Using innovation to drive socio-economic transformation in Africa Post COVID-19

Sonwabise Mzinyathi, Chair of the South African Women in ICT Forum

Sonwabise Mzinyathi – COVID-19 caused enormous economic disruption worldwide. The lockdown implemented by governments in order to adhere to social distancing and other  COVID-19 protocols saw an unprecedented collapse in industries. In fact, according to global data, the COVID-19 impact on the global economy is expected to cause a contraction of $7 trillion in 2020.

There are many challenges this contraction has caused on the African continent in particular. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that COVID-19 will put African economies in a downturn of +/-1.4% GDP and even smaller economies to contract to +/- 7.8% as a result of the global economic contraction. In the future, we anticipate that the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area will diversify African economies to the extent of protecting them from global volatility but for now, they have suffered devastating losses from the impact of COVID-19.

According to the World Bank, the pandemic could also drive up to 40 million people into extreme poverty in Africa in 2020, erasing at least five years of progress in fighting extreme poverty. Containment measures have come with a high economic cost; notably not just on the continent, but worldwide. Now is the time for countries to implement policies and programs that create jobs and accelerate socio-economic transformation to reduce the impact of the pandemic and to build back the capabilities needed to ensure inclusive economic growth into the future.

Read more: What if we get the unconnected in Africa connected?

In concurrence with the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), the impact of COVID-19 has created a “new normal” culture with increased reliance on innovation and emerging technologies. These technologies are imperative in addressing new problems posed by the pandemic as well as existing problems that have not been adequately addressed by existing solutions. In the immediate, the African continent will need to use innovative solutions to strengthen its health systems in response to COVID-19 but also for the future of our society. Innovation that will address health diagnostics, epidemiology, research and vaccine development, health equipment and leveraging African health knowledge systems will be vital in our build back process.

Innovation will also be key in the systematic restoration of the continent as we build back food security, industrialization, manufacturing, infrastructure and emerging technologies that emanate from the fourth industrial revolution. It will become even more critical with the growth of not only a youthful but also a women-led African workplace – leading to new economic, entrepreneurial and educational opportunities for a segment of society that has been economically marginalised.

For innovation to thrive and drive sustainable socio-economic transformation however, there is a need to strengthen legal and regulatory systems on emerging technologies in Africa at the continental, regional and national level. There is and will continue to be a growing need for responsible regulation of innovation using emerging technologies without imposing an undue burden on adoption.

Lastly, governments will need to be capacitated to inform strategies on effectively harnessing innovation and emerging technologies to address current and post COVID-19 reconstruction in key sector areas such as health, food security and nutrition, education and e-learning, science, technology and innovation, policy and national planning systems, communication, advocacy and community engagement, global partnerships, and domestic and foreign direct investment. We hope these are in fact discussions and solutions that are already in motion.

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