ARIPO’s drive to strengthen Africa’s innovation ecosystem

Author:Susan Mwiti
Position:African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), Harare, Zimbabwe

Developing the infrastructure, capabilities, and policies to enable Africa to move to a sustainable future is central to the African Union Agenda 2063, but remains a significant challenge.


Persistent gaps in capacity across Africa stem, in large part, from a “mismatch” between training and the evolving needs of the economy. Many countries continue to focus on training in the humanities and far less on encouraging students to acquire scientific and technical skills. Globally, 80 percent of humanities’ graduates are from Africa. Ninety-five percent of African students study social science, business, and law and just four percent study engineering, manufacturing, and construction. Yet more worrying, only two percent study agriculture, a sector that generates around 32 percent of the GDP of African countries.

The need to build IP capacity to harness African innovation

Practical interventions that address capacity-building imperatives and that support Africa’s structural transformation are therefore critical to the continent’s socio-economic performance and growth. The need to build intellectual property (IP) capacity is one area requiring urgent attention. Some African countries still have no IP office in place, and among those that do, few have developed and rolled out effective national IP policies and strategies to support their economic ambitions.

Africa has a strong tradition of innovation and creativity. While it commands extraordinary creative resources, it has often struggled to realize their full economic potential. A widespread lack of understanding of the role and economic potential of IP rights and limited access to functional IP systems are largely to blame.

ARIPO’s roving IP seminars

Over the past four years, in a bid to bridge this gap, the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) has been organizing roving seminars on IP across its 19 member states. Making better use of IP for business competitiveness and development in Africa was a central theme of the 2014 and 2015 seminars, which targeted senior government officials, policymakers, and law makers on the one hand, and the business community on the other hand. With respect to the former group, the aim was to demonstrate the importance of effective IP policy in fostering social and economic development, and the need to establish robust and effective IP legal frameworks at the national level, for example, by signing up to various regional and international IP agreements. In reaching out to the local business community, the aim was to highlight the role that IP rights can play in supporting profitability and business growth.

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