Mauritian President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim has emphasised investing in Africa’s people will be a crucial step towards the continent reaching its development goals.
Gurib-Fakim was addressing delegates on the second day of the 5th Biennial RUFORUM Conference in Cape Town on Wednesday.
Gurib-Fakimk herself a scientist, told the audience: “I am convinced that the social and economic transformation of the African continent will happen only when higher education becomes central to the development debate…”
She pointed to the projected 11 million young people expected to enter the African job market every year over the next decade and said:
“This so-called demographic dividend offers tremendous opportunity to the continent as it will help build a valuable base of human capital that will serve as the engine for the economic transformation of our continent. More importantly, this tremendous intellectual force of well-trained scientists can make a major dent on the development challenges faced every day by Africans.”
With increasing pressures caused by climate change, the Mauritian president underscored the importance of building knowledge economies to ensure prosperity.
She offered the Mauritian BioPark as an example of a private-public partnership that is capitalising on the country’s people and its biodiversity, in order to help the island nation transition from manufacturing to a more intelligent economy.
“The recent setting up of the Planet Earth Institute in Mauritius, has gone that extra mile in showing that we are adding value to our greatest asset – human capital – through PhD programmes that will focus on Africa‘s priorities such as water and sanitation, agriculture and food security, energy, climate-related issues and ‘blue sky’ research.”
Gurib-Fakim pointed to the unexploited economic potential of IP on the continent and said the low rate of research output in Africa remains a serious concern:
“As a scientist, I lament that SSA with 12% of the global population only accounts for less than 1% of the world’s research output. And that no African nation was among the top 20 countries filing for patent applications in 2013.”
She added that local traditional knowledge and unique food products present opportunities for the use of the intellectual property system for generating wealth – an intangible asset that is of huge importance in other economies:
“New IP regimes have wide-ranging and well-documented socio-economic, cultural, technological and political impacts,” she said.
“In the global knowledge-based economy, intangible assets are key to any country‘s productivity and competitive advantage.”
Gurib-Fakim said despite the continent’s potential there is a long way to go and governments must urgently turn their attention to those who are being left behind.
She said if the continent had been faithful to the target set by the Lagos Plan of Action and the African Union for countries to allocate one percent of their GDP to science, the total amount would have been US$ 200 billion.
“In those circumstances, African countries would have legitimately set their research priorities according to their own agenda.
It is therefore becoming increasingly clear that African Governments as well as the private sector must take the firm commitment to invest in Science, Technology and Innovation, if the continent wants to participate and lead in the global knowledge economy.”
Gurib-Fakim ended her address with a plea to African governments to urgently turn their attention to those that are being left behind.
“I believe Africa and its leaders can rise to this challenge,” she said.
“If they do, Africa will become more prosperous, stable and equitable.”