Wednesday, October 29, 2014

African Economic Conference to discuss continental transformation through knowledge and innovation

The continent of Africa can easily be described as a paradox. This is one continent that is so endowed and yet its poverty is so palpable. The paradoxical nature of reality on the continent seems to defy any logic and efforts including foreign direct investment, donor support in loans and grants and internal effort at economic and social transformation. The continent also has the highest penetration of mobile telephony services, which in recent times has been identified to contribute to economic growth.

The drive to move the continent out of the doldrums is being taken from various angles, by some governments, civil society organizations and financial institutions.

In the first week of November 2014, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, (UNECA), the African Union (AU) and the African Development Bank (AfDB) would hold the annual African Economic Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The theme for the conference is “Knowledge and Innovation for Africa’s Transformation”.

In the background note to the conference the organizers argue that “how well Africa harnesses knowledge and innovation will shape its future and the fortunes of younger generations for many decades to come.”

The organizers say the AU Agenda 2063 and the African Common Position on the Post-2015 development agenda identify science, technology and innovation as key pillars for Africa’s development.

“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 note said.

While admitting that most African governments recognize the importance of knowledge generation and innovation, it indicates that “the continent continues to experience an acute skills deficit in areas that are critical for the realisation of the goal of structural transformation.”

Arguing further, the organizers said the fact that a significant number of engineers and science graduates are unemployed in Africa further underlines the many facets (including the slow pace of structural transformation) of the mismatch between the demand and supply of skills that exists on the continent.

“The proliferation since the 1950s of institutions of higher learning and think tanks devoted to addressing the various challenges of Africa’s development has not brought about a significant narrowing of the continent’s skills/innovation gap. Neither has it enhanced the employability of the labour force. Instead, while opportunities for new economic activities and entrepreneurship have expanded in recent years, the skills mismatch has made it impossible, in particular for the youth and women, to derive direct benefits from economic growth. Consequently, the relevance of the knowledge proffered by African institutions of higher learning is increasingly being called into question,” it said.

While admitting the failure of efforts to lead to transformation, the organizers pointed to a bright part of the story. “On the bright side and despite these challenges, a new crop of innovative digital entrepreneurs is rising in Africa with Africa’s youth showing a keen propensity for absorbing and adopting new technologies,” it said.

The organizers say, a key goal of the Conference will be to examine the best ways in which to use knowledge and innovation to boost youth employment and foster the adoption of new technologies by the wider economy as a result.