Knowledge generation alone is not enough to speed up Africa’s development, but the continent requires in every country institutions and policies to help apply new knowledge and skills in capacity development, according to participants in the 2014 African Economic Conference (AEC) which ended here Monday.
“We need to reform African educational institutions to enhance innovation while making efforts to bring local entrepreneurs on board so that their firms can play a role in extending practical and vocational skills,” said Adam Elhiraika, Director of Microeconomic Policy Division at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
The ninth annual AEC was jointly organized by the African Development Bank (AfDB), ECA and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) under the theme ‘Knowledge and Innovation for Africa’s Transformation’.
During the three-day conference, panelists observed that closing the technology and innovation gap in Africa has been hampered by the lack of coherent national innovation policies including appropriate regulatory frameworks and incentive regimes.
Panelists and participants, who included researchers, academics and policymakers, underscored that each country should develop a coherent innovation strategy with a clear roadmap based on its specific reality and situation to facilitate monitoring progress.
AfDB’s Acting Director of the Development Research Department, Abebe Shimeles, underlined the need for governments to put in place coherent and consistent policy to facilitate the private sector to drive innovation.
“In most low-income African countries even basic things are challenges to the private sector,” said Shimeles.
“The role of the state needs to be defined in a way that the private sector can have a conducive environment,” he said, emphasizing that public-private partnership can be effective if the role of government and the private sector are clearly defined.
In addition, Abebe noted that Africa still lacks good economists and that explained why the continent remained under-researched and without the right data in different fields.
“We need excellence. The partnership between the AfDB, ECA and UNDP is not just about organizing the AEC. We need to work with other institutions that have a stake in the continent’s development to undertake first class research. Lack of research has been a drawback on policy making in African countries,” he added.
The conference was of the view that for African enterprises to develop and influence the breadth and depth of industrial linkages, they would need skills and technologies to upgrade production processes, and identify market opportunities.
“Innovation has become a language of development in Africa,” remarked Ayodele Odusola, Chief Economist at the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa, stressing that national and continental institutions should find ways of using the available knowledge and information to drive development.
“We need to develop the critical mass of the population when it comes to application of science, technology and information,” Odusola said, noting that over the past two decade some research has shown that there was need for the people to acquire knowledge of to address such issues as climate change and industrialization and for policymakers to streamline these issues in the policy framework.
As the conference came to its close, some participants expressed concern about the absence of private sector actors at the gathering. “We need to partner with larger institutions and a group of African entrepreneurs,” one participant remarked.
Angela Arnott of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) said the continent should be more innovative on education costs. “We don’t have good education economists. We need innovative research to help governments come up with realistic costs of education and training in their countries,” she added.