[DAKAR] One of Africa's leading bankers has urged the continent to spend less time engaged in meetings and dialogues about the role of knowledge of science and technology in economic and social development — and more time putting such ideas into action.
Paul Baloyi, chief executive officer of the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), said yesterday (4 May) that the time had come to shift from rhetoric to application. "We need to convert knowledge into a productive force that can cure the many ills that face Africa," he said.
Baloyi was speaking at the opening of a three-day conference in Dakar, Senegal, on how Africa can use scientific and technical knowledge to boost its role in the global economy.
He added that developing the ability to put knowledge into use is particularly important at a time when the global economic crisis is making Africa aware of the disadvantages of being linked to a global economy, and it is becoming more difficult to raise the capital needed for large-scale investments on the continent.
"There seems to be no shortage of funds for conferences and international dialogues," he said. "But there are billions of dollars that have been earmarked for projects that Africa needs, and [we] are still waiting [for them] to be made available."
The Dakar meeting is the third in a series of international conferences organised under the theme of Knowledge Management in Africa (KMA). The first KMA conference was held in Johannesburg in 2005, and the second in Nairobi in 2007.
In a message delivered at the opening session, Abdoulaye Wade, the president of Senegal, emphasised the importance of managing knowledge effectively to achieve what he described as the "renaissance" of the African continent, pointing out that at present Africa provides only about two per cent of the world's economic output.
Wade said that the theme of the conference, which has attracted about 300 delegates from across Africa, underlines that there has been significant progress on the continent in areas such as biotechnology, information technologies and nanotechnologies, as well as new and renewable energy sources.
Wade made a particular plea for greater investment in the use of information technologies to promote distance-learning techniques in Africa, and for more research into ways of adding value to its natural resources. "Africa should fast-track the exploitation of its huge natural resources," he said.
Jean Pierre Ndiaye, the president of the National Academy of Science and Technology of Senegal — one of the main organisers of the Dakar meeting — emphasised the need to build the capacity of African countries to take full control of science as a critical step towards increasing their economic performance.
One important part of this strategy is building centres of scientific excellence across the continent that will interact with each other in promoting both training and research.
Ending the opening session of the conference, Snowy Khoza — executive vice-president of the DBSA responsible for communications strategy, and the person largely responsible for the KMA initiative — said that the three successive KMA meetings had demonstrated that scientific and technical knowledge were already contributing effectively to repositioning of Africa in the global economy.
"We believe that we as Africans have the knowledge to solve Africa's problems," she said, "We also believe that we can use scientific and African knowledge to ensure that Africa is well positioned in the world."