After Conflict, Peace Through Technology

January 12, 2005
Calestous Juma

Daily Nation (Kenya)

The signing of the Sudan peace accord on January 9 could reshape regional politics in eastern Africa. The agreement ends a 21-year armed conflict that has left deep scars on Sudan’s body politic and spread the seeds of insecurity in the region.

But promoting peace and prosperity will require increased integration of the region into the global economy through technology-based trade arrangements.

Economic growth propelled by technological innovation can increase social cohesion, stability, and democratisation, according to "Innovation: Applying Knowledge in Development", a forthcoming report of the Task Force on Science, Technology and Innovation of the Millennium Project commissioned by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The report is part of a broader Millennium Project document, Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals, to be released on January 17.

Using international trade to promote peace and prosperity is becoming a preferred policy instrument.

Qualified Industrial Zones

For example, a trade protocol signed in December, 2004 by Egypt, Israel and the US illustrates the potential role that international trade can play in fostering regional peace and economic prosperity.

The protocol creates Qualified Industrial Zones in parts of Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said.

Goods from these zones will enjoy duty-free access to US markets, provided that 35 per cent of their input is derived from Israeli-Egyptian co-operation. Some 11.7 per cent of the input must come from Israel.

The deal could create 250,000 jobs in Egypt in 2005, mostly in the clothing and textile industry, which is the country’s main export field.

The protocol will raise the annual trade volume between the two countries from $44 million to $70 million. Similar arrangements are needed for regions of Africa bedevilled by armed conflicts, stagnant economies and lack of integration into the global economy.

Such integration cannot be achieved by relying on export of raw materials alone. Rudimentary production methods will need to be replaced by more efficient technologies that add value to Africa’s natural resources.

For example, mineral processing industries would need technical skills that would also be needed for other economic activities such as maintenance of infrastructure.

Most conflicts in Africa arise from disputes over land, commodities, and natural resources. Diamonds fuelled conflict in Angola and Sierra Leone while oil has been at the centre of violence in Sudan and Chad.

The scramble for columbite-tantalite (used in the manufacture of cellphones, jet engines, night vision goggles, fibre optics and capacitors) has helped to fuel the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But the world is increasingly deriving economic value from scientific and technical knowledge.

Unlike conventional sources of wealth, knowledge is not scarce and tends to grow with greater interactions among different sections of the global society.

Knowledge-based economies will not develop without conflicts of their own, but warfare based on mercantilism or land grabs will become historical anecdotes.

There are two critical starting points. First, African countries must facilitate regional technology co-operation as a basis for leveraging international partnerships.

Second, international assistance to Africa should focus on modernising the region by focusing on building scientific and technological capacities.

African countries are starting to take economic integration seriously. For example, the recreation of the East African Community could not only serve as a mechanism for creating larger markets; it could also promote peace in the region. Regional technology cooperation should be a central aspect of its implementation.

The current malaise in the traditional development community is being challenged by new technology alliances involving the more developed developing countries.

For example, India, Brazil and South Africa have launched a technology alliance that will focus on seeking solutions to agricultural, health and environmental challenges facing developing countries.

In addition, developing countries are increasingly entering into bilateral partnerships to develop new technologies.

Critical tools for stability

India and China, for example, have created a joint steering committee that will promote coordination in their technology development efforts.

Such alliances provide examples that could be emulated in new technology and trade partnerships between Africa and its allies in the industrialised countries.

Africa needs similar agreements that promote the use of regional technological capabilities in international trade.

Signing peace agreements is an important step in bringing about peace and stability. But the real challenge is how to use international trade and technology as critical tools for regional stability.

Dr Juma is professor of the Practice of International Development at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and lead author of "Innovation: Applying Knowledge in Development".

Print print | Email email