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Knowledge and Innovation for Africa’s Transformation was the theme for this year’s African Economic Conference that was held on November 1 to 3 at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
The Conference that gathered high level government officials from across Africa was a platform for researchers, policymakers and development practitioners from Africa, and elsewhere, to debate Africa’s soft infrastructure needs and their catalytic impact on the speed and scope of economic transformation and inclusive growth.
In his opening remark, ECA Executive Secretary Carlos Lopes stated that the continent is filled with examples of knowledge, helping change the narrative of Africa.
“Kenya’s financial inclusion performance through mobile banking is now quoted worldwide. Cardiopad, invented by Arthur Zang, a 24 year-old Cameroonian engineer, enables heart examinations through tablets. The Saphonian, invented by Anis Aouini, from Tunisia, attempts to offer an alternative way to harness wind and generate green energy that can be converted to electricity,” he stated.
Lopes said that these kinds of innovations bodes well for the future, however, supplemental work is still required to help speed up the pace of creation as well as the absorption rate of new technologies and spread it to all sectors of African economies.
“Arguably, one of the most important developments of the 20th century for enhancing economic development has been the emergence and establishment of the knowledge-based global economy. Africa has to be prepared. We can actually be net beneficiaries of this focus on the role of information, technology and learning as a determinant of economic performance,” Lopes said.
Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the African Union Commission Chairperson also underlined that Africa needs skills, technology, knowledge and innovation to ensure democratic and responsive governments that can deliver effective public services and facilitate universal access to basic services such as food and nutrition, water and sanitation, shelter health care and education.
Zuma also underlined the need to strengthen higher education in universities where enrollment has increased just 16 percent over the last decade.
“We must all support the Universities Summit planned for Dakar, Senegal, in March next year to ensure that we have in place a strategy for investing in higher education to prevent the absurdity of graduate unemployment,” Zuma said.
The conference had plenary and breakout sessions featuring presentations and discussions by prominent academics, policy-makers, and business persons that are mainly involved in technological and digital entrepreneurship.
Discussions were held in the area of the current state of Africa’s transformation capacity, the need for technology to push the continent’s transformation at an accelerated pace as well as addressing the skill deficit.
According to Lopes, capacities are not the same as capabilities. He stated “we have lots of capabilities; but we need capacities. We need capacity for strategic decision-making, capacity for enhanced productive economic activities and capacities for aggressive absorption and generation of knowledge intensive technologies. In one sentence: capacity to transform growth into quality growth.”
This is a fantastic challenge for an inter-generational group of African economists, he concluded.