ECOWAS must build human capital in science and technology – Omar Alieu Touray

The ECOWAS Commission has organized the First ever Africa Research and Innovation Forum (FARI 2022) in collaboration with the Nigerian Government through the Federal Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (FMST&I) in Abuja, Nigeria.

The theme of the forum “Science, Technology and Innovation for a more Competitive ECOWAS” reflects the numerous challenges in the World economy as member states of the ECOWAS look inwards for a better and brighter sub-region.

The event which runs from 17th – 21st October 2022 will feature technical sessions and panel discussions by local and international experts.

In his address at the opening ceremony, the President of the ECOWAS Commission, H. E. Dr. Omar Alieu Touray welcomed all to the first edition of the African Forum for Research and Innovation (FARI) and expressed deep appreciation to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and his government for their exemplary commitment and tireless efforts for the implementation of the sub-region’s priorities, especially, in the areas of regional integration. He stated that the theme of the forum was apt due to the contribution of Science, Technology, and Innovation to the development and competitiveness of our region. 

He explained that “The triptych of science, technology and innovation is both a driving force for the structural transformation of economies and a factor of integration into the world economy. They play a key role in the achievement of many development objectives. Speaking of innovation, it is at the heart of knowledge-driven economies. It is essential to competitiveness and is one of the major drivers of economic growth, social welfare and adaptation to the environment. It is a factor in the modernisation of education systems, agricultural production, predictability of seasons, etc. and a potential source of job creation and poverty alleviation”.

Stating the commitment of ECOWAS to technological innovation, the President said that ECOWAS has through Article 27 of the Charter on Scientific and Technological Cooperation, the Directive (A./DIR. 1/06/12) on Science, Technology and Innovation and the Supplementary Act (A/SA.2/06/12) adopting the ECOWAS Policy on Science, Technology and Innovation (ECOPOST) considered science and technology as a key area for growth and competitiveness of its Member States with FARI being part of Pillar 4 of the ECOWAS Vision 2050.

He further stated “The link between technological expertise and economic growth is quite clear. Harnessing new technologies increases productivity and improves employment prospects and the possibility of moving up the production value chain. Therefore, to be more competitive, expand trade and remove trade barriers, Africa, especially, our region, needs to expand its knowledge and skill in science and technology. Building human capital in science and technology is key if our region aims to leverage its strengths.

Speaking further, the President said that “Investing in research and innovation can help to overcome this barrier by providing teachers with high-quality training and encouraging national and regional science and technology research at all levels of the education system. I welcome the creation by ECOWAS of the Research and Innovation Support Programme (PARI), which provides grants of 400,000 USD every year for regional research. The programme will strengthen regional cooperation in research through the creation of a consortium of multidisciplinary and multilingual researchers and will ensure succession in research through the training of young researchers.”

He added that the forum would allow the youth to showcase their ideas and creativity through an exhibition of start-ups from ECOWAS Member States as well as discussions on important topics such as vision, the funding of science, technology and innovation, capacity building, issues related to artificial intelligence and Open Science, research and job creation.

In his goodwill address at the event, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari whose speech was delivered by his Chief of Staff, Prof Ibrahim Gambari commended the organisers for choosing such an appropriate theme given the numerous challenges in the world economy as the sub-region seek to understand the opportunities available and how we should look inwards for a better and brighter ECOWAS.

He said Science, Technology and Innovation provides opportunities for finding solutions to the myriad of challenges affecting our region and for researchers to network among themselves for a better future. He added that Nigeria had long recognized STI as the driver of National development plan (2021-2025) and has given its youthful population the appropriate environment to achieve their dreams in innovation by passing legislation that governs and provides level -playing field via the Nigerian Start-up bill, which has been passed by our National Assembly.

He promised Nigeria’s commitment to strengthening the collaboration with STI experts, alongside the provision of technical advice, methodologies and guidance to ECOWAS member states as integral parts of their respective national development policies and plans.

The Honourable Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Adeleke Olorunnimbe Mamora, in his goodwill speech, expressed his appreciation for the organizers of the forum and said the idea of having the Forum was initiated in 2016 when the Ministers in charge of Science, Technology and Innovation met in Accra, Ghana where they deliberated on the need to have a forum of researchers and innovators to exchange and share ideas on the scientific and technical organization aimed at improving public understanding of the role of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) for the socio-economic development of the West Africa region.

He further stated that “the Forum was equally targeted at improving the region’s scientific and technological research including creating a regular framework for dialogue between all the scientific and innovation actors as well as provision of results of research and technological results by researchers which would be served as an avenue for networking between and amongst actors of Research and Development (R&D) and the private sector”.

He added that FARI is a strong and exciting project capable of stimulating innovation in the Africa scientific ecosystem towards supporting researchers and young innovative companies within the region in the forum.

In another goodwill message, the Director, Dakar Regional Office and OIC Abuja Regional Office, Dr. Dimitri Sanga, said that the clock is ticking for all countries, including those in Africa, to reach their Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

He added that countries are convinced that their future economic competitiveness will depend upon how quickly they transition to digital and green societies driven by Science, Technology and Innovation (STI).

He expressed UNESCO commitment and support to ECOWAS Member States in their efforts to reform and upgrade national STI systems and governance which will ultimately lead to greater inclusivity and resilience through enhanced capacity to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union 2063 Development Agenda.

Over 60 experts from fifteen (15) ECOWAS Member States, African and global organisations and institutions will participate in twelve discussion panels. The discussions will be expanded at the political level by Ministers of Science and Technology and representatives of African and global organisations and institutions. At the end of the Forum, there will be a declaration by the Ministers to guide the role of Science and Technology in building the competitiveness of our region.

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