Transforming SADC through fair technology transfer



According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014, African countries are poor at converting research into industry due to unfair technology transfer.</p>

Countries in the Southern African Development Community are also heavily affected.

Sadly, this unfair technology transfer, according to William Bitton, an information officer in Zimbabwe, is hindering development in the region.

“There is unfair technology transfer in SADC and as a result, member states are suffering. 

Furthermore, the culture of creating and protecting intellectual property as well as transferring it into industries is very weak in the region,” he adds.

Bitton, therefore, urges SADC countries to convert research into industry as well as embrace technology transfer to effectively transform the region.

“If technology transfer is managed well, it will enhance the productivity and competitiveness of the region. Countries must embrace technology transfer and use it as an instrument to improve the lives of citizens,” he notes.

Therefore, countries should take measures to promote innovation and encourage transfer of technology; and to effectively achieve this goal, member states must invest in building local knowledge on top of increasing capacity in technology know-how.

More attention should simply be paid to local political and social conditions – to secure local “buy-in” for an idea – when rolling out such technologies.

Further, there is need to regulate the inflow of foreign technology into the region.

New policies and strategies can provide answers.

They can guide institutions involved in technology transferring and licensing through negotiation, registration and monitoring and in aligning those projects with the needs of the region.

To add on, there is need for the renewal of patent laws in SADC countries so as to discourage strategic patenting by foreign firms.

Collence Chisita, a Harare-based researcher, is always on record advocating for the link between universities and research institutions with industry.

He is spot on.

Universities and research-related institutions, he says, must systematically document and clearly strategise for the dissemination of technology among local people.

“Innovation and technology transfer data are poorly captured in official statistics in most SADC countries. Consequently, research institutions can strengthen data collection with regard to innovation and technology transfer. Proper documentation will enable reliable reporting,” he says.

To convert research into industry, and use technology transfer as a panacea to socio-economic development, the region can copy from other countries.

Dr Yejoo Kim, the Research Analyst at the Centre for Chinese Studies Stellenbosch University – the leading African research institution for innovative and policy relevance analysis of the relations between China and Africa – believes African countries can benefit from China’s various levels of technology, especially the low-to-mid range levels.

Sharing same views, specialist in African science policy, Linda Nordling, says the region can learn a lot from China’s booming economy about how science and technology can help to boost development.

“China’s track record in Africa has some lessons for technology transfer that both sides need to consider to ensure their partnership proves equitable and profitable for more Africans,” she asserts.

However, Dr Kim and Nordling believe the success of any technology transfer can materialise only when the level of a host country’s human resources is similar to that of the home country.

SADC countries can, therefore, successfully grip fair technology transfer and play a part in the global economy only through investment in education and research & development.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014, the region needs effective leadership on innovation and technology transfer if it is to improve its human resources, and this effective leadership requires countries to use today’s men and women to tackle tomorrow’s known and unknown problems and challenges.

“Anchor institutions for technology and innovation, such as national innovation councils, national offices of technology assessment and national offices of innovation assessment should be staffed with today’s men and women looking at tomorrow’s problems, challenges and opportunities,” agrees the World Economic Forum.

Critical to note is the fact that not only can governments play a direct role in supporting innovation and technology transfer, they can also play a role in structuring the markets in which innovation and technology transfer take place, for example, through regulation and the oversight of technology transfer agreements.

Without doubt, SADC’s markets, projects on education, infrastructure development, technology acquisition and science propagation affect sustainable development. 

Therefore, regional leaders, both political and business, must act progressively to promote fair technology transfer to reduce poverty to the level that is does not pinch the economies of member states.

There is no way SADC can transform its economy without fair technology transfer. 

November 2014
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