Interview with Victor Konde, Scientific Affairs Officer at the Technology, Climate Change and Natural Resources Division, ECA
Q. The Science, Technology and Innovation Forum has become an integral part of the annual African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development on assessing SDGs implementation. What was the focus of the STI forum held in Niamey in early 2023?
VK: The Fifth Africa Regional STI Forum was hosted by the Government of Niger, the Forum was graced by Ministers various leaders from the UN system, the AUC, the private and public sectors. As organizers, we felt that it was important to focus on accelerating the development and diffusion of emerging technologies to build a green, inclusive and resilient Africa. Overall, it was an opportunity for renewed calls to scale up investment in research, infrastructure, human capital and innovation as well as advancing implementation of STI policies in order to fully benefit from the opportunities that emerging technologies present.
Q. For African stakeholders, what in your view is the value of linking the STI community to the ARFSD platform?
The STI forum is multi-stakeholder driven and it has grown into an important African platform for collaboration, for birthing new ideas and for reporting on new innovations that are critical to the implementation of the SDGs, such as the Origin Initiative. Most importantly, as Africans, we use the platform as a launch pad for raising our voice on the key actions needed to increase STI understanding and agreeing on concrete actions such as the Alliance of Entrepreneurial Universities in Africa, and the Technology Development and Transfer Networks. Such efforts bring governments, industry and R&D institutions to address challenges in their communities and generate solutions likely to have a regional impact.
The Forum placed the youth at the centre of the ARFSD. We hold bootcamps for young people during the STI events. We had 250 youth at the second STI Forum in Zimbabwe in 2020 and in Niamey, organized four bootcamps and hackathons addressing a variety of issues, including a virtual Youth Innovation and Design Bootcamp for 354 participants and 52 mentors and trainers. We organized a bootcamp for primary and secondary schools (60 students and teachers); a hackathon on climate change; and Connected Africa Girls’ Coding Camp, which was graced by the President of Niamey and the Deputy Secretary General of the UN. Africa is a young continent. Our approach is centred on the belief that youth are not just beneficiaries but need to become drivers of change now.
Q. In May, ECA and partners organized the inaugural STI in Africa Day, as part of the global multi-stakeholder forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDGs in New York. Could you highlight some key outcomes?
VK. The STI in Africa Day was a great opportunity to bring the African voice from Niamey directly to the Global Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDGs and how the world can help Africa achieve its development aspirations. For this reason, the STI in Africa Day focused on how Africa can leverage its: a) large and diverse diaspora, b) increasingly educated youthful population, c) its fast growing single market - the African Continental Free Trade Area, and d) immense natural resources to build a robust STI ecosystem that can accelerate national and regional development.
Some of the key outcomes include the establishment and launch of the STI in Africa Coalition co-founded by South Africa (Chair), Ethiopia, Ghana and Morocco. The Coalition aims to advocate for STI in Africa at the global level, help mobilize resources such as expertise and business opportunities among the diaspora with interest in Africa, and promote the work being undertaken by the Alliance, among others. It is a great opportunity, as countries in Africa can share experiences at the national and international level and take advantage of resources available globally.
Q. What’s next for ECA and its partners for the STI agenda?
VK: For ECA and our partners in the UN system, in private sector and across think tanks and member states, we need to scale up efforts to ensure Africa harnesses the emerging technological opportunities to leap forward or the continent will fall further behind. Massive disruptions are expected around biosciences, energy and the digital realm. For instance, in the area of energy costs, between 2000 and 2022, solar energy costs have fallen from $850 to $22 per MWHr and could reach a low price of $5 by 2040. The price of solar batteries has fallen from $1500 to $120 per kWHr and expected to reach $60. Prices are falling far more rapidly and today for technologies that often took 15 years. And for the first time in human history, we have access to technologies that could address most of the challenges we experience. African stakeholders must do more to help make a difference on the ground.
More importantly, I echo the Deputy Secretary-General’s call on STI in Africa Day that we risk falling short on many of our shared global promises – including to eliminate poverty and hunger, empower women and girls, act against climate change and biodiversity loss, and ensure access to quality education, clean energy and health care. We agree and support her call for concrete initiatives, proposals and partnerships that will help scale up ongoing efforts and establish new ones and her push for better collaboration across borders and disciplines to develop new solutions.
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