The critical role which knowledge and innovation should play in Africa’s development will be the focus of this year’s African Economic Conference (AEC) scheduled to take place from November 1-3 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Organized each year by the African Development Bank, United Nations Development Programme and UN Economic Commission for Africa, the conference will provide a unique opportunity to explore how to harness Africa’s knowledge industry for the continent’s transformation and inclusive growth.
The conferees, usually policy-makers, researchers, development practitioners and cohorts from Africa and elsewhere, will explore extant knowledge generation approaches and frameworks, as well as the efficacy of Africa’s knowledge and innovation institutions in developing needed skills, technology and innovation capacities. They will also discuss policies required in knowledge generation and innovation to achieve Africa’s transformation agenda.
The AEC 2014 theme, “Knowledge and Innovation for Africa’s Transformation”, draws from the African Union Agenda 2063 and the African Common Position on its Post-2015 Development Agenda which 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 organizers say.
Noting that while African countries are well aware that their development hinges on how fast and how well they acquire technological competences, acute skills deficit in domains critical to the realisation of structural transformation goals, significant number of engineers and science graduates remain unemployed in Africa further underling 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.
Africa’s stock of graduates is still highly skewed towards the humanities and social sciences, while the share of students enrolling in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics averages less than 25 percent, according to pre-conference briefs.
“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,” they note.
In the area of soft skills, the Bank notes that African enterprises can only develop and influence the breadth and depth of industrial linkages if they harnessed the needed skills and technologies to upgrade production processes, and identify market opportunities. Similarly, African enterprises will need to upgrade operational competitiveness, meet global technical standards and adopt world-class manufacturing practices to qualify for entry into the global value chain.
The conference will have plenary and break-out sessions featuring presentations and discussions by prominent academics, policy-makers, business actors (including emerging technological/digital entrepreneurs and the youth) and opinion leaders, as well as representatives of peer organisations.
The break-out sessions will involve in-depth and technical analyses of salient issues arising from the thematic focus of the conference. The sub-themes will enable a broad range of discussions on the current state of Africa’s transformation capacity and generate valuable insights for improved policy-making.
These include Knowledge Generation for Structural Transformation; Technology for Africa’s Transformation; and Addressing the Skills Deficit.