Experts from 21 African countries came together for the annual Senior Experts Dialogue on Science, Technology and the African Transformation Agenda held in South Africa last week.

The key discussion point was how innovation can be started at the municipal level, where governments engage directly with communities.

Participants agreed that investment needs to be directed towards solutions that can be integrated into local government structures in order to drive growth at the municipal level.

“It is good to talk about hubs of innovation in cities but hubs of innovation in dysfunctional cities will not work,” said Stellenbosch University’s Professor Mark Swilling.

From a governance point of view, he said, most cities in Africa are dysfunctional, with congestion, energy, water cuts and related issues. These failures are hampering growth, meaning that resources that could otherwise be used to improve the lives of citizens are often wasted or misdirected.

From a people point of view, we have extraordinary abilities so the key to survival in African cities is how we learn and learn and re-learn in the blink of an eye to adjust, shift, take an opportunity and innovate. Africa has the extraordinary capacity for innovation but we have to love ourselves, our culture and capacity first rather than look elsewhere because we can do this.Mark Swilling, Stellenbosch University

SED 2016 aimed to identify key elements and issues from local experiences that African governments, along with their international development partners, can take into account when formulating action plans to turn their cities 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", Gideon Adogbo, Advisor and Special Assistant in the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Nigerian Presidency said, adding that without investing in the youth, Africa will lag behind in the ICT arena.

“Innovation must be turned into money or should help cities save money,” Adogbo added, pointing out that over 150 million Nigerians were connected to the internet through their phones creating huge opportunities for innovators.

Speaking at the event, Jonathan Muringani, a technical advisor from The Research Institute of Innovation and Sustainability(RIIS), said that African cities need to put the right policies in place to give innovators direction.

“Beyond a policy perspective, cities must move towards a management perspective and say how do we go about it. The how goes beyond just writing and talking about it, into doing – identifying the challenges that must be addressed, identifying needs of the citizens, and also involving citizens in the process of innovation,” Muringani said.

Innovation, he added, should be sustainable, inclusive, ethical, responsive and futuristic, aiming to improve the quality of lives of the ordinary people otherwise it would not be worth it.

SED 2016 is expected to produce 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 is an initiative of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, and is hosted by the Department of Science and Technology in South Africa. The initiative is designed to support member states to harness science, technology and innovation for sustainable growth and development.

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