Africa Sci-tech Forum Promotes Homegrown Innovation

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 new growth.”

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 partners.

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 this year.

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.

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