The Ninth African Economic Conference opened in Addis Ababa on Saturday with urgent calls to rapidly develop skills required to enhance economic growth and tackle healthcare challenges, worsened by an Ebola spread in West Africa.
“The starting point is for the governments to see the centrality of innovation and how it can contribute to industrialization,” Eugine Owusu, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative to Ethiopia, told PANA at the start of the conference.
The African Economic Conference, which is under the theme, “Knowledge and Innovation for Africa’s transformation,” is focused on helping African countries to build the required skills to solve issues affecting the development of the continent.
“The crises facing Africa, like Ebola, are a tragedy. They make us think whether we have the systems that can react to new situations,” said Steve Kiyizzi-Mugerwa, the Acting Chief Economist and Vice President of the African Development Bank (AfDB).
Mugerwa said Africa’s inability to grow its skilled workforce was partly the result of poor management of resources with most countries engaging in lavish spending, including on luxury vehicles.
African Union Commission Chairperson, Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma, said the development of skills, technology, knowledge and innovation were critical if African countries were to modernize the agricultural sector and create better equipped hospitals.
She said better equipped healthcare facilities would have eased the current crisis faced by Africa in dealing with the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
“We need skills, technology, knowledge and innovation to ensure democratic and responsive governance that can deliver effective public services and to facilitate universal access to basic services such as food and nutrition, shelter and health,” Dlamini-Zuma said.
Experts say investing in the building of an educated workforce in Africa and ensuring that trained graduates are able to receive additional training at the workplace is another strategy to solve the problem of unemployment of graduates.
“We need to address the issue of skills gap in Africa so that our universities train and realign their training needs with the needs of the labour market,” said Ayodele Odusola, the Chief Economist at the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa.
Dlamini-Zuma said investing in the youth and women was critical for Africa’s future prosperity. Such an investment would result in proper use of Africa’s natural resources such as forests.
UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) economist, Adam El Hiraika, said investments in the development of skills in Africa were critical to industrial growth.
He said figures showed 40% of all goods traded amongst African countries were processed locally and could only be sold within the continent. This, he said, provided the foundation to believe developing the required skills would lead to industrial growth.
“We believe there is real opportunity to transform economies. We do not want to exhaust our natural resources without developing the necessary skills to produce manufactured goods,” El Haraika told a news conference at the Conference.
Owusu said for industrialization to take effect in Africa, there was need to invest in companies and new ventures that promised industrialization. These include start-up firms that offered real time solutions to local problems.
“Innovation does not happen in a vacuum. It takes the empowerment of innovators, enablers and support to Africa’s entrepreneurs,” he said. “We have to provide incentives for innovation,” Owusu added.