ADDIS ABABA – The UN Development Programme (UNDP) on Saturday in Addis Ababa urged governments to invest in African technology innovation to speed up the continent’s growth.
The UNDP Chief Economist and Head of Strategy and Analysis Team for Africa Region, Ayodele Odusola made the call at a news conference shortly after the ninth African Economic Conference (AEC) opened in Addis Ababa.
Odusola said that poor technological capability remained a major constraint to Africa’s growth and needed to be scale up for faster growth.
“The pace of skills, technological development and innovation has been slow in Africa because of the absence of critical research institutions and African universities with technology driven manpower and skilled education,’’ he said.
The UNDP, UN Economic Commission for Africa and the African Development Bank (AfDB) convened the three-day conference with the theme “Knowledge and Innovation for Africa’s Transformation’’.
The conference will hold from Nov.1 to Nov. 3 in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Earlier, while declaring the conference open the Ethiopian Minister of Science and Technology, Mr Demitu Hambissa, advocated for more technology institutions that would compete with their counterparts worldwide.
Hambissa said that the continent was also constraint with lack of quality laboratories and scientific equipment as well as the unavailability of long term finance and weak private sector initiative.
“To sustain the impressive economic growth Africa has experienced over the last decade, policymakers of the region should focus and learn the best practices in fostering technology transfer.
“They should identify critical innovation barriers and gaps to achieve increased productivity and structural transformation of its economies,’’ Hambissa said.
The theme of conference “Knowledge and Innovation for Africa’s Transformation was drawn from the AU Agenda 2063 and the African Common Position on its Post-2015 Development Agenda.
The agenda identified science, technology and innovation as key to Africa’s growth and development.
In her address, AU’s Chairperson Dr Dlamini Zuma stressed the need for skills, technology, knowledge and innovation to ensure democratic and responsive governance for delivery of effective public services.
“That will facilitate universal access to basic services such as food and nutrition, water and sanitation, shelter, health and education.’’
Zuma underscored the need to strengthen higher education in universities where enrollment had increased by 16 per cent over the last decade.
“We must all support the universities in line with the effort to scale up development of the continent,’’ she said.
She said that a summit had been planned for Dakar, Senegal, in March next year to evolve a strategy for investing in higher education to prevent the absurdity of graduate unemployment.
“As the continent pursues its agenda of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena, success will depend on adequate accumulation of skills, technology and competences for innovation,’’ she said.
Also, the ECA Executive Secretary, Carlos Lopez said the continent was endowed with capabilities.
“Capacities are not the same as capabilities. We have lots of capabilities; but are in need of capacities,’’ Lopez said.
He emphasised the need to build capacity to transform growth into quality growth on the continent.
He underscored the need to build capacity for strategic decision-making, enhanced productive economic activities and aggressive absorption and generation of knowledge intensive technologies.
The ECA boss noted that Africa’s stock of graduates was skewed toward the humanities and social sciences.
He said that the share of students enrolling in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics was less than 25 per cent.
In his remarks, Steve Kayizzi-Mugerwa, acting Chief Economist and Vice-President, AfDB, noted that adequate accumulation of skills, technology and competences for innovation were key to Africa’s transformation.
Mugerwa said that most governments recognised the importance of knowledge generation and innovation but failed to implement strategies to address skill deficit in critical areas for realisation of the goal of structural transformation.
“Innovation does not happen by chance or in a vacuum. Innovation cannot be legislated; it takes deliberate policy actions, enablers, positive incentives and entrepreneurship to make it happen.
“To leapfrog and sustain the resurgent, Africa requires smart solutions anchored in knowledge and innovation,’’ e said.
The conference is expected to feature presentations and discussions by prominent academics, policymakers, business actors including emerging technological and digital entrepreneurs.
The sessions will involve in-depth and technical analyses of salient issues arising from the thematic focus of the conference.
The sub-themes will enable a broad range of discussions on the current state of Africa’s transformation capacity and generate valuable insights for improved policy making mechanisms.
The sub-themes include Knowledge Generation for Structural Transformation; Technology for Africa’s Transformation; and Addressing the Skills Deficit. (NAN)