Poor technological capability undermining Africa’s growth potential

Addis Ababa, 01 November 2014 (ECA) - African governments and all national actors must grasp the increasing opportunities that technology and innovation offer for human development and transformation of the continent. 

This is because currently poor technological capability remains one of the major constraints to Africa’s efforts to achieve sustainable development.

This was highlighted Saturday at the opening session of this year’s African Economic Conference, organized under the theme “Knowledge and Innovation for Africa’s Transformation”, which is taking place from November 1-3 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In her keynote address, Demitu Hambissa, the Ethiopian Minister of Ministry of Science and Technology, observed that the pace of skills and technological development and innovation has been slow in Africa mainly because of the absence of a critical mass of university-educated manpower skilled in hands-on technology.

This is addition to lack of high quality laboratories and scientific equipment, the unavailability of long-term finance and weak private sector initiative.

“To sustain the impressive economic growth Africa has experienced over the last decade, policy-makers of the region should focus and learn the best practice in fostering technology transfer and identifying critical innovation barriers and gaps to achieve increased productivity and structural transformation of its economies,” Hambissa said.  

The AEC 2014 theme, “Knowledge and Innovation for Africa’s Transformation”, draws from the African Union Agenda 2063 and the African Common Position on its Post-2015 Development Agenda which identify science, technology and innovation as key pillars for Africa’s development.

“We need skills, technology, knowledge and innovation to ensure democratic and responsive governance that can deliver effective public services and to facilitate universal access to basic services such as food and nutrition, water and sanitation, shelter, health and education,” said Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the African Union Commission Chairperson.

She further underscored the need to strengthen higher education in universities where enrolment has increased 16 per cent over the last decade.

“We must all support the Universities summit planned for Dakar, Senegal, in March next year to ensure that we have in place a strategy for investing in higher education … to prevent the absurdity of graduate unemployment,” Zuma said.

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, the organizers say.

“Capacities are not the same as capabilities. We have lots of capabilities; but we need capacities,” said Carlos Lopes, the United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of Economic Commission for Africa, emphasizing 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.

Africa’s stock of graduates is still highly skewed towards the humanities and social sciences, while the share of students enrolling in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics averages less than 25 percent, according to pre-conference briefs.

In his remarks, Steve Kayizzi-Mugerwa, Acting Chief Economist and Vice-President, AfDB, noted that adequate accumulation of skills, technology and competences for innovation is key to Africa’s transformation. 

He pointed out that though most governments recognise the importance of knowledge generation and innovation, implementation of strategies to address the skills deficit in areas that are critical for realisation of the goal of structural transformation is still lacking.

“Innovation does not happen by chance or in a vacuum. Innovation can not be legislated; it takes deliberate policy actions, enablers, positive incentives and entrepreneurship to make it happen,” said Eugene Owusu, the UNDP Resident Representative for Ethiopia. 

“To leapfrog and sustain the resurgent Africa requires smart solutions anchored in knowledge and innovation,” said Owusu.

The conference will have plenary and breakout sessions featuring presentations and discussions by prominent academics, policy-makers, business actors (including emerging technological/digital entrepreneurs and youth) and opinion leaders, as well as representatives of peer organizations.

The breakout 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. These include Knowledge Generation for Structural Transformation; Technology for Africa’s Transformation; and Addressing the Skills Deficit.

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