ONE of the highlights of the Swaziland Economic Conference 2017 was a research study presented by SEPARC Associate Researcher Tengetile Hlophe titled; ‘Mapping the National System of Innovation in Swaziland’, which shed light on why the country is lagging behind in innovation.

She said the driver of development in highly developed countries like South Korea and Singapore tends to be innovation strategies embedded on the national agenda. In Swaziland’s case, Hlophe’s study shows that government has often taken the leading role in research, followed by institutions of higher learning while business has taken the least proactive role.

The study finds that Swaziland spends over E138 million in research and development, which is 0.26 percent of GDP while the SADC regional target is 1 percent. The country’s National, Science, Technology and Innovation Policy of 2011 – as adopted in 2012 – states that Swaziland should spend at least 1% of its GDP on research, but the Kingdom has not managed to meet this target.

The study also highlights glaring inequalities in the country’s human capital development as males are generally more qualified in PhDs and Master’s degrees than females. The study shows that 11 percent of males have PhDs compared to 5 percent females. The scenario is equally gloomy with Master’s degrees as 13 percent males possess this qualification compared to 9 percent females.

Swaziland’s lack of research and development has cost the country dearly as the study shows that Swaziland has not been able to increase its GDP over the years. Hlophe made an example with the decline in GDP from 1.7 percent in 2015 to 1.3 percent in 2016. Lack of innovation has also resulted in low industrial production, low value added products and increased imports of supplies, materials and equipment while the country has great potential to produce some locally.

In her recommendations, Hlophe said the country urgently needs to develop a national Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) strategy that is embedded in the national development agenda as seen in South Korea and Singapore, where STI is a vehicle to national development.

She also called upon the country to consider updating outdated legislative frameworks like the Intellectual Property law which includes the Patents Act of 1936 and others. She further suggested that women and youth should be deliberately targeted in STI research initiatives to ensure a gendered and sustainable national innovation agenda.