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African Economic Conference 2014: Knowledge and Innovation Critical for Africa's Transformation

Decision-makers and business leaders, economists and academics from across the globe meet here today for the annual African Economic Conference (AEC). The meeting will last until 3 November and allow them to discuss how to harness knowledge and innovation for the continent's economic transformation.

The 9th edition of the meeting will be officially opened by Ethiopian Minister of Science and Technology Demitu Hambisa, African Development Bank (AfDB) Acting Chief Economist and Vice-President Steve Kayizzi-Mugerwa, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Executive Secretary Carlos Lopes, United Nations Development Programme Resident Representative to Ethiopia Eugene Owusu, and African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Conference participants will look at how development knowledge is generated and shared, as well as how effectively African countries are in preparing their youths to enter the job market and support Africa's agenda for peace, prosperity and integration.

Organized each year by AfDB, UNECA and UNDP, the conference will build on the African Union's Agenda 2063 and the African Common Position on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which has identified science, technology and innovation as key pillars of Africa's development.

"African countries are aware that their development hinges on how fast and how well their citizens acquire the skills and technological competencies needed to be competitive in today's global market," said AfDB President Donald Kaberuka. "The fact is, there exists a gaping skills deficit in areas that are critical to the transformation of the continent. Africa's stock of graduates is still highly skewed towards the humanities and social sciences, while the share of students enrolling in science, technology, engineering and mathematics averages less than 25 percent."

Development of a robust private sector is considered as a strong prerequisite for inclusive growth and the creation of jobs.

"African enterprises can only develop and influence the breadth and depth of industrial linkages if they harnessed the skills and technologies needed to upgrade production processes, and identify market opportunities," said Carlos Lopes of ECA. "Similarly, African businesses will need to step up competitiveness, meet global standards and adopt world-class manufacturing practices to qualify for entry into the global value chain."

"The key is to make sure people are at the center of the development process," said Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, Director of UNDP's Regional Bureau for Africa. "Innovation, economic diversification, creation of a vibrant economy driven by small and medium-sized enterprises: these need to result in the creation of jobs and livelihoods, and empowerment of women and men so as to enable them to save and invest in the future."

The conference will have plenary and break-out sessions featuring presentations and discussions by prominent academics, policy-makers, business actors – including emerging technological/digital entrepreneurs and youth – and opinion leaders, as well as representatives of international organisations.

In addition, the conference will discuss the role of innovation in promoting resilience to shocks and long-term threats to Africa's stability and prosperity. Special attention will be paid to the role of innovation in combatting the Ebola crisis. It is expected that the outbreak will have serious long-term economic repercussions.

"The effects – the macroeconomic effects, the social effects, the broader economic effects – we will be dealing with them quite a few years down the road," Kaberuka said recently, noting that GDP growth figures in the three most affected countries continue to be revised downward.

The AEC was first launched in 2006 by the AfDB, ECA and UNDP with a mandate to foster dialogue and the exchange of knowledge on economic issues and challenges facing Africa.

SOURCE African Development Bank (AfDB)

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