Five questions with Mr Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, Head of Africa, UNDP

This week we speak to Mr Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, Assistant Administrator and Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa, about their work and his views on science and technology on the continent. He was previously Chief of Staff and Director of UNDP’s Executive Office, and before that her oversaw the UNDP programme portfolios in the Middle East, Northern Africa and the Gulf Countries.

1. In June of this year in Dakar, Senegal, African country leaders and development actors gathered for the PASET (Partnership in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology for Skills in Development in Priority Sectors. As someone who has held a series of senior level positions in Senegal, how crucial do you think the role of science, engineering and technology is to drive economic transformation in the country?

These aspects are so important for the development of the continent that in July this year, the African Union adopted a Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa. The strategy reaffirms the aspiration of having African countries transition to “innovation-led, knowledge-based economies.” Science, technology, and innovation are key determinants of the ability of economies to sustain growth, and are critical to improving socio-economic conditions. For instance, the diffusion of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) may play an important role in developing new industries and boosting Africa’s competitive edge. By the same token, it can improve people’s economic prospects, facilitating access to banking, creating employment for young entrepreneurs and improving the way businesses operate. But Africa needs to invest in homegrown science to develop technologies that address its own unique challenges. For instance, the science-based agricultural revolution that has happened everywhere around the world has yet to take place in Africa, due to lack of investment in science, technology, and extension, as we explored in the Africa Human Development Report on Food Security, launched in May 2012. The unique combinations of agro-ecological conditions and crops that exist across Africa demand improved crops and harvesting techniques that can increase yields, empower farmers and bolster food security. The same can be said about health challenges – as the current Ebola outbreak in Africa so clearly demonstrates – and those relating to urbanization or demographic growth. There are also opportunities to embrace, such as universal access to sustainable energy, or climate change adaptation.

2. You were recently quoted as stating that the Ebola crisis in West Africa could threaten Africa’s fragile, already attained development gains that have been achieved through tourism, agriculture and private sector investment. What does this crisis tell us about the need for investment in science and medical research from African governments?

Evidently, science has an important role to play in finding a vaccine for the disease. There is also a case to be made for investing in research, health systems and infrastructure in the countries affected. But fundamentally, we must remember that the current outbreak is not just a health crisis. It is a development crisis associated with chronic poverty, lack of access to basic social services and limited capacity of governments to cope with large-scale emergencies. The current situation has its origins in recent developments in West Africa — such as demographic growth, deforestation and mining, leading to higher population density, and increased movement of people within and across borders. By the same token, if the crisis persists, it is also likely to have an impact on economic growth, development programmes and efforts to strengthen State institutions over time. This serves as an important reminder that the international community, together with affected countries, must keep investing in the long-term. This will in turn maximize the chances that such a crisis will not happen again.

3. After the publication of UNDP’s annual Human Development Report 2014, you called for the diversification of Africa’s economy in order to expand growth. What part do you see the education sector, private sector and entrepreneurs playing in this economic objective?

The Report makes the case that preventing shocks and promoting opportunities for all—especially for those most at risk of staying or falling back into poverty — can effectively help reduce vulnerabilities and build resilience. Strengthening education and entrepreneurship both have an important role to play in promoting strong and prosperous communities. They are also key to diversifying African economies, by building skills, creating businesses, promoting new economic sectors and increasing knowledge in the area of development. The key is to not just expand growth but to make sure that growth results in the creation of jobs, livelihoods, opportunities for men and especially women – who are often marginalized and unable to participate in decision-making.

4. Africa by in large is a young continent, what do you think is required to bring young people along into the Post 2015 development agenda?

Young people in Africa already have a keen interest in the post-2015 Development Agenda, as exemplified by their active participation in national consultations and the My World survey, supported by UNDP, which outlined, across the globe, national and regional priorities for when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire. Youth have their place in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which have targets on literacy and employment. They are also at the core of the Common African Position on the Post-2015 Agenda. In the context of Africa’s current youth bulge, young people are the most at risk when it comes to crime, violence and instability. But they also represent a huge asset for the continent, as the very actors of its development. The key is to make sure their aspirations are met with true opportunities and support. Because young women and men represent the future of our continent, we must allow them to make important decisions. We also have an obligation to help them find decent employment, create their own enterprises, network with one another and invest back into their communities.

5. The latest Economic Report on Africa published by the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the African Union urged Africa to build credible institutions to boost industrialization.  What role do you think science can play in this?

Advances in science and technology are the ultimate determinants of economic and social progress. Africa needs a scientific and educational infrastructure that is able not only to draw lessons from other countries, and adapt them for local contexts, testing new initiatives and providing incentives for their wider adoption, but also develop home-grown science and technology for the unique challenges faced by people in Africa – as the examples above illustrated, on agriculture, health, and energy. Economic diversification in Africa requires both the adoption of existing technologies, and the development of home-grown innovations.

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