UN ECA’s 2020 Conference of Ministers to focus on industrialisation in the digital era

The fifty-third session of the Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) will be held in Addis Ababa from 18-24 March, 2020.

The theme of the conference; The future of Africa: Industrialization in the digital era, recognizes the continent’s desire to industrialize and create jobs for the millions of its populace, in particular the youth.

Although the fourth industrial revolution presents challenges for countries in Africa, it also offers an opportunity for boosting competitiveness and industrial leapfrogging, which cannot be missed.

To reduce poverty and catch up with other countries, policymakers and businesses in Africa need to adapt to and innovate within the new digital climate.

“The digital economy is transforming value chains, skills development, production and trade globally. Although the fourth industrial revolution may not yet be in immediate sight for Africa, these changes will have major implications for competitiveness and industrialization efforts across Africa,” says the ECA.

The ministers will discuss how African policymakers can position themselves to effectively assess both the opportunities and challenges that the digital economy presents, to enable nations to industrialize and prosper in the digital era.

Advancements in digital technology offer tools for countries in Africa to leapfrog in traditional industries such as manufacturing, but also other sectors and activities that are crucial to industrial development such as logistics, agriculture, communications, services, green growth and smart cities.

Without investments and capacity-building in these new technologies, however, many countries in Africa may fall further behind the technology frontier.

The ECA argues that the fourth industrial revolution must be responded to with new policies.

Both national and continental level strategies for industrial development will need to adapt to the new digital reality in order to position countries in Africa to innovate and to catch up with the digital era in a manner that is consistent with the principle of leaving no one behind.

Positioning countries will require the development of comprehensive digital industrialization strategies, investments in digital infrastructure and skills, innovation and technology transfer initiatives, and appropriate regulatory frameworks for the digital economy.

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) offers a platform for African governments to establish institutional arrangements for cooperation on the digital economy, and provisions to support digital capacities and industrialization and connect African businesses.

In that context, ECA in partnership with the African Union Commission are promoting the establishment of a common African technical standard for digital identification platforms so that the benefits of the digital economy are accessible in different African countries and regions.

The CoM 2020 theme will help raise awareness among African ministers of the need to ensure that digitalization strategies are integrated into policy and planning frameworks for industrialization.