Nurturing and Sharing Innovation Key to Accelerate Africa’s Development

Nov 1, 2014

The 9th African Economic Conference (AEC) opened in Addis Ababa amidst economic policy makers, experts and for the first time, academic institution scholars from across Africa.

Themed ‘Knowledge and Innovation for Africa’s Transformation’; the three day conference not only analyzed contexts in which both thrive in Africa, but also sought to elaborate areas of further collaboration and promotion.  

The AEC is jointly organized by UNDP, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the African Development Bank (AfDB).

“Development challenges today are not only complex but they are also interconnected,” said Mr Eugene Owusu UNDP, Resident Representative, who underlined that “Innovation does not happen by chance nor 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.  At the heart of solving such complex challenges lies knowledge and innovation”.

For H.E. Dr Nkozasana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), this conference set a tone for the forthcoming African Union Agenda 2063 which will inform African nations’ paths towards inclusive growth. In her statement, Dr Zuma emphasized that countries strengthen higher education systems to attract more qualified youth. At the same time, Dr Zuma asked that countries create opportunities for greater private sector and also inter-country collaboration in the areas of advancing science, technology and innovation. ‘We need skills, technology, knowledge and innovation to ensure democratic and responsive governance that can deliver effective public services,’ she also underscored.

In her key note address, H.E. Mrs Demitu Hambissa Minister of Science and Technology of Ethiopia noted that it is crucial for Africa to generate knowledge through research. African countries should enter into a commitment that allows both generation and exchange of best practices in innovation, technology and scientific research. 

On existing challenges that need to be addressed, H.E. Minister Demitu said ‘the acute skills deficit in Africa versus significant unemployed graduates from almost all disciplines including engineers and science should be an issue at the center if any policy discussions if meaningful structural transformation is opted for Africa’.

Dr Steve Kayizi-Mugerwa, Acting Chief Economist and Vice President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) drew caution on gaps often seen in Africa between policy formulations and actual implementations, ‘what has been lacking is action, we have the prescriptions’ he highlighted while calling upon critical discussion that would lead to concrete applications within African countries.

Africa should be prepared, underscored Mr Carlos Lopez, ECA Executive Secretary. Defining the conference as one for ‘intellectual discourse’, Mr Lopes stated that Africa “abounds with examples of knowledge [that] are changing the narrative’ of the continent.”  Mr Lopes called for a continued discussion as well. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of fostering a continuous dialogue between those who create knowledge and those who commercialize knowledge in the quest for structural transformation, industrialization and sustainable development of the continent.”

There was an overall agreement that African nations should invest in education that will produce skilled individuals capable of integrating into the global space off innovation and share of information noting that Africa lags behind in both contexts not only at the international level, but also within country-to country spheres. Moreover, local markets that can boost technological innovation were also outlined as a fundamental necessity.

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