The 3rd Annual Senior Experts Dialogue on Science, Technology and the African Transformation Agenda opened in Pretoria Wednesday with the Economic Commission for Africa’s New Technologies and Innovation Section Chief, Kasirim Nwuke, challenging African governments to explore the role of cities as hubs of innovation that will push the transformation of the continent.
Cities, he told about 100 participants attending the SED 2016, among other things, have economic power, accounting for over 80 percent of global GDP growth, have large concentrations of educated tech-savvy youth who are politically and economically active and can be laboratories of decentralized governance and experimentation.
Mr. Nwuke added the rapid pace or urbanization and relocation of populations from rural to urban areas also raises the need for the continent to interrogate the issues of cities as hubs of innovation for the continent’s transformation.
“By cities as hubs of innovation, we do not mean innovation cities, innovative cities, knowledge cities or smart cities,” he said as he set the tone for the SED 2016.
“A city that is a hub of innovation has all the above attributes and more. It is one that births innovations, ideas, technologies and transforms them through the market and other hierarchies to enhance or drive local as well as global competitiveness.
The SED 2016 is being held under the theme “African Cities as Hubs of Innovation for Africa’s Structural Transformation” and being co-hosted by the ECA and South Africa’s Science and Technology Department (DST).
African cities, Mr. Nwuke said, will be home to more than half the continent’s population by 2030 hence the need for such platforms as SED to come up with policy solutions that will help African countries to become true hubs of innovation that will change the lives of the ordinary people in particular.
He said African cities are underperforming as hubs of innovation for national and continental transformation, adding urgent action is required to address the situation.
Giving examples of Singapore and Dubai, which are major hubs of innovation, Mr. Nwuke said African cities can learn from others that have embraced technology and innovation well and done well in that respect.
Dubai and Singapore have done well, he said, because of supportive, dynamic and purposeful STI policy environment, STI institutions, global connectivity, developed infrastructure, aggressive human capital development, supportive business environment and high quality life, among others, making them magnets for foreign direct investment.
“Our hope is that this Dialogue, along with the report that will emerge from it, will help to improve our knowledge and understanding of how Africa’s emerging cities can be transformed into innovation hubs for the continent’s structural transformation,” said Mr. Nwuke.
“We also hope that this dialogue will make a number of recommendations for consideration and adoption by African governments at the city and national levels.”
South Africa’s Gauteng Premier, David Makhura, gave the keynote speech, challenging African governments to invest in their people.
“To unlock innovation, you must invest in your own people,” he said. “Investing in your own people also unlocks the potential of urbanization as a force for development and structural transformation on the continent.”
He said the challenges were there for African cities, adding opportunities were also there for the taking but only with political will, adding political leaders should not be scared of local leaders like mayors who are working hard to ensure there’s innovation in their respective areas that makes a difference in the ordinary people’s lives.
DST director general Phil Mjwara said science and technology is and will play a huge role in the transformation of African cities, urging governments to put money into the field.
He said South Africa is dedicating five percent of its GDP towards science, technology and innovation, adding this is impacting positively on the lives of ordinary people with universities and research institutions coming up with programmes that are beginning to bear fruit.
Experts are in the next three days expected to answer some of these questions; What are the factors fettering, constraining the rapid transformation of African cities into hubs of innovation similar to Dubai, Singapore or the US’s Silicon Valley; what can governments at all levels – city, regional, provincial, state and national do; are national STI policies sufficiently responsive to the challenge, can regional integration be an instrument for transforming Africa’s cities into hubs of innovation, are lessons from Dubai and Singapore transferable; why is it important to explore the role of African cities as hubs of innovation and what are some of the challenges that hinder African cities from transforming into such hubs.
Distributed by APO on behalf of United Nations Economic Commission for Africa ( UNECA ).