19 October 2017

Africa: Cairo Gathering Examines Future of African Cities

Participants of a conference in Cairo have been pondering the use of new technology to build the future of African cities.

A three-day gathering of African innovators and entrepreneurs got under way at Cairo's French University Wednesday as enthusiastic participants shared ideas and discussed technological developments to help build a better future for the continent's estimated one-and-a-quarter-billion residents.

Nigeria's Afrilabs organized the conference and its head, Michael Oluwabgemi, believes that using technology is the key to breaking down artificial borders between people and countries.

"We need to start using technology to break down the artificial walls that have been set up among ourselves," said Oluwabgemi. "Technology offers the unique solution. Technology does not respect borders."

One topic centered on the need for African universities to do a better job of innovating and of using those innovations constructively. Participant Idriss Bello from Nigeria complained that universities are often failing to tailor their intellectual assets to their productive output.

"We are failing to closely link what we learn in schools with the issues, the problems we have in the ecosystem," said Bello. "So, you have thousands of projects just sitting in libraries, sitting in books without being commercialized, or being translated into actual solutions to our problems."

Despite the best efforts of the African continent's nearly 250 universities, no African country was listed on last year's global innovation index.

Another subject that participants focused on was the active engagement of women in the economic and technological future of their countries. A woman entrepreneur, Florence Toffa from Ghana, deplored the cultural stigma in many African countries of women becoming active entrepreneurs.

"For most of the women I come across, the common challenge has always been: right after school, the expectations from families is that maybe get a job, get married and start a family," said Toffa.

Afrilabs stressed its own theme of using technological hubs in several dozen countries on the continent to connect those seeking solutions in one place with problem-solvers in another. As the head of one hub in West Africa put it, "We need to encourage Africans to be job-creators, rather than job-seekers."

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