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Africa's cities urged to bring technology to the masses

02 November 2016

Local government leaders across the continent have been urged to ramp up investment in technology and innovation in a bid to drive growth at municipal level.

African innovators attending the Senior Experts Dialogue (SED 2016) on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) believe that innovation needs to start at municipal level where government engages directly with communities.

Photo: (l-r) Dr Phil Mjwara, Director General of the Department of Science and Technology and Gauteng Premier David Makhura

The SED meeting that took place in Tshwane/Pretoria, 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.

Addressing the conference, the Premier of Gauteng, David Makhura, said the development of cities as innovation hubs is relevant and urgent for Africa.

Billions of young people in the world live in cities, and ICT infrastructure needs to be developed in all big cities in Africa.

"Cities are exciting places for young people. Cities must be able to attract skills and this can be done through the deployment of technologies," the Premier said.

According to Dr Kasirim Nwuke, Chief of the New Technologies and Innovation Section in the Economic Commission for Africa's Special Initiatives Division, cities can no longer be places for selling goods, but should strive to deploy technology for development of the continent.

Dr Nwuke said African cities were under-performing as hubs for national and continental transformation, and said that urgent action was required.

He added that the continent has reduced research and development (R&D) investment and should learn from countries such as Singapore and Dubai.

"These countries have supportive, dynamic and purposeful STI policy environments and institutions. They have high R&D expenditure relative to size."

Singapore ranked number 1 and Dubai 31 out of 189 countries in the world for the easiest places to do business.  The countries are assessed against criteria including housing, access to a social network, infrastructure and quality of air.

The Department of Science and Technology's initiatives, such as the Spatial Temporal Evidence for Planning South Africa (StepSA), is a support tool aimed at promoting innovation and evidence to support effective service delivery and high impact public investment in cities, towns and rural settlements, have been developed.

The Director-General of Science and Technology, Dr Phil Mjwara, said that the Department, in partnership with the Human Sciences Research Council, has also developed a municipal innovation maturity index, which can be used to assess the level of maturity of cities and municipalities in adopting innovation and technology to improve service delivery.

"It is evident that with better management of cities we can actually manage to build cities that are sustainable and innovative. Improving the competiveness of cities will reduce poverty and increase shared prosperity through the creation of millions of additional jobs," he said.

Some of the outcomes expected from SED 2016 are the production of 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 United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, is hosted by the Department of Science and Technology. The initiative is designed to support member states to harness STI to drive their economies

Experts from 21 African countries are attending the event, including South African metros such as the Cities of Tshwane, Johannesburg and Cape Town.

South African Department of Science and Technology

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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February/March 2020

 
 
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