A ten-member panel has been appointed by the outgoing chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission to advise the continent on use of existing and emerging technologies for economic development.

According to the AU Commission’s implementing agency, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), African countries need to strengthen legal and regulatory systems on emerging technologies.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the outgoing chairperson of the AU Commission, announced the panel last month (18 December) in South Africa.

“The adoption of every technology is sometimes associated with controversies bordering on the mix of benefits and potential adverse effects.”Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, The AU Commission

"The adoption of every technology is sometimes associated with controversies bordering on the mix of benefits and potential adverse effects,” Dlamini-Zuma says.

Dlamini-Zuma added that NEPAD will work closely with the panel whose work will include assessing the ethical and safety requirements and standards of emerging technologies.

Aggrey Ambali, NEPAD head of industrialization, science, technology and innovation, tells SciDev.Net that the panel is made up of distinguished individuals who will use their experience and knowledge to identify and recommend technologies for the continent.

“There is no predetermined priority area,” says Ambali. “The practice is that we give the panel some flexibility to consider … terms of reference that we have proposed and also decide on scheduling of its work.”

Calestous Juma, international development professor at Harvard Kennedy School in the United States, will co-chair the panel with Yaye Kène-Gassama Dia, a professor at Senegal-based Cheikh Anta Diop University and Senegal’s former minister of scientific research.

Juma says that mobile phones have changed the routine of technologies becoming available on the continent in their twilight hours.

"These are the lessons that inspired African leaders to set up a high-level advisory panel that keeps its eyes on the frontiers of new technologies so they can shape them to their needs,” Juma says.

Francis Nang’ayo, senior manager of regulatory affairs at Kenya-based African Agriculture Technology Foundation, says agriculture is one area that would especially benefit from the use of technologies.

He adds that about ten years ago the AU Commission established a similar panel that was mandated to consider the strategic roles that technological innovations could play in transforming African economies, thus making the new panel’s establishment timely.

“Ten years down the road, [it] is important that Africa takes stock of the journey so far traveled, review practical experiences and lessons and consolidate any gains realized to refocus the continent’s development narrative around emerging technologies,” Nang’ayo tells SciDev.Net.

Cover Image Credit: DFID UK / Madame Zuma, Outgoing Chairperson of AUC

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

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