Technology and Policy

Innovation at Work

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Kerry and Hollande

Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

Kerry and Hollande

Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

The Madrid peace conference in 1991 to launch comprehensive Arab-Israeli negotiations was a diplomatic triumph. The 2007 Annapolis conference relaunched peace-making and a new, well-prepared three track security, economic, and political process on pre-negotiated terms of reference just a few years after the violent second Intifada. These were important moments—historically, and diplomatically.

Despite best intentions, the 2017 Paris peace conference was neither historic nor constructive. The meeting was both poorly timed and ill-prepared, such that the two main parties—the Israelis and Palestinians—stayed away. Even Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was otherwise occupied. The absence of the two main protagonists to the conflict was the least of it. The meeting simply underlined outdated thinking that, left uncorrected, will harm future international diplomatic efforts to deliver peace to the Holy Land.


The ability to edit the genetic code of organisms is hailed as one of the most profound technological achievements of the last five years. Specific techniques known as “gene drives” can transmit inheritable traits throughout the entire population of an organism. There are several ways by which gene drives can be used to control major diseases such as malaria, which killed nearly 395,000 people in Africa in 2015. One approach is to introduce gene drives that induce sterility in mosquitoes.

Africa’s regional economic integration represents the continent’s most ambitious political innovation since the wave of decolonization that started in the late 1950s. It is widely recognized that realizing this vision will depend largely on the extent to which Africa is able to invest in adequate energy, transportation, and telecommunications infrastructure. Considerable attention in the area of infrastructure is being given to surface transportation. This focus  is largely influenced by historical trends where roads, railways, and waterways became the dominant modes of transportation.

For a summary of Prof. Juma's Twitter Q&A on this topic, click here.  #AskCJuma The current slump in world commodity prices is forcing Africa to rethink its traditional dependence on raw material exports. The time for African nations to lay the foundations for transitioning from extractive to learning economies is now. The jolts are real. The International Monetary Fund has projected that the continent will grow by 3% in 2016. This is well below the 6% average growth over the last decade and the lowest rate in the last 15 years.

For a summary of Prof. Juma's Twitter chat on this topic, click here. #AskCJuma. Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari is on a high-level visit to China this week. The focus of the working visit is to explore areas of cooperation between China and Nigeria on power, transport, roads, and agriculture. The visit has reopened a lingering debate on Africa-China relations. Much of this debate has focused on how China’s interests are shaping its relations with Africa. But according to a new book, Africa and China, this debate overlooks the extent to which Africans and their governments are shaping their relations with China.

In a poignant comment, Albert Einstein said that “an empty stomach is not a good political adviser.” African leaders are starting to appreciate this message by paying more attention to the importance of high-level political support for agricultural transformation. Nigeria, under the leadership of former President Goodluck Jonathan, offers an inspirational example of the importance of high-level political support for agricultural transformation. During his tenure he committed his cabinet to making agriculture a primary driver of economic development.

Africa's new harvest

| Oct. 01, 2015

The second edition of The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation has been released. The first edition of the book was published in 2011 as a memorandum for Africa leaders. Its core message was that African could feed itself in a generation. It was as a call to action to achieve this goal. The book was released on the heels of a series of food price spikes and the Arab Spring uprising in North Africa. The Arab Spring provided clear evidence that the ability of a country to feed itself was linked to its national security.

My work on agricultural biotechnology for Africa dates to the mid-1980s. My first major publication on the subject in 1989 was entitled The Gene Hunters: Biotechnology and the Scramble for Seeds. This was nearly seven years before the first commercial release of the transgenic crops in North America. The focus of my work has been on identifying technologies that could contribute to sustainable development in Africa. I have advocated policies that seek to reduce the negative consequences of new technologies while maximizing their impacts.

Today is a special day, not only because you are graduating, but also because you are entering the community of life scientists. Why pursue the life sciences? The pursuit of any scientific endeavor is noble, but the life sciences are particularly special. There are obvious practical reasons that the life sciences are valuable. The study of the life sciences lends important insights into disease processes, and allows the development of novel therapeutics and innovative medical devices, thereby directly improving human health.

The creation in June 2015 of a free trade area from Cape Town to Cairo is possibly the most significant event in Africa since the formation of the Organization of African Unity in 1963. It is a grand move to merge existing regional organization into a single African Economic Community. The Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) includes the 26 countries that are members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC), and Southern African Community (SADC).