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.

Monday, October 13, 2014

John Kerry calls on other countries to do more to stop ebola

I am sharing with you an op-ed by US Secretary of State, John Kerry on the ebola crisis that has hit the world.

A few rich nations are now providing most of the money and doing most of the work. That has to change immediately.

President Obama has made it crystal clear that Ebola is an urgent global crisis that demands an urgent global response. The United States has intensified every aspect of our engagement, and that includes providing Ebola treatment units, recruiting first responders, and supplying a critical set of medical equipment. The administration is working as a team to make sure that we bring all our resources to this effort; for my part, I am working extremely closely with Rajiv Shah, the USAID director, Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom and our Ebola Coordinator Ambassador Nancy Powell.

But I want to expand that effort with an urgent plea to countries around the world to step up even further. While we are making progress, we are not where we need to be. There are additional needs that have to be met in order for the global community to respond effectively to this challenge — and to make sure that we protect people in all of our countries.

Those needs are described in these slides. They show the very real need for more countries to move resources of specific kinds. It is not just a question of sending people, though it is vital to send people. But we need Ebola treatment units. We need health-care workers. We need medevac capacity. We need mobile laboratories and staff.

We also need nonmedical support: telecommunications, generators, incinerators, public communications capacity, training, construction. There is a desperate requirement for major assistance to strengthen health systems of stricken countries, for cash to support them in this critical time and for transportation to get equipment to the right people and places.

All of these things are frankly urgent if we are going to move quickly to contain the spread of Ebola. We need airlines to continue to operate in West Africa and we need borders to remain open. We need other African countries with the capacity to send responders to join the effort. And we need to make sure that the brave health-care workers who go are properly trained, properly equipped  and supported to prevent additional infections.

Many countries are already contributing, but the scale of needs is dramatic. The United States has contributed $113 million to the United Nations response. Smaller countries have stepped up to the plate – some quite remarkably. Some smaller countries are contributing way above their per capita population.

But the fact is more countries can and must step up to make their contributions felt, and the charts tell the story. There are not enough countries to make the difference to be able to deal with this crisis. We need more nations – every nation has an ability to do something on this challenge.

As the charts show, we already have a shortfall still of some $300 million. The United Nations has identified $1 billion in urgent needs, reflected in the pie chart. The World Bank has put in 22 percent. The U.S.A. has put in 11 percent. Private sector, 10 percent. More is needed – you can see the tally.

Providing this money is a critical component of our ability to be able to meet this challenge, and we need people to step up now. Now is the time for action, not words. And frankly, there is not a moment to waste in this effort.