A teacher holds a thermometer to take learners' temperatures at the entrance of a school on their first day back, after a nationwide lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID19) in Cape Town, South Africa, June 1, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]
As African countries continue to open up their economies, experts and leaders have reiterated that science, technology and innovation will be at the heart of the continent's recovery from the devastating coronavirus pandemic.
Experts participating in the ongoing five-day virtual COVID-19 Africa Innovation and Investment Forum 2020, which kicked off on Monday, said science, technology and innovation will enable Africa to create sustainable jobs.
Vera Songwe, the executive director of the Economic Commission for Africa, said Africa needs innovation to drive homegrown solutions out of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic recession it has triggered the world over.
"We need investments in innovation, science and technology to understand how we can protect our citizens and also as a way of growing out of this crisis. That is why, for a very long time, the commission has been talking of the importance of intellectual property rights to protect the innovations of Africa's youth," Songwe said.
She said the current costs of intellectual property registration on the continent were prohibitive and not rewarding innovation.
"This is not a strategy for growth. As we talk of science, technology and innovation, we also need to make sure our policymakers ensure our technological platforms are robust," Songwe said.
She said the virus has highlighted the importance of science, technology and innovation and the need for Africa to build a much stronger and more collaborative scientific technology industrial base.
"Partnerships are needed across the continent to ensure that as we build on the African Continental Free Trade Area, we develop, discover and innovate collaboratively," Songwe said.
She said Africa also needs to come together to see how it can be part of the big drive to find a vaccine for coronavirus and other diseases affecting the continent.
"If Africa is to succeed in getting out of this crisis in a sustainable way, technology is going to have to be the cornerstone of that success," Songwe said.
She added the continent needs to innovate collectively and support its youth to innovate by creating the necessary infrastructure to create quality jobs, spur economic growth and promote health.
Songwe said it's unacceptable that only 25 percent of Africa's population has access to quality, affordable and reliable broadband.
"We surely can do more to improve internet penetration on the continent, especially as a lot of jobs and wealth are going to come out of innovation," she said.
Getahun Mekuria, Ethiopia's education minister, said Africa has a lot of assets, from its vast natural resources to its youth.
"However, we will continue to lag exponentially behind if we do not fuel our own innovations," Mekuria said.
Sarah Agbor, the African Union commissioner for human resources, science and technology, said lack of capacity is a major issue the continent needs to address.
"We need to boost strategic investments in science, technology and innovation if we are to deliver Africa's aspirations as enunciated in Agenda 2063," she said.
Agbor said the private sector has a key role to play in helping the continent translate research into innovation.
Hubert Gijzen, the regional director and representative for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations regional office for Southern Africa, said while African countries are currently focused on combating the coronavirus, they should not forget the sustainable development goals.
He said the crisis has encouraged open science as the search for a cure and vaccination continues, and linking investment to innovation is critical.