Africa Sci-tech Forum Promotes Homegrown Innovation
April 2, 2012
Experts and officials gathered at the first Africa Forum on Science,
Technology and Innovation in Nairobi, Kenya are seeking African
solutions to African problems. Participants are calling for African
governments to fund and promote research and development at home.
U.N. Economic Commission for Africa Technology Division Director Aida
Opolu-Mensah says for too long Africa's science and technology agenda
has been set by the continent's development partners.
Need to be in the “driving seat”
“Therefore, if Africa is the new pole of growth, then Africa has to be
in the driving seat. And Africa has to invest its own resources in the
science and technology that they want to use in order to achieve this
Speaking at the start of the forum Sunday, Opoku-Mensah called for
African countries to fund science and technology programs from their
national budgets, rather than to rely on “gifts” from international
In 2006, the African Union set a target for all member countries to
spend at least one percent of their gross domestic product on science
research and development. According to research from an A.U. development
program, known as NEPAD, only Uganda, Malawi and South Africa have
reached that target.
African economies have grown explosively during the past decade, and are
predicted to continue expanding by most estimates. The International
Monetary Fund expects African economies to grow by nearly six percent
Growth versus development
But as African Development Bank Vice President Kamal El Khesten points
out, growth does not necessarily equate to development.
“This growth was not sufficiently inclusive, indeed, in spite of
double-digit growth rates in many countries, the phenomenon of jobless
growth has become an increasing cause of concern. Our challenge is to
address the mismatch between skills development and the actual
requirements of the labor market.”
One of the central themes of the conference is youth employment. El
Khesten said the continent needs to invest more in higher education to
prepare students for jobs in science and technology.
More than one panelist noted the Arab Spring revolutions were fueled in
part by frustration over rampant unemployment, and warned that Africa
could experience a similar uprising.
There is no shortage of advice and guidance on science and technology
development in Africa. The African Union has made numerous declarations
on the subject, starting with the 2005 consolidated plan of action. The
United Nations has its own recommendations, as do most international
development agencies working in the continent.
Putting ideas into action
for the Development of Eduction in Africa Chairman Dzingai Mutumbuka
says many of these good ideas are never put into action. He hopes this
forum will be different.
“The takeaway here is that it is time, it is time, that we as Africans
move away from lofty conference resolutions to implementation,
implementation, and implementation.”
In addition to simply discussing best practices and policy for science
and technology development, the forum hopes to take some concrete
actions, including designing possible responses to water, energy and
biodiversity needs in Africa.
The forum wraps up Tuesday with a ministerial meeting.