Most African countries agree that regional integration is a goal which they should all aspire to, in order to foster inclusive and sustainable economic growth and development.
The report Assessing Regional Integration in Africa VII: Innovation, Competitiveness and Regional Integration (ARIA VII) launched on 2nd April during the African Development Week states that integration can foster innovation and competition in African countries through investment in human capital.
Africa has spent much of the past decade investing in physical infrastructure, but it must not forget the development of human capital, the report urges. Investing in education, particularly in science and technology, will bring about great gains for the citizens of the continent.
Developed jointly by the Economic Commission for Africa, the African Union Commission and the African Development Bank, this seventh edition posits thatregional integration can enable innovation to generate greater competitiveness and trade, boosting integration, growth and development.
“As countries grow in innovation capacities, they are likely to integrate even more with each other through investment, supply chains, trade, knowledge and mobility,” said Mr. David Luke, Coordinator of the African Trade Policy Centre at ECA.
The report states “innovation drives growth and structural transformation, and it offers unique opportunities to ‘late-developer’ countries to leap-frog into new technologies. As innovative capacities grow, competitiveness is enhanced. ”
As the Acting Chief Economist of the AfDB, Mr. Charles Lufumpa, pointed out “Africa’s regional integration has changed and improved over the past five years”, culminating in the formation of a tripartite free trade area, the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, the AU’s Agenda 2063 and negotiations on the establishment of a continental free trade area.
Mr. Lufumpa thinks Africa can do better. “A lot of progress has been made but we still have problems with energy shortages which pose serious constraints on businesses; lack of integrated infrastructure, and slow implementation of policy.”
The ARIA VII highlights the importance of education and science in improving competitiveness and innovation.
Mr. Sidi Ould Tah, the Director General of the Arab Bank for the Economic Development of Africa reminded the audience that the private sector was not given a role as an engine of economic growth in the past . “To foster innovation, the role of the private sector needs to be expanded,” he argued.
Africa can learn from other countries such as India, which has invested much in building talent for innovation. “Africa values regional integration a lot and it can take India’s example of the massive investment made in tertiary education,” suggested Mr. S Kuppuswamy, Representative of the Confederation of Indian Industry and Director of the Shapoorji & Pallonji Group.
Mr Teteh Hormeku, Head of Programmes at Third World Network- Africa’s Secretariat concurs that “it’s not enough to create markets, we must focus on developing capacity and talent.”
Mr. Hormeku counselled African states to look at the “interface between policies and the commitments we take outside the continent. We must seize this to ensure policy coherence and a pro-development Pan-African intellectual property framework.”
Discussion during this session, included rights on intellectual property, improving the capacity of institutions, producing more female STEM graduates.