Sep 04, 2020 | News

The African Union High Level Panel on Emerging Technologies

The ability to harness the power of technology and engineering to solve social problems must be accompanied by complementary adaptations in social institutions. These advances will, in turn, demand the emergence of more scientifically and technologically enlightened societies guided by democratic principles in the social, political, and cultural arenas. ~ Calestous Juma, 2016[i]

The African Union High Level Panel on Emerging Technologies

Opinion by Dr Justina Dugbazah, Senior Programme Officer for Education and Social Development at the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD)

The Heads of State and Government directed the NEPAD Agency in 2016 to establish a system for obtaining expert contributions on the matters of technology development, and acquisition and deployment for economic development. To this end, the African Union established a ten-member African Union High-Level Panel on Emerging Technologies (APET) composed of eminent experts to advise the Union, its various organs, and Member States on how Africa should harness emerging technologies for economic development. The APET in its advisory role to Member States, provides an opportunity for the continent to leverage on current and emerging technologies that have high potential to transform Africa’s science base into a competitive advantage. 

The challenges that APET aims to overcome

A study of the African situation shows that leaders, senior officials, policymakers and other stakeholders must be provided with evidence-based policy choices that will enable them to make informed decisions in harnessing emerging technologies for the socio-economic development of the continent.  APET performs this function through the provision of advice and recommendations to Member States on the application and use of emerging technologies and proposes appropriate strategies and policies.  

Unpacking emerging technologies and building a culture of science, technology and innovation

APET conducted a survey to ascertain emerging technologies of potential economic importance. The panel identified ten emerging technologies as priority areas of relevance for Africa’s socio-economic development.  These are: Gene drives; Microgrids; Drones for precision agriculture; Next-generation medicine; Artificial intelligence;  Urban agriculture; Synthetic Biology (Gene Editing); 3D printing; Next-generation batteries; and Water purification.

Of the ten technologies, the Panel has analysed the first set of three technologies viz; (i) gene drives for control and elimination of malaria, (ii) drones for increasing agricultural productivity, and (iii) micro-grids for alleviating Africa energy insufficiency. 

The outcomes of the analyses have been published into reports where recommendations contained therein were endorsed by the African Union Heads of State and Government at the January 2018 AU Summit. The reports were launched in Kigali on June 8, 2018, at the Africa Innovation Summit under the auspices of the African Union Chair, Rwanda. Additionally, the Panel is analysing four more technologies which are Gene Editing, Artificial Intelligence, BlockChain and Next-generation Batteries. Members of the panel are also being called upon to present their findings and recommendations at several fora on the continent. 

APET made its recommendations on the three emerging technologies, taking into account the situational analysis of the continent, including knowledge management, capacity, regulatory and ethical considerations.  APET argues that Africa cannot afford to play the “waiting game” in putting together regulatory requirements for technologies that are on the horizon.  The panel articulates that African countries should be actively involved and come up with harmonized policies, guidelines and standard operating procedures taking advantage of its regional integration agenda. The three reports serve as valuable resources in unpacking emerging technologies and building a culture of science, technology and innovation.

Areas of future focus

The role of APET is now demand-driven and expanding in providing advice and guidance on technology policies, strategies, directions, and priorities to Member States to ensure effective and transparent decision-making related to the management and harnessing of emerging technologies in Africa.  APET is enhancing its work for the next 5-10 years to enable the panel to accommodate demands from Member States on the implementation of its recommendations, and also continue to analyse other technologies that would boost socio-economic development of the continent.

As emerging technologies spread inexorably, APET seeks to provide expanded and continuous guidance and platforms for engaging Member States. The goal is to provide a set of tools for governments to interpret the current and potential role emerging technologies currently play in sustainable development on the African continent. APET also has an important role to play in strengthening the use of research evidence on emerging technologies and enhancing the ability of policy-makers to make appropriate judgments about their relevance in achieving significant socio-economic benefits for Africa. 

[i] Juma, C. (2016). Innovation and its enemies: Why people resist new technologies. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.