Representatives from industry and academia came together to exchange views on the industrialization of the African continent and analyzed prospects and the challenges from the perspective of the automotive industry, which is crucial for further economic growth aiming to initiate and to strengthen the exchange and cooperation between industry/business and universities, not only in the context of Egypt and Germany, but in the larger African continent.
“In Egypt, as in many countries in the region and in the world, there is the need to fill the gap between theory and practice,” Dr. Carsten-Michael Walbiner, Director of the DAAD Regional Office Cairo, stated in his welcoming speech opening at the conference “Industry meets Academia; Industrialization of the African Continent – Prospects and Challenges from the Perspective of the Automotive Industry”.
The event featured keynote speeches and a panel discussion, where representatives from industry and academia came together to exchange views on the industrialization of the African continent. Specifically, they analysed prospects and challenges from the perspective of the automotive industry, which is crucial for further economic growth and development under many levels, as it was recalled by Ms. Lorena Mohr, Head of Science and Protocol at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany to Egypt, in her opening remarks.
The first part of the conference involved an informative presentation on the automotive industry in Germany, clarifying the current trends and challenges in the sector, as well as the opportunities especially in terms of partnerships with the African continent. Remarkably, Mr. Marius Ochel (Head of Cluster International Association Partnerships Africa & India, German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA)), described the work of VDA and hightlightend the main local and global changes, concluding that the collaboration between industry and academia has become of primordial importance under the current context. Following this comprehensive introduction to the automotive sector in Germany, with the focus on the VDA, Ms. Victoria Backhaus-Jerling (Head of Project Office South Africa VDA-AAAM, VDA) moved to the analysis of the African context, highlighting the benefits from the growing German African partnerships. Drawing from the example of the successful partnership between the African Association of Automotive Manufacturers (AAAM) and VDA, she clarified the role of the increasing cooperation between Germany and Africa in boosting capacity development and building. Equally, in considering the existing challenges and specificities of the African context, the speaker reflected on the opportunities to scale up the manufacturing of vehicles in Africa, which was then examined in detail during the following session.
This insightful initial overview laid the basis for an animated panel discussion, highlighting the importance of collaboration between industry and academia, as well as the necessity to develop the right policies in order to overcome the challenges and seize the opportunities in the automotive industry in Africa. The panel featured the abovementioned keynoters from VDA together with a diverse group of speakers from both the academia and industry sectors, including Mr. Dave Coffey (CEO of the AAAM), Prof. Dr. Sameh Maher Metwally (Helwan University President Advisor for Transportation Department), Prof. Dr. Alia El Mahdi (Cairo University Professor of Economics) and Dr. Ahmed Fikry Ebdel Wahab (Managing Director of East Port Said Development Co., the National Egyptian Railway Industries Co and the Egyptian German Automotive Co.). Moderated by the Director of the DAAD Regional Office Cairo, Dr. Walbiner, panellists engaged in a fruitful exchange, tackling the following key points:
- Africa has a large and growing population, but the continent is under-motorised. This can present a significant opportunity for the automotive industry, if addressed with the right approach.
- Among main challenges, affordable mobility and technology transfer must be taken into consideration.
- The example of countries like South Africa and Morocco, which are the biggest car producers in Africa, should be examined to initiate a dynamic process able to attract investments and to bring about the desired transition in the rest of the continent.
- Further cooperation among African countries contributes to knowledge-transfer and coordination, which will be beneficial for the growth of the sector, as the example of the European Union demonstrates.
- Strengthening the role of the existing forum defining the minimum standards for the automotive industry in Africa in terms of safety, security and environmental compliance is necessary to boost competitiveness in the global market.
- Collaboration between industry and academia is required to develop the skills and knowledge needed to build a successful automotive industry in Africa.
- In many countries, like Egypt, this collaboration has already established in the past years and shall be further expanded.
- In addition, political will is essential to effectively develop this promising sector,
- Most importantly, African countries need to first develop and then implement, monitor and evaluate policies that are supportive of the automotive industry, are aligned to existing agreements and are linked to specific targets.
- Furthermore, the final remarks from both panellists and attendees raised crucial questions, inviting to reflect on the added value of the development of the automotive sector to each local context, as well as considering the feasibility of producing indigenous cars that are both affordable and competitive in the global market.
In conclusion, the “Industry meets Academia” conference was a success. The conference brought together a diverse group of experts and provided attendees with valuable insights on the industrialization of the African continent, analysing prospects and challenges from the perspective of the automotive industry. In addition, it was also able to meet the goals of initiating and strengthening exchange and cooperation between industry/business and universities, concluding with a networking dinner, which gave the opportunity to speakers and attendees from a variety of backgrounds and ages to exchange views and contacts in a cheerful informal atmosphere.
Remark and Feedback
Overall, the panel discussion examined the topic on agenda in depth and from a variety of angles, stimulating a lively debate. On one hand, it reaffirmed the benefits of the cooperation between industry and academia to boost the general industrialisation in Africa and the growth of the automotive sector, specifically. On the other hand, it stimulated additional reflections on the crucial role of governments, which, as the panellist Dr. Ahmed Fikry Ebdel Wahab stated in his remarks, “is crucial because without the support of the government, this process will turn to be a failed attempt”.
“The event was not only an occasion to deepen the knowledge on this important topic, but it also represented an opportunity to expand our network and establish direct connections with people from similar fields of interest”, stated one of the participants in a personal interview at the end of the conference.