The Nordic Africa Institute

Workshop

Structural Transformation in the Digital Age

Time • 26 Nov 2020 13:00 - 16:00
Place • The Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala / Digital - TBC
The deadline for abstracts/papers was 13 Jul 2020

African economies are still fragile and vulnerable to external shocks. The repercussions of the Coronavirus pandemic have had major economic effects both at the individual level and for society generally. Recent events are likely to affect the plans to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In this workshop, we intend to take a fresh look at some of the recurring themes on the development agenda.

The organising committee hopes to attract a broad spectrum of participants, including policy makers and development practitioners, as well as representatives from local and international civil society organisations, the private sector and academia. The conference will take place at the Nordic Africa Institute in. The workshop will use digital technology and, if possible, will invite participants to Uppsala.

A curated collection of papers from the conference will form the foundation of an edited book and policy briefs focusing on the theme of the workshop.

  • We invite the submission of extended abstracts (minimum two pages) or full papers based on the themes listed below. Abstracts should be submitted by 13 July 2020 to jorgen.levin@nai.uu.se.
  • Successful authors will be notified by 16 July 2020, and will be expected to submit full papers by 15 November.

Participants are encouraged to seek their own funding for participation in the workshop.

Conference objectives and structure

While the focus is on the theme of structural transformation and digitalisation, the workshop will indirectly cover such broad topics as state-building, gender and inclusiveness. It is organised around the following themes:

  • Economic development, inequality and structural transformation in the digital age
  • Trade and industrial policy in an era of automation and digitalisation: African challenges and opportunities
  • Sustained financing and development: Taxation, debt-financing, aid and blended finance
  • Rural and urban dynamics during structural transformation
  • Country case studies.

African economies are still fragile and vulnerable to external shocks. The repercussions of the Coronavirus pandemic have had major economic effects both at the individual level and for society generally. Recent events are likely to affect the plans to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). After an optimistic start, the situation has become quite challenging in many African countries in terms of how to achieve the SDGs. It is hard to foresee how the world will change in the wake of the pandemic. But what we do know is that governments need to continue to design, formulate and implement policies that form part of an inclusive development agenda. A policy dialogue on Africa’s future development agenda needs not only to regain the momentum of the Sustainable Development Goals, but also to focus on long-term development, as outlined in the African Union Vision 2063: The Future We Want.

Recent technological developments have not only changed the way we live, work and interact, but also reshaped the way and the cost of ‘doing development’. How can new technology employ the scarce resources more efficiently? While there are calls to intensify progress on the social protection agenda, it has also become clear – and particularly since the pandemic struck – that electronic payment systems are an important instrument for channelling resources from the government to poor and vulnerable groups. Fiscal systems in many African countries are weak, and only a few countries have the digital technology necessary to scale up social assistance programmes during a crisis. Moreover, some countries do not have the resources required to sustain those programmes. Economic shocks are difficult to predict, but the financing of development has to take a long-term perspective that can adapt to future shocks.

The global trade system has been under attack, and the recent crisis has raised questions on how to deal with supply chains that have been disrupted. Globalisation provides both opportunities and challenges, and questions have been raised as to whether the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) can offer a trading system that is more supportive of African industrialisation. However, opportunities are changing in the digital age, with the servicification of industrial sectors, as automation and human capital-intensive modes of production become more important. But digitalisation also opens up new opportunities and new country-markets, and this is likely to be an important part of how we think about structural transformation in the future.

How successful this transformation is will also depend on human capital development. In the longer term, investment in the population – that is, investment in education and health – will be an important factor not only in addressing income inequality, but also in harnessing the demographic dividend. This is particularly important in countries with finite natural resources: they will see declining incomes, unless resource rents are invested in physical and human capital, in a bid to diversify their economies. There are a number of areas where many African countries face challenges. In many cases, there is no quick fix: often the problems have been engendered by developmental challenges of long duration. In this workshop, we intend to take a fresh look at some of the recurring themes on the development agenda.

Photo credit for use on homepage and social media: EU 2019, Bertha Wangari

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