The annual Senior Experts Dialogue on Science, Technology and the African Transformation Agenda continued in South Africa last Thursday with participants agreeing on the need for local government leaders across the continent to ramp up investment in technology and innovation to drive growth in cities, particularly at municipal level.
African innovators attending the SED 2016 believe that innovation needs to start at municipal level where governments engage directly with communities.
“It is good to talk about hubs of innovation in cities but hubs of innovation in dysfunctional cities will not work,” said Stellenbosch University’s Professor Mark Swilling.
He said from a governance point of view, most cities in Africa were dysfunctional with congestion, energy, water cuts and related issues that could hamper the progress being sought after.
“But from a people point of view, we have extraordinary abilities so the key to survival in African cities is how we learn and learn and re-learn in the blink of an eye to adjust, shift, take an opportunity and innovate. Africa has the extra-ordinary capacity for innovation but we have to love ourselves, our culture and capacity first rather than look elsewhere because we can do this,” said Mr. Swilling.
SED 2016 seeks to identify key elements and issues, based on local experiences, that African governments, along with their international development partners, can take into account in formulating action plans to turn their cities from manufacturing and trade hubs into innovation hubs and centres.
Participants emphasised the need for increased development of infrastructure for information communication technology (ICT) in order to empower the continent’s millions of young people.
While the world embraces the Internet of Things, African youth cannot be left behind, they agreed with Gideon Adogbo, Advisor and Special Assistant in the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Nigerian Presidency, telling experts and representatives of member states attending the SED that without investing in the youth, Africa will lag behind in the ICT arena.
“Innovation must be turned into money or should help cities save money,” he said, adding over 152 million Nigerians were connected to the internet through their GSM phones creating huge opportunities for innovators.
Speaker Jonathan Muringani said African cities should be proactive in having the right policies that give innovators direction.
“Beyond a policy perspective, cities must move towards a management perspective and say how do we go about it and the how goes beyond just writing and talking about it into doing, identifying challenges that must be addressed, identifying needs of the citizens but also involving citizens in the process of innovation,” Muringani said.
Innovation, he said, should be sustainable, inclusive, ethical, responsive and futuristic, aiming to improve the quality of lives of the ordinary people otherwise it would not be worth it.
SED 2016 is expected to produce a policymaker’s guide and recommendations for consideration and adoption by African governments, their development partners and the private sector; a research and analytical report on “Cities as Hubs of Innovation in Africa” and policy briefs and working papers on STI on the continent.
SED, an initiative of the ECA, is being hosted by the Department of Science and Technology in South Africa. The initiative is designed to support Member States to harness STI to drive their economies
Experts from 21 African countries are attending the SED 2016. South African metros such as the Cities of Tshwane, Johannesburg and Cape Town are also attending.