Africa’s approach to building a sustainable technological foundation has failed. Empirical data shows that in spite of many years of trying, nothing of consequence has materialized, in spite of the enormous amount of talent on the continent. Of late many countries have blindly jumped on the bandwagon of innovation hubs. Blindly because these innovation hubs are based on a devastatingly faulty assumption that providing buildings, bringing the best minds in the country together and letting external actors work with the countries’ talent will result in innovation. However, the truth is external actors are not interested in developing technical expertise for the country but for themselves. Witness the fact that very few or if any patents or innovation that benefits the country has materialized from these innovation labs.
The painful fact is that educators and policymakers must realize that the best way to create sustainable technological innovation is to base it on a new framework, a framework that will place Africa’s talented engineers, scientists, juakalis and funders in the centre, not at the periphery of technology. This framework must acknowledge the multiple talents needed to build a sustainable technological structure. Specifically, status in terms of seniority, focus on degrees that are not backed by demonstrable practical skills and dependency on others to solve our technical problems must be replaced with an emphasis on skills, collaborative teams – regardless of educational backgrounds, problem-solving skills and the willingness to do for self.
Africa’s failure for a technological breakthrough has been hampered not from a lack of competent African engineers and scientists but from a dependency mentality where we marginalize our talent in favour of external “assistance” from advanced countries. Dependency models have not helped in the past; they will work now either. To break this chain of dependency, IUEA has developed a new model: The Four Skills Model for Sustainable Technological Foundation in Africa.
It is this model that has made IUEA’s innovation lab unique. In short, the lab is based on the concept that by combining two powerful forces: the practical, technical and resourceful skills of the Juakalis – people without formal education but with critical technical expertise – with the theoretical insights of scholars, an organic, sustainable platform for technology in Africa will be possible and will be possible faster. The success of this framework is evident in the kinds of innovation that the IUEA’s Sustainable Innovation Lab has generated. At IUEA’s sustainable innovation lab, students, lecturers and Juakali come together to solve problems by working together to combine practical skills, innovative thoughts and theoretical know-how using local human resources and local resources. In this setup, students and lecturers bring subjects taught in class such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics, programming, electronics, etc. to bear on the solution being developed. These courses are not seen as a means to pass a test and move on but as the knowledge that can be used to solve problems. Courses are seen as tools for building local, national, continental and global solutions. By practically applying these skills in developing numerous solutions, the results show that the Four Skills Framework developed by IUEA – the combination of Juakalis, students and scientists in a collaborative framework is a viable option.