Exponential growth in scientific and technical knowledge provides unique opportunities for Africa to solve its critical challenges related to meeting basic needs, participating in the growing economy, addressing ecological and climate change problems and improving governance. African leaders have in recent years been placing increasing emphasis on the role of science, technology and innovation. Decisions taken (8th African Union Summit, 2007; 28th Meeting of the COMESA Council of Ministers, 2010) represent a clear expression of political will and interest in introducing specific reforms and actions to endorse the role of science and technology in regional development.
COMESA Member States recognize the importance of science and technology in socio-economic and cultural development and have agreed to cooperate in various fields as stated in the decision of the 2010 COMESA Summit on Science and Technology Development. The need for concrete projects that will deliver tangible results for the region is the greatest priority, while mainstreaming science and technology in all COMESA programmes and adopting a cost effective approach that does not financially overburden the Member States were also emphasized as equally important. Concrete proposals include the establishment of common science and technology parks, the establishment of an ICT Training and Skill Development Fund, the elaboration of a common curriculum for COMESA in ICT and the establishment of data bases of individuals that can assist in the implementation of science and technology initiatives.
To strengthens the members states capacity to manage STI, COMESA in partnership with Harvard Kennedy School organised a three day intensive executive programme on Innovation for Economic Development (IFED) on 25-26 June 2012. This is in line with the Decisions on the Science, Technology and Innovation Program, particularly the Decision to harness knowledge and to put in place Science and Technology parks and Industrial and Artisanal Clusters, the main purpose of the course was to share experience from around the world on how innovation has been used to promote social economic development, with a focus on clusters and Science and Technology Parks.
There is a distinction between invention and innovation, with policy implications for social economic development. An invention is a new idea often expressed as a patent, copyright or industrial design, whereas an innovation is an idea that has been introduced into the economy and has a practical application. Of the patents that are in force worldwide, only about 2% are in actual industrial use. This means that prioritization be given to innovation, rather than generation of merely ideas that remain on the shelf without application, if science and technology is to assist the social economic development of the COMESA region.