Wednesday, July 17, 2013 Africa: Science Is Key to Locally Adapting the Post-2015 Agenda

By Aida Opoku-Mensah
The recent UN high-level panel report on the post-2015 development agenda alludes to the potential of science, technology and innovation (ST&I) in development.

In fact, the document makes an explicit point about technology transfer: "The innovation, diffusion and transfer of technology is critical to realizing true transformation. Whether in information, transportation, communications or life-saving medicines, new technologies can help countries leapfrog to new levels of sustainable development". 

This is the crux of the matter. Governments will need to make massive investments in these sectors for ST&I to play a part in implementing this new global agenda.

But investments will need to be backed up by stronger alliances and serious efforts to adapt the new development objectives to national realities.

National context

Although the post-2015 framework is set to be global in nature, the high-level panel has called for goals, targets and indicators based on countries' own context and priorities. For the developing world, particularly Africa, adopting and adapting the framework cannot be done without due consideration of the level of ST&I input required to adapt the framework.

As a start, each country will need a national consultative process involving key stakeholders, including scientists, to begin giving this global framework a national character. This could result in several derivative frameworks but the consultative processes should lead to a global roadmap precisely setting out the how of implementation.

The African common position on the post-2015 development agenda - developed by the African Union Commission, the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the African Development Bank and the UN Development Programme and finalised in March - specifically identified ST&I as an urgent priority for Africa. 

It is during the development of the national roadmaps that an assessment of ST&I resources required for implementation should accompany plans for goals and targets. National roadmaps need to include such 'ST&I-readiness' that will provide the basis for measuring the effectiveness of rollout and implementation.

How this would work in practice, for Africa, could be the focus of a committee of heads of state and government on the post-2015 development agenda, which was established at the African Union Commission summit in May.

Resource management

Why focus on ST&I? Take the overarching goal of using resources wisely, as set out in the high-level panel report. Achieving this requires better management of resources and, ultimately, better use of technology.

In Africa, the lack of transparency in how natural resources are managed has undermined countries' development progress. Raw materials found on African soil, such as oil and gold, are mainly processed by countries outside the continent - with minimal benefit for African countries themselves.

In at least some cases, resource wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few Africans instead of going towards modernisation efforts for the public good, such as funding much-needed infrastructure or structurally transforming the economy to create jobs.

While good management of natural resources can generate funding for ST&I, the reverse is also true - that ST&I is needed for good management of natural resources, particularly in creating more valuable products through the processing of raw materials.

For instance, valuable products, such as furniture, could be manufactured from logged wood, and revenue from natural resources such as oil and gas could fund local scientists' work on greener energy.

Recently, Kenya's president, Uhuru Kenyatta, talked of the country needing a framework to nurture and commercialise inventions, innovations and their end products at both national and county levels.

Local innovation will need to be harnessed too - here, the Innovation Prize for Africa springs to mind, which supports African innovation and inventions in various fields.

Regardless of scale, across Africa, the industrial-manufacturing pipeline begins and ends with optimal use of ST&I. Investments in education, and research and innovation - backed by the appropriate industrial policies - are needed to promote structural transformation, industrialisation and manufacturing to generate employment for the continent's growing youth population.

"Every country that has experienced sustained high growth has done so through absorbing knowledge, technology and ideas from the rest of the world, and adapting them to local conditions", the report reiterates. "What matters is not just having technology, but understanding how to use it well and locally".

Science alliances

But the report goes further than that - it calls for a "global technology breakthrough", citing as an example the Partnership to Advance Clean Energy.

Through this collaboration, the US and Indian governments, as well as the private sector, have set up the US-India Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center. The overall initiative has already generated US$1.7 billion in public and private resources for clean energy projects in India.

Africa must form similar strategic technological and scientific alliances, in particular with the private sector, to better harness its resources to ensure a natural resource value chain that includes the discovery, extraction and management of associated benefits, such as creating agribusinesses from agriculture.

To transform economies and promote sustainable development, the application of ST&I is imperative. Similarly, using resources wisely requires cooperation, better management and ultimately better use of technology. Africa: Science Is Key to Locally Adapting the Post-2015 Agenda