Ethiopia: Ministry Manoeuvres Toward Digital Economy

The Ministry of Innovation & Technology is revising its 15-year-old policy in a bid to digitise the nation's economy.

Revising the national science, technology and innovation policy in collaboration with the United Nations Conference on Trade & Development (UNCTAD), the Ministry aspires to lead the economy toward tech-led growth.

Failure to align with different sectors, coordinate the sectors and support the nation's move toward the industrial economy as well as an inability to comply with the current economic reforms are the major reasons for the revision of the existing policy, according to Desta Abera, director of policy, strategy and future planning in the Ministry.

The first policy was enacted in 2004 when the government announced a shift in the economic revolution. It identified 11 directions including technology transfer, human resource building, manufacturing and finance. It is also criticised rote adoption of technologies from abroad rather than indigenous innovation.

"The policy focuses more on introducing the sector to the country as it was new for the country then," Shumet Gizaw (PhD), state minister for the Ministry, told Fortune. "It doesn't even match with the current situation of the country."

The new policy will be focusing on 24 sectors including agriculture, textiles and information technology. Hence, the UN-organ UNCTAD is assessing 50 sectors including SMEs, manufacturing and foreign direct investment that need to be digitised.

UNCTAD, which helped 13 countries including Rwanda and Kenya in reviewing their science, technology and innovation policy since 2007, is expected to submit the final assessment to the Ministry in two months.

The Ministry itself is also conducting a prior assessment for the revision. Finally, the two assessments will be merged to come out as a final draft policy to be sent to the Council of Ministers for approval. The Policy is expected to be approved and implemented starting September.

A council, which has members from ministries and the private sector, was formed to follow up and facilitate the revision and implementation process.

Upon approval, the Ministry of Innovation & Technology will take the lead for carrying out the policy in all sectors and industries.

The new policy has also targeted science and technology to contribute two billion dollars to GDP, creating over 20,000 tech jobs with 2,000 SMEs in two years.

For the implementation of the policy, the ministry has also designed a roadmap compatible with the different sectors including agriculture, finance, mining and sugar. It will be sent to regulators in each sector to integrate and harmonise it with their respective plan.

"The roadmap is designed to project and envision the country's condition in the next decade," Desta toldFortune.

Proclamation and regulation will follow the policy, according to Desta.

Creating more jobs is the other aim of the policy, according to Getahun Mekuria, (PhD), minister of Innovation & Technology.

"We are reviewing the policy to create more entrepreneurs than job seekers," Getahun told Fortune. "We need to curb the unemployment rate through technology and science."

About 19pc of the economically active population in the county was unemployed last year. Addis Abeba and Dire Dawa city administrations as well as Tigray and Amhara regional states are the leading regions in terms of unemployment.

Nebiyat Fikru, an information technology engineer and consultant with over a decade of experience, believes that the Ministry is on the right path. But he makes some recommendations on the revision process.

'"The new policy should drag the country away from being a consumer of imported products," said Nebiyat. "It should steer the country toward being a manufacturer."

Nebiyat also remarks that information technology should be added to the pillars of the economy along with agriculture, service and industry.

"To build a digital economy, information technology should be counted on as a resource by itself," Nebiyat told Fortune.

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