider Access Kenya to develop a pilot solution to enable Nairobi commuters to use their mobile phones to get advice on driving routes through the city depending on estimates of traffic congestion.

Mattangazo (Digital Advertising)

Many African cities rely on complex networks of public buses and smaller private minibuses to get people to and from work each day. Nairobi is well known for its 60,000 matatu minibuses which race around carrying a third of the city’s 830,000 public transport users. In recent months there has been an initiative to bring the city’s matatus into the digital age by introducing free onboard wifi. In partnership with local firms Flashcast and Kuza Biashara, IBM has developed a solution that enables micro entrepreneurs to target commuters with location-based advertisements. The solution relies on GPS enabled display units with a 3G connection which are installed on buses and matatus and display simple advertisements about local small businesses such as restaurants, hairdressers and computer repair shops. IBM researchers developed the app with which small businesses can upload slogans and messages for their advertisements and are now looking at how to use analytics to create spin off business opportunities such as business registries.

IBM Research - Africa joins existing labs in Australia, Brazil, China, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Switzerland and the United States. IBM Research laboratories are credited with the creation of many of the foundations of information technology, including the invention of the relational database, disk storage, DRAM memory and more recently the Watson computing system. Watson is today being used by healthcare and financial service providers around the world to augment human knowledge and deliver better quality services

With an economic growth rate expected to average seven percent annually over the next 20 years, Africa is poised to become a leading source of innovation in a variety of industries. The Middle East, with its constant upheavals, lack of economic direction and struggling private sector growth is in serious danger of losing out in the area of R&D and associated innovation.

According to an analysis performed by Battelle and R&D Magazine, Saudi Arabia was 38th on the list of top 40 R&D spenders but the amount spent still doesn’t reflect the ratio of more innovation-oriented economies. Saudi Arabia’s 2012 Gross Domestic Expenditure on R&D (GERD) was $1.8 Billion or just 0.25% of Saudi GDP. Compare that with the USA, where 2012 GERD was $436 Billion or 2.85% of US GDP or Israel where 2012 GERD was $10.3 Billion or 4.2% of Israeli GDP. In other words, Saudi Arabia’s R&D spend is far too little. As emerging economies elsewhere better attract global technology powerhouses, such as IBM, the Kingdom will have to work much harder to find partners who can bring economic success to Saudi R&D efforts.

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