STISA-2024: Debating Africa’s “Blueprint” for Science, Technology & Innovation

The desire to enhance the strategic use of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), and public policies in achieving Africa’s socio-economic and development aspirations started decades ago. We know that as early as in the 1970s efforts to build relevant science and technology (S&T) capabilities in Africa (pdf) were well underway, both supported from within Africa and by international organisations. There is now no nation in the continent without an explicit or implicit S&T or STI policy – either as a standalone policy or embedded in another national or development policy.

A similar situation exists at continental level, i.e. in the African Union (AU). The history of the AU’s pro-STI policies includes the Monrovia Strategy of 1979, the Lagos Plan of Action (1980), and more recently Africa’s Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action (2006).

Given this background, the publication of a new 10-year Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024), adopted by African Union Heads of State at a Government Summit in June 2014, comes as no surprise.

STISA itself is part of the long-term AU Agenda 2063 which is underpinned by STI as enablers for achieving continental development goals. Agenda 2063 calls for the diversification of sources of growth and sustenance of Africa’s current economic performance, and in the long-run, the lifting of large sections of the population out of poverty. The strategy aims to foster social transformation and economic competitiveness through developing human capital, innovation, value addition, industrialisation and entrepreneurship.

Previous commentaries on STISA (for example by Linda Nordling, Dave Ockwell, and Gillian Marcelle) and a recent debate on STISA organised by South Africa’s HSRC have highlighted some of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the strategy.

Building on these insights, we find that in spite of the efforts put into the development and dissemination of STISA by our colleagues at the African Union, given the constraints and contexts within which they carry out their work, many gaps remain not only in the substance of STISA, but also in the policy processes of its formulation and implementation.

Concrete steps

As a contribution to STISA, public policies and the future directions for STI policymaking in Africa, I will be co-convening a workshop at the University of Sussex on 11 August 2015. The workshop goes beyond critiques and examines concrete steps for STISA and STI in Africa – what more can and needs to be done to ensure success, both in STISA and in Africa’s sustainable socio-economic growth and inclusive development targets, through an innovation-led pathway.

In this one-day workshop, a wide spectrum of participants from Africa, Europe and America will debate STISA and address critical questions that include:

  1. How does STISA fit into Africa’s broad development strategy?
  2. How do we deal with governance and its impact on STI in Africa (institutions, ecosystems, landscape, dynamics and the factors shaping these)?
  3. Beyond the African Union and its agencies, what role for citizens in STISA and STI issues in Africa (taking into account the concrete realities on ground in the nation states)?
  4. What roles for the Diaspora (over and beyond remittances, in e.g. knowledge production and circulation, science diplomacy, and policymaking)?
  5. How do we fund STISA (issues of STI funding in general, financing innovation in Africa, new finance models and sources of investments)?
  6. STI policymaking in Africa: challenges, prospects and future directions (of policy processes, policy learning versus policy transfer (“best practices”); the tensions between mission-oriented versus inclusive/grassroots innovation policies for development; gaps in policy capabilities and remedies)?

Participants and panellists

STI and public policies are broad and all-encompassing areas of research, policy and practice that cover every aspect of modern societies. In addition, we note that STI is not limited to formal institutions or formal research and development (R&D) only, but that STI also draws from informal sectors, knowledge, and S&T.

Given this context, the participants and panellists have been drawn from a variety of disciplines and sectors – from medicine and public health specialists to economists and farmers; environmentalists and activists to engineers and consultants; journalists and lawyers to academic researchers and parliamentarians; policy practitioners to policymakers; and from young to old. This offers opportunities for a well-rounded debate and engagement on the issues.

About the workshop

The workshop debate – convened by Chux Daniels (SPRU, University of Sussex, UK) and Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, USA) – forms part of a series of research activities, policy dialogue and engagement with parties interested in STI and public policy as tools for Africa’s inclusive development. The workshop is jointly hosted by Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); the Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS) Centre; SPRU Africa Network (SAN); African Technology Policy Studies UK (ATPS UK) Network; Sussex Africa Centre (SAC); and the University of Sussex (UoS).

At the end of the day there will be a panel debate open to a wider audience. You can find more details on the event page.

Chux Daniels is an active science, technology and innovation (STI) policy researcher, manager and consultant. His current areas of academic interest include STI, public policies, policymaking, capabilities, (inclusive and grassroots) development, business and management. He is on Twitter at @chuxdaniels.


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