Back Tech learning & Innovation to Sustain Economic Growth, UN Tells Ethiopia

ADDIS ABEBA – A latest UNCTAD review shows how improved use of science, technology and innovation policies can build innovation capacity, upgrade technologies and accelerate Ethiopia’s development process.

Ethiopia’s ambitious development plans have propelled it to become one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

It has recorded an average real gross domestic product growth of 10% annually over the past decade and attracted foreign direct investment inflows worth US$3.3 billion in 2018.

The country also reduced extreme poverty from 37.2% of the population in 2004 to 27.3% in 2015, thanks to its bold and ambitious economic development strategy.

However, Ethiopia’s progress in technological learning and innovation must be strengthened to underpin future progress in sustainable development and support structural economic transformation, says UNCTAD’s science, technology and innovation policy (STIP) review of the country.

Launched in Addis Ababa on Friday, the review evaluates innovation capacity, policies and institutions in Ethiopia..

The STIP review contrasts Ethiopia’s rapid economic growth with much slower growth in technological learning and innovation capacity as a major obstacle to sustaining this impressive performance and achieving more sustainable development.

It shows that on paper, Ethiopia has most of the policies, regulations, background studies and roadmaps necessary to kick-start a successful process of technological learning, innovation and technological upgrading.

However, in reality the country faces challenges in policy implementation across public institutions related to capacity constraints and sub-optimal allocation of efforts and resources.

“Innovation ultimately takes place at the firm-level, but the state plays a key role as a facilitator of the national innovation system,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology. “The state is the glue that holds the innovation system together.”

The report finds that hurdles to technological progress are largely due to deficiencies in design processes, in particular with implementation and evaluation, rather than a lack of policies, strategies and institutions.
Improved policy coordination and greater coherence across key areas of development policy are needed, according to the review.

UNCTAD prepared the policy review at the request of the Ethiopian government to support the technology ministry in preparing a new science, technology and innovation (STI) policy.

Both UNCTAD and Ethiopia said the review process is timely, taking place at a critical juncture in the country’s development.

“Through our home-grown economic reform and 10-year strategy, Ethiopia aims to become a middle-income economy,” said Getahun Mekuria, the country’s minister of innovation and technology.

“Innovation and technology are the main drivers for attaining this goal, and the STIP review will help us towards this objective,” Getahun added.

The STIP review notes that Ethiopia needs to build its productive capacities to add greater value, produce a wider range of products, diversify the economy and generate higher income.

Like other least developed countries, Ethiopia’s productive capacity must be reinforced, the report says.