Innovation doesn’t hurt; ask Rwanda

Here’s an aerial view of a part of Lekki, a naturally formed peninsula, in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.

The video was shot using a drone camera. There are several other videos like this on YouTube, showing the beautiful city of Lagos and sometimes its grueling traffic. There are also beautiful photos of cities in Nigeria, taken using drones, all over the internet. The ones we already have may be the last we would ever have; it’s too much technology for Nigeria, and a government agency has decided to fight it till it ends the existence of drones in the country. Bye; it’s the end of your business.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and it is blessed with a massive entrepreneurial youth population but there is an unfortunate culture of stifling innovation and entrepreneurship.

It is very difficult to register and run a business in Nigeria. It is also very risky to be innovative in Africa’s largest economy where authorities seem to be scared of new technology.

“In recent times, RPA/UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) are being deployed for commercial and recreational purposes in the country without adequate security clearance,” the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) said early in May.

“Therefore with the preponderance of these operations particularly in a non – segregated airspace, there has to be proactive safety guidelines.

“The development of the use of RPA nationwide has emerged with somewhat predictable safety concerns and security threats,” the statement by the NCAA said.

The NCAA is the regulatory body for aviation in Nigeria.

While the autonomous body is right about its concerns, its response shows the culture of stifling innovation that has affected Nigeria’s growth for decades.

The NCAA statement has no intention of setting boundaries or regulating the use of drones, it wants to indirectly end it. “Therefore no government agency, organisation or an individual will launch an RPA/UAV in the Nigerian airspace for any purpose whatsoever without obtaining requisite approvals/permit from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and Office of National Security Adviser (NSA).”

A commercial drone pilot explains that apart from the licences anyone who wants to fly a drone is required to get, “it is also expected that your business is incorporated with Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) with a minimum capital shares of N20,000,000 ($100,376)”.


While NCAA is looking proactive about its move, it noted in the statement that “the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is yet to publish Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs), as far as certification and operation of civil use of RPA is concerned”.

In all its proactiveness, the NCAA, like several other government agencies in Nigeria, is discouraging innovation. Nothing seems to work in Nigeria when it comes to innovation. Everything works in Rwanda.

Just over two decades out of a genocide, Rwanda has resolved to embrace innovation, which is seen as the engine of growth. The results of this decision are there for everyone to see.

The Rwandan government this month signed a contract with drone startup Zipline, which aims to use drones for medical supplies in the hilly country. The world’s first drone airport may also come on stream in the country soon.

After going through years of war, Rwanda is serious about security and would have considered the security challenges that drones could pose, but the country is also serious about innovation and would not allow fears of what evil a developing technology might turn out to be, to deter it from using innovation to grow its economy. Nigeria couldn’t care less. Bring another technology we don’t appreciate and we will not hesitate to pass another death verdict.

However, with Africa’s largest economy at the risk of going into recession, innovation may be its best hope.

Despite slowdown in the global economy, Rwanda is fast becoming an important investment destination due to its decision to embrace innovation. Earlier in May, MasterCard committed $1 million through the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth, over the next three years, to advance economic growth and financial inclusion in Rwanda. Thomson Reuters has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) to fast-track innovation in Rwanda, in line with the Government’s Smart Rwanda Master Plan and vision for the Kigali Innovation and ICT City. Last year, the Rwanda Development Board collaborated with Singapore’s CrimsonLogic to launch the Rwanda Technology Associate Program, aimed at cultivating young IT talent.

For the transformation seen in the innovation and ICT space in the country, Rwanda was ranked first globally for ICT promotion in 2015. The country has continued to support innovation and has shown support for new ideas; a university student in the country may soon start exporting pasta made from potatoes to Nigeria.

There are boundless opportunities that innovation can bring if embraced. Nigeria needs to take a cue from Rwanda. Also, before disconnecting Nigeria from the global drone market, the NCAA needs to know that the global commercial UAV market size is expected to reach $2.07 billion by 2022. That information should count for something.