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The African Economic Conference, jointly organized each year by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), opened on November 1 in Addis Ababa with the first plenary session focusing on the conference theme of “Knowledge and innovation for Africa’s transformation.”
Panelists established that, for Africa to meet challenges of water, agriculture, education, health, sanitation, environment, gender inequality and its participation in the global economy, increased scientific and technical knowledge is required, as is innovation. Knowledge and innovation are critical dynamics for Africa’s sustained growth, they noted.
The speakers also recognized that the region has become a knowledge society. For two hours, they highlighted the constraints to a broader sharing and better management of knowledge and innovation in Africa.
African Development Bank’s Acting Chief Economist and Vice-President, Steve Kayizzi-Mugerwa, outlined that knowledge and innovation are crucial for effective growth and sustainable development “but it must be planned, with strong leadership.”
He noted that transformation is happening in Africa and everywhere in the world, but wondered if Africa had truly harnessed the development benefits of technology. “Real transformation will only come with people. We need to move from inspiration to action. What is lacking is the implementation.”
Kayizzi-Mugerwa emphasized the key role that good universities delivering quality education can play in providing qualified resources to contribute to innovation on the continent.
Kayizzi-Mugerwa also underscored that, thanks to the Bank’s Ten Year Strategy, it has contributed to increasing supply of skilled workers across the continent, and has stepped up its support for technical and vocational training linked to specific needs in the labour market.
Adebayo Olukoshi, Director, African Institute for Economic Development and Planning (IDEP), said, “If all processes are sufficiently accompanied to drive transformation, an important area is the political space as well as systemic governance.
“If knowledge and innovation are to provide a development path out of poverty, there is an urgent need to strengthen science, technology and innovation (STI) policies, with emphasis on learning and innovation; strengthening human resources development and improving science and STI infrastructure,” he said.
Olukoshi also identified “smart industrialization, infrastructure management, maximizing traditional sources of financing, harmonization of curricula and revamping training programmes,” as ways to help achieve transformation.
For his part, Ayodele Odusola, Chief Economist and Head, Strategy and Analysis Team, UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa, recognized the mobile sector as a key transformational pillar. He stressed the need for the implication and expansion of mobile systems in vital economic sectors, as it contributes to enhancing agricultural productivity, promoting financial inclusion, improving women’s health and reducing child mortality.
Anthony Maruping, African Union Commissioner for Economic Affairs, expressed the need for stronger knowledge-sharing and strengthened human capital, with focus on “training people who can think.”
“There should be a flow of knowledge among Africans and with people from other regions in the world through partnerships,” he said.
Echoing other speakers, Lemma Senbet, Executive Director of the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC), also recognized that knowledge and innovation can help spark sustainable growth on the continent. “There is urgent need to strengthen science, technology and innovation policies, with emphasis on learning and innovation, promoting national and regional innovations systems,” he said.
Leading practitioners from the public and private sectors, as well as researchers from academia, also participated in the discussions.
The African Economic Conference runs until Monday, November 3.