Brazzaville, 27 February 2021 (ECA) – Congo’s capital just hosted the third edition of the African Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation during which hundreds of young Africans were initiated in STI trades. The Forum also afforded experts and Governments the opportunity to discuss the benefits of new technologies. The transition to renewable energy that is currently a key driver of growth and a job-creation is gaining steam on the African continent. Hereunder, we discuss the subject with Mr. Jean-Paul Adam, Director of the Technology, Climate Change and Natural Resources Division (TCND) of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
Question (Abel Akara Ticha, communication team): The first Forum was held in 2019 and made many recommendations. In particular, Governments were asked to invest more in science and technology. Many other recommendations bore on: harnessing the innovative spirit of the youth of Africa and promoting intra-African preparation in science, technology and innovation. What is the status of implementation of these recommendations?
Answer (Jean Paul Adam): First, this Forum which started in 2019 was a recognition of the fact that the sustainable development goals were not being achieved by focussing only on the current growth rates. Africa’s growth rate in 2018 was in the neighbourhood of 4 per cent. We cannot achieve sustainable development with such a growth rate.
There was, thus, need to reverse the situation by focussing on science, technology and innovation which afford us numerous development avenues, notably the fourth industrial revolution through the digitalization of economies.
I believe that since then, several ECA initiatives in partnership with member States have driven progress. For instance, we have strengthened innovation centres in various countries.
We have equally strengthened training capacity in universities for technologies, especially biotechnology.
In addition, against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is need to adapt technology to new progress made as part of efforts to bring the pandemic under control. We also need to be better forearmed for the future and build resilience against climate change.
Among other actions, we have worked on digital identity for African countries. The goal is to fully harness the fourth industrial revolution which is closely associated with digitalization.
It is also important to harness the potential of Africa’s youth bulge, which is the engine for Africa’s renewal, the very locomotive for regional, continental and global recovery.
Question: You spoke of the readiness to support countries in establishing research and innovation hubs. How many such centres have already been established?
Answer: We have especially assisted Member States in the areas of policy and the enabling environment which fosters the emergence of innovation hubs. There has been an increase in the number of centres in Africa.
The number of hubs rose from 442 in 2018 to 643 in 2019. This is partly a logical consequence of one of the recommendations of the previous editions of the Forum and the result of ECA’s policy support to Member States to ease the development and establishment of hubs either within universities or in the business world.
The goal is to create an environment which permits the mainstreaming of innovation into entrepreneurship and business.
Question: The second session of the Forum was organised in 2020. One of the recommendations called on African countries to draw lessons from elsewhere and invest more in green technology. Where do we stand today with these?
Answer: We have noted Africa’s recognition of the importance of the green transition. It is important to acknowledge that it is a transition given that Africa has a huge challenge in terms of access to energy. There are nearly 500 million Africans who still do not have access to electricity.
To connect the entire continent, we need various forms of investments, but we give priority to green energy.
We can see from African Union regional investment programmes that of the 74 priority projects, a vast majority of energy projects border on renewables. Only one of them is hydrocarbons-related.
ECA has done a lot of work with Member States on national contributions in respect of the 2015 Paris agreement. Countries truly wish to achieve the green transition.
Last June, the African Union adopted a green recovery programme focusing on investment in renewable energy, sustainable development-driven food security and nature-based solutions.
It is therefore clear that the key to accelerating growth is adopting renewable energy technologies. Another benefit of renewable technologies is their great employment value. They drive growth by creating jobs.
A recent ECA study revealed that there is a more than 250 per cent job creation growth in the renewable energy sectors compared with the number of hydrocarbons-related jobs. This speaks to the need for African countries to develop a coherent investment policy for renewable energy as the locomotive for green recovery for the entire continent.
Question: So, may we say that with the support of the ECA, Africa is well on the path to renewable energies?
Answer: I believe that Africa is well on track in respect of her ambition to transition to renewable energies. However, we must admit that there are huge financing challenges.
The Green Climate Fund has some resources. However, the promise to inject USD 100 billion per year into the Fund, pursuant to the Paris agreement, has not been kept. The COVID-19 pandemic has also not helped things. The third Forum hosted in Brazzaville was the opportunity to acknowledge that Africa must innovate and craft new solutions that dovetail with current realities. Otherwise, it will not be easy to find requisite investments.
A plethora of opportunities exist. We have seen this in the projects that the ECA is implementing with member States, notably the anti-Covid-19 training platform.
In cooperation with ECA, it is the Republic of Congo that launched the African Communication and Information Platform (ACIP) for health and economic action which permits real-time information sharing between health practitioners and the public.
We also saw the platform for procurement of anti-Covid-19 equipment, which testifies to the growth of digital trade in Africa.
There are possibilities to cut costs, but also for African entrepreneurs to leverage digital technology by harnessing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to improve trading in the sub-region.
This third Forum afforded the opportunity to work with young entrepreneurs who may tap into this digital opportunity. Like in 2020, a bootcamp was also organised this year. It is a workshop for tooling young people with skills in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics.
This helps them to venture into innovation-based entrepreneurship. It is an opportunity for Africa.
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