19 July 2007


19 July 2007
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE on 2007 least developed countries Report


The least developed countries would continue to be poor if they did not significantly invest in their capacity to learn and to industrialize, correspondents were told at the New York launch of this year’s Least Developed Countries Report.

Outlining the key findings of the 2007 Report, entitled “Knowledge, Technological Learning and Innovation”, Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development at Harvard University said the Report clearly spelled out why science and technology mattered for the least developed countries.

The Report, prepared by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), focused on how the Governments of least developed countries and their development partners could promote technological progress in those countries -- a group of 50 States that have been identified as “least developed” in terms of their low per-capita gross domestic product, their weak human assets and their high degree of economic vulnerability.

Joined by Susan Brandwayn of the UNCTAD Office in New York, Mr. Juma explained that least developed countries were most often associated with extreme poverty and lack of technical capabilities.  They were also thought of as the exporters of raw materials to the industrialized countries.  Stressing the importance of science and technology for least developed countries, the Report focused on a new area not usually associated with developing countries, namely the emerging interest in using science and technology as a vehicle for economic transformation.

He said the Report focused on two key areas, including industrial development, and encouraged the least developed countries to take advantage of foreign investment as a vehicle for access to new technologies.  It also focused on the importance of investment in agricultural research.  The Report concluded by offering suggestions on how the industrialized countries could help the least developed countries build up their scientific and technological capabilities, making them important players in the global economy.

Noting that most so-called least developed countries were found in Africa, he said he had worked closely with both the African Union and individual African presidents.  In that regard, he could confirm the significant interest on the part of Africa’s leadership to use science and technology as a vehicle for solving problems in such areas as agriculture, industry, environment and services.  Every president he had spoken with in the last two years had identified investment in science and technology as important.

Many were already starting to create small funds, financing for research and development, he added.  Others had created offices of science and technology advice in the presidencies to enable them to keep track of latest available scientific developments.  Signalling a major shift in policy, the Report captured that spirit very clearly.

It was precisely for that reason that the UNCTAD Report made an important contribution to policy dialogue on which way the developed countries, broadly, were going to go and, more specifically, what was being done by the least developed countries.

Responding to a question on the integration of the Internet and computer development in the least developed countries, he said it was an important question that was being discussed as a possible theme for UNCTAD’s follow-up report.

Citing some specific examples, he said Rwanda, a very small country, had identified itself as a leader in Eastern Africa in the area of telecommunication technology.  While Rwanda’s President spent much of his time focusing on how to connect Rwanda to the global telecommunication system, he was also looking at Rwanda as the entry point for the rest of East Africa into global communication systems.

In terms of the rapid diffusion of cell phones, countries that had not previously invested heavily in conventional technology, such as landlines, had been able to “leapfrog” and move into cell phones without having to deal with incumbent technology.  In some least developed countries, some 60 to 70 per cent of telecommunication was covered by cell phones.  In that regard, one could argue that they had a better chance of capturing the wave of emerging technology because they were not locked into the older ones.

Asked about the role of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), he said the ITU was the global, standard-setting body for telecommunication.  The least developed countries did work with the ITU.  Much of the current momentum, however, had been driven by the private sector and the liberalization of the telecom market at the domestic level.

Had there been a discussion among Africa’s leadership on the long-term impact of the foray of richer developing countries -- such as China, Brazil and India -- into the African countries? a correspondent asked.

Responding, Mr. Juma said UNCTAD had addressed that issue in another report.  He agreed with the President of the African Development Bank that Africa was a global community open for competition.  The African countries were looking in whatever direction they could for opportunities, whether they came from Asia or the Western countries.  Many of the decisions were being made on the basis of the competitiveness of products.  Globalization had given many of the least developed countries choices they had not previously had.

Asked to comment on the Republic of Korea as one of the most advanced countries in terms of the Internet, he said one could speculate that the more socially equitable countries provided greater potential for the diffusion of new technology.  New technology had also diffused more quickly in the Scandinavian countries.  The Republic of Korea had a strong telecommunication structure, a robust regulatory system and was highly adaptive.

In response to another question, he said the Report devoted a small section to the role of Government as a facilitator and enabler of technological learning, rather than controller.

Higher technical training was needed in Africa, he said, in response to another question.  While most of the focus had been on primary education in Africa, the continent needed universities that could train people to solve the practical problems they faced.  That issue was being discussed seriously at the moment.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.