What went wrong at ICSU?

Dr Rocky Skeef

It’s been a while since we heard from the International Council of Science’s Regional Office for Africa (ICSU-ROA), but at the RISE conference I managed to catch up with its new acting director, Rocky Skeef.

The fate of ICSU-ROA has been unclear – at least to us journalists – since October last year, when news spread that an internal evaluation document had highlighted some problems at the organisation. Shortly after this the then director, Sospeter Muhongo, departed from his post and a new director is only expected to step in early next year.

The content of the internal report was for members’ eyes only, but after my chat with Dr Skeef this week I can shine some light on what went wrong.

First, there were money problems. ICSU is funded by hefty membership fees that few African countries feel that they can afford. So ICSU-ROA gets money from two main sources – the hosting country South Africa and ICSU’s main secretariat in Paris. This has raised questions over the ownership of ICSU-ROA’s agenda and whether it really represents the interests of the entire continent.

There had also been problems with raising funds to support the various projects that ICSU-ROA had drawn up plans for. (Projects that can be read about here)

But there also were serious problems between the Paris and Africa offices. “Personality clashes,” Skeef told me. Still, there is no doubt that ICSU-ROA will keep going, he said. The internal report found more “achievements” than “failures, tensions and problems”.

But a looming issue is what will happen when South Africa’s 10-year hosting deal for ICSU-ROA runs out. “Regionality” demands that the location of the African secretariat is rotated between members. ICSU-ROA is almost halfway through this first decade. Will another country axle South Africa’s mantle in five years’ time?

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net columnist

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