Things Kananu can learn after Nairobi was ranked best in innovation

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By Erick Ludeya

It is now official that Nairobi was ranked as the most innovative city in Africa, according to the Knight Frank Horizons Report.

The city beat 500 others on the continent including Cape Town, Johannesburg, Cairo, and Lagos to claim the top spot.

This may not sound as a surprise at all considering the numerous efforts put in place to put the capital city on the global map on matters of technology.

In the recent awards, Nairobi emerged the top performer in three components, which include the number of start-ups, level of innovation funding and innovation infrastructure such as the number of research institutions.

Notably,South Africa’s Cape Town was ranked second followed by Kampala (Uganda), Cairo (Egypt), Johannesburg (South Africa), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Lagos (Nigeria), Dakar (Senegal), Accra (Ghana), and Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) respectively.

“Innovation coupled with economic growth will drive the next decade of investment in Africa. Lower risk investors will likely favor cities with above-average innovation scores and a robust economy. These include Cairo, Egypt – the stand-out performer – and Johannesburg, South Africa. These cities have the greatest potential to remain economically resilient in the long-term despite undergoing short-term shocks,” said Tilda Mwai, Knight Frank Researcher for Africa.

Knight Frank expects the demand for data infrastructure to increase as more businesses shift their activities online due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Cities that score higher for innovation but have less robust economies will attract those willing to take more risk, such as private equity investors. These cities include Nairobi, Kenya, Cape Town in South Africa, and Kampala, Uganda,” Mwai added.

The study interrogated over 100 data points applied to 29 capital cities from a long list of more than 500 cities in Africa to arrive at a unique innovation score.

The three components looked at were innovation activity such as the total number of start-ups, level of innovation funding and innovation infrastructure, such as the number of research institutions leading to Nairobi being the stand-out performer.

Another report compiled by the World Economic Forum had in 2019 ranked Nairobi as the world’s sixth most dynamic city.

Bengaluru, which is Karnataka’s (Indian State) capital city, topped the list while Hyderabad (Telangana), Hanoi (Vietnam), Delhi (India) and Pune (Maharashtra) followed successively.

Out of the top 20 cities, Nairobi was the only African city represented, and the study attributed this to a strong influence from the Asian community.

Lessons for Nairobi Governor

As stated earlier, Nairobi emerged the top in number of start-ups, level of innovation funding and innovation infrastructure such as the number of research institutions.

This should serve as a big indicator to the current leadership in the county under the command of Deputy Governor Ann Kananu that more resource allocation and partnership programs in the field of innovation and research is the way to go.

Supportive tech policies are helping in the development of infrastructure, creation of local content, and public-private partnerships. It is in this climate that successful web applications were able to grow. Like the crisis mapping tool “Ushahidi”, born during the post-election violence of 2008, and now being used all over the world to assist in humanitarian responses or election monitoring.

Kenya’s innovation scene is no one-hit wonder. Today, Nairobi is home to more than 30 tech hubs and incubators, giving space to developers, designers, researchers and entrepreneurs to work on new technological solutions. Around the world, Kenya is gaining recognition as the East African tech node.

Last year, Nairobi was scheduled to host the Einstein Forum, the largest science event in Africa but this did not happen due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Going forward, it’s essential that Kenyan entrepreneurs be mindful of the roots of past successful innovations — namely, finding solutions for local problems. With Nairobi at the forefront, Kananu and co have a big responsibility to ensure   collectivism remains at the core of our innovation ventures.

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