9th Annual African Economic Conference calls for more investment in knowledge and innovation in Africa

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Decision-makers and business leaders, economists and academics from across the globe have called for increased investment in knowledge and innovation on the African continent. 

This is because knowledge and innovation will boost youth employment, foster the adoption of new technologies, and facilitate Africa’s economic transformation.

And 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 the adequate accumulation of skills, technology and competences for innovation.

This was the message put forward by partners and participants at the closing of the 9th Annual African Economic Conference, which ran from November 1-3 in Addis Ababa.

In remarks at the closing ceremony, Adam Elhiraika, Director of the Macroeconomic Policy Division at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), noted that the conference has become a key platform for knowledge sharing with different stakeholders on issues affecting the African continent.

He pointed out that African countries face many challenges in enhancing the capacity and utilization of scientific research, innovation and technology to accelerate the industrialization process and transform their economies and societies. 

“We need institutions to help us apply the knowledge for innovation and capacity and skills development,” he said, summarizing some of the key messages out of the conference.

Participants pointed out that the current high levels of youth unemployment witnessed across the continent are linked to the mismatch between the demand and supply of skills.

“This has been compounded by lack of coherent national innovation policies and weak strategic private sector engagement of education and skills as well as lack of incentives to encourage the financing of innovation of African economies,” Elhiraika said.  

The conference participants emphasized the need to provide incentives for innovation, to enhance the quality of knowledge generation as well as to strengthen private sector engagement to support knowledge and innovation.

This is in addition to the need for innovation in public policy and further leveraging South-South cooperation. 

For his part, Abebe Shimeles, Acting Director of Development Research at the African Development Bank (AfDB), observed that among the key objectives of the conference is to encourage researchers on the continent to bridge the gap between research and development policy. 

“Economic policy-making without evidence it is no better than a wish list,” he said, underscoring the need for good economists and quality research on the continent to facilitate policy-making.  

At the closing ceremony, Abdoulaye Seck, lecturer at the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal, emerged as the winner of this year’s best paper presentation.

In his paper entitled “Does the global spread of technology benefit the growth of countries in the Economic Community of West African States?” Seck explained that the process is based on two main channels: importing goods that incorporate new technologies, and attracting companies from relatively advanced countries in terms of innovation.

The author asked how African countries in general, and those in West Africa in particular, have been able to benefit from global technology, and what factors could explain their capacity for absorption.

According to him, the results show that African countries, including those in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), have effectively benefited from the spread of world technology in terms of economic growth. However, he stressed that these gains in growth are weaker than those in other developing countries.

In his opinion, the reasons are essentially linked to the composition of international trade, the low attractiveness of the continent, the weakness of human capital (low education levels), the poor quality of the institutional environment in terms of the system of protection for intellectual property rights, and for some countries the burdensome legal heritage of French civil law, compared with British common law.

Ayodele Odusola, Chief Economist and Head, Strategy and Analysis Team, at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Bureau for Africa, noted that the African Economic Conference not only provides a platform for capacity building for young researchers on the continent, but also advocacy for pertinent issues affecting Africa. 

“It is important to use this as an advocacy forum because there are a lot of things that are happening that we are unable to sell for policy-makers to translate them into concrete actions.

“We have been doing research both at local and national levels, but some of them end up in an academic setting without policy-makers having access to it,” he said, underscoring the need to bring researchers and policy-makers together. 

Continuous investments in education, research and development, structured on-the-job training programmes, and the establishment of technical training institutes were also identified by the participants as ways of engaging the youth and boosting the participation and empowerment of women. 

Governments, private sector, academia and the civil society need to act as complimentary entities and not as competitors in the development process.

Creating strong links between all these different entities is required to ensure innovation results in scaling up, adoption of best practices, enhancement in inclusive economic growth and sustainable development.

Given the current population profile, with the majority of the African population under 20, conference participants emphasized that the age of innovation for Africa is yet to come.  

Fostering innovative solutions and creating a social contract in which governments, private sector, academia and the civil society use innovation to address the barriers of inclusive development and structural transformation is key to inclusive and sustainable development.

This is critical to ensure the move is made from aspiration to implementation with Africa’s Agenda 2063, the 50-year vision for Africa, and the Common African Position on the post-2015 development agenda.

Since 2006, the African Economic Conference has been jointly organized by the AfDB, ECA and UNDP with the mandate to foster dialogue and the exchange of knowledge on economic issues and challenges facing Africa.