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Africa puts innovation on the post-MDG agenda

Leaders agree R&D should be development priority after 2015

African leaders have agreed to push research, education and innovation as priority development areas in the successor to the soon-to-expire Millennium Development Goals.

The continent’s development priorities after the MDG’s 2015 deadline are outlined in ‘MDG Report 2012’, which was endorsed by African heads of state on 16 July.

The report, written the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and published at the 19th summit of the African Union in Addis Ababa, assesses Africa’s progress toward the goals.

It says that while the continent has made significant gains in areas such as expanding access to education and healthcare, challenges remain in spreading Africa’s wealth more equitably.

One of the three priorities it identifies is to “promote educational and technological innovation”. The other two are “promote transformation and sustainable growth” and “promote human development”.

The education and technology priority would strengthen education all the way up to university as well as promoting investment in research and development and technology transfer.

Investing in human and institutional capacities as well as technological innovation are “critical drivers of sustainable development”, the report says.

Significant shift

The new priorities mark a change from those that dominated when the MDGs were forged in the early 2000s, says Myles Wickstead. He headed the Commission for Africa, set up by then British prime minister Tony Blair, that helped produce the Africa communiqué adopted by the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005.

“I do think things have changed and we can expect to see a shift towards a greater focus on post-primary education—and particularly the need to create skills for employment, about which there is a good deal of discussion now,” he says.

The African position will feed into the global discussion on post-MDG development goals.

This will be hammered out by a complex set of actors over the next two to three years, says Wickstead, who is a visiting professor of international relations at the Open University in the UK.

Apart from the G8, these actors include the G20 grouping of finance ministers from developed and developing countries. An inter-governmental task force for sustainable development set up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, earlier this year will also be among those having a say.

“Bringing all that together is essential but will be very complex,” says Wickstead.