Rabat, 5 November 2020 – The ECA office for North Africa, the UNESCO Maghreb office and the Policy Center for the New South held on Wednesday, November 4th a webinar on “Innovation and New Technologies in North Africa in the Context of COVID-19”.
The meeting aimed to determine how North African countries can seize the opportunities provided by the technological innovations made during the COVID19 crisis to better navigate post pandemic, global economic trends; and how they can use them to restore, strengthen growth and facilitate job creation for their bulging young population.
“This crisis has brought several, major changes, many of which will stay with us even after we bring the pandemic under control. They include the emergence of more concentrated value chains and new strategic sectors, the acceleration of the 4th industrial revolution and its impact on employment, both globally and in North Africa. This confirms that North African economies not only need to navigate the ongoing crisis, but also to make sure they are not left behind as the global economy recovers and transforms”, said Khaled Hussein, interim director at the ECA Office for North Africa.
“COVID-19 has revealed the vital role of new technologies in the management of this crisis, and how they can provide innovative, and sometimes revolutionary solutions in a diversity of areas. North Africa should take advantage of this technological evolution to build a new economy based on knowledge and creativity”, added Golda El Khoury, UNESCO representative for the Maghreb Region, also stressing the need for countries to generalize the use of ICTs in their education systems, and to adapt educational techniques to online learning.
Experts estimate that global economic recovery from the COVID-19 economic crisis is likely to start only in 2021, with repercussions likely to be felt over several years. This 2020, North Africa is expected to experiment a -1.8% GDP drop due to the crisis’ impact on key sources of foreign currency. The sub-region is also expected to lose about 5 million jobs in 2020 and may see more employments threatened by the global acceleration of the 4th industrial revolution in reaction to the pandemic.
Since the appearance of COVID-19, North African countries have taken significant measures to face the pandemic including an increased use of new technologies. In order to consolidate the measures taken and facilitate a faster economic recovery, the webinar agreed on several recommendations including:
- the need for countries to set up robust legal frameworks around the online economy, to create innovation friendly ecosystems which provide better protection for intellectual property;
- increased public and private financing for R&D and its inclusion in national economic recovery programmes;
- increasing market opportunities for SMEs and innovative start-ups to go beyond national markets by increasing trade between North African neighbours and across the region through the AfCFTA;
- preparing strategies for a complete overhaul of education systems, with the introduction of new technologies, the adaptation of teaching and learning methods, and measures to ensure wide student access to the Internet and equipment to ensure no one is left behind.
According to Larbi Jaïdi, a Senior Fellow at the Policy Center for the New South, North African countries also stand a better chance of building back better and stepping up innovation by increasing up coordination between them.
“The global innovation environment has become extremely connected across the world. Providing technological solutions to increasingly complex, common challenges will require more numerous and specialized research teams supported by regional and international collaboration. Maghreb countries must therefore open up to each other to facilitate innovation,” he said.
The webinar on “Innovation and New Technologies in North Africa in the Context of COVID-19” took place with the participation of representatives and experts from Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia. Key recommendations will be submitted to the upcoming thirty-fifth Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts (ICSOE) scheduled on November 17th, 2020.