Africa: Experts say Africa needs knowledge, skills relevant to local needs
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - Several innovations reported in recent years from across Africa bode well for the continent striving to get skills that meet its industry requirements in the 21st century, economic and labour experts meeting in Addis Ababa said on Saturday.
But some basics must be in place for Africa to have the capacity to take advantage of what is happening globally in technology and innovation, according to Steve Kayizzi-Mugerwa, Acting Chief Economist and Vice President of the African Development Bank (AfDB).
“What has been lacking many times we make structural adjustments is the capacity to implement programmes. We keep moving forward and backward,” he remarked at the Ninth African Economic Conference being held 1-3 November 2014 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The conference is jointly organized by the AfDB, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) under the theme, 'Knowledge and Innovation for Africa’s Transformation.'
Among the continent’s promising success stories, the conference heard that in South Africa, a pedal operated, self-contained, easy to assemble waterless toilet called ‘SavyLoo’ is being rolled out to respond to the need for innovative sanitation solutions.
A 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.
“Technology has important implications for our ability to identify and exploit opportunities to transform our economies and for the employment of our growing young population,” said Carlos Lopes, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of UNECA.
The conference, which has brought together researchers, policymakers, academics and practitioners in various fields from Africa and other continents, is exploring ways that Africa generates knowledge and develops skills for its development.
But the continent faces a lot of hurdles and challenges that make further advancement gloomy, especially in countries mired in conflict situations from which they find it difficult to extricate themselves in order to provide basic education to the young population.
Current challenges, including inequality and social exclusion which contribute to conflict, violence and different forms of social injustice and unemployment, require innovative approaches and innovative solutions, said Eugene Owusu, UNDP Resident Representative in Ethiopia, suggesting that the continent should invest in knowledge and innovation.
A participant from South Sudan, for instance, wondered how two-thirds of youth in Africa’s youngest nation who live in cattle camps would ever acquire modern skills and technology. “Their valuable possessions are three things – cattle, AK47 rifles and mobile phones,” he said.
“Our challenge is not knowledge generation, but to recognize indigenous knowledge and make it more relevant to the people’s needs today,” said Nkosana Moyo, executive chair of Mandela Institute for Development Studies in South Africa. “Knowledge has to be relevant to circumstances where it is to be applied.”
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After an intensive discussion on adapting skills to 21st century industry adjustments, the conference participants were of the opinion that Africa needs a strategic vision of development of skills, which would work in harmony with the labour market.
Noting that the public sector has done a lot to train skilled workers, they urged the private sector to play its role as major beneficiaries of training.