Mauritius President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim and Senegal Prime Minister Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne joined World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Director General Francis Gurry in stressing the importance of intellectual property (IP) in incentivising innovation and creativity to promote economic and social development across Africa.
About 50 government ministers from across the continent attended this week’s opening of the three-day “African Ministerial Conference 2015: Intellectual Property (IP) for an Emerging Africa”, held in the Senegalese capital, Dakar.
“Ultimately, the source of all innovation and creativity is human,” Gurry says. “And Africa is the cradle of humanity, so it is in this sense the origin of all innovation and creativity that characterises our species as human beings.”
Well-developed national intellectual property systems can help African countries unlock their citizens’ creativity and innovation, boosting economic growth, he says.
“Intellectual property is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition of a healthy and vibrant innovation ecosystem,” he adds. “It is a means of capturing a competitive advantage that is conferred by innovation and it is a means of rewarding investment, human and financial resources, in the generation of new knowledge and innovation.”
Mauritius President Gurib-Fakim cited positive economic growth prospects for African countries over the next decade and highlighted the “imperative need for Africa to protect IP rights in order to build sustainable knowledge economies by leveraging the benefits of science, technology and innovation.
“In this globally fiercely competitive international economic landscape, the creation and management including protection of knowledge will be central to building and spearheading wealth creation and integration in the global economy,” says Gurib-Fakim.
She says policies should include IP system tools to unlock and promote the value of assets that are unique to Africa, such as local medicinal plants and traditional knowledge. Africa, should also “strive to prioritise opportunities unleashed  by the digital revolution in the areas of science, technology, innovation and creativity.
“There is urgency for public policy debate, coordination, integration and the involvement of all stakeholders in order to frame new ways to foster the development of intangibles and to promote innovation and creativity. Innovation is by construction and not instruction.”
Noting that the protection of IP rights should be accompanied by adequate measures of incentives and support, Gurib-Fakim called for the setting up of a fund for African innovators to access the necessary capital to support start-ups.
“Those nations that go all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow,” she says.
Senegalese Prime Minister Dionne called the conference timely, due to the challenges facing Africa. He added that intellectual property can help ensure sustainable and inclusive development resulting in poverty reduction and increased economic competition. “Innovation is the basis of all development,” he says.
Martial De-Paul Ikounga, Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology of the African Union, comments: “It’s the role of intellectual property organisations in Africa to push African leaders to understand that there is an entire edifice to build that will allow our youth to cross the Rubicon – to break the glass ceiling and partake in the excitement of the of the inventor, to dare to become the first in their country, in the region and even the first in the world to propose a solution to a social ill.”
Takashi Kitahara, Ambassador of Japan to Senegal, adds that “it is essential to assure the appropriate protections via the intellectual property system and guarantee its strategic use.”