Forum hears calls for more Africa-centred research


Maina Waruru
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net

More laboratories for companies offering science and technology solutions and products targeting African challenges need to be located in Africa, in order to make these services more affordable to African consumers, the African Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation has heard.

At a plenary session today, rapporteurs read out out recommendations made at each session from the first two days of the forum — which have included a series of parallel meetings today on topics ranging from water and sanitation, to E-health  and food security. The recommendations will be discussed at the ministerial meeting on the final day of the forum tomorrow.

Delegates at the plenary heard that as well as improving affordability, the presence of such laboratories would improve the ability of researchers and students to access relevant knowledge.

Rapporteurs said delegates had commented that the concentration of high-tech facilities in the western world and parts of Asia were failing to benefit African innovators, especially in the area of knowledge-sharing — with distance cited a significant factor.

“High-tech labs are out of reach of many African innovators and scientists” was one conclusion read out by Thierry Ammoussougbo, rapportuer and  staffer with the UN Commission for Africa (UNECA). “Many firms selling products here do not make their products in Africa,” he continued.

Calls for more ST&I labs in Africa

The forum has heard calls for better training and working conditions to encourage African scientists to stay on the continent.

The first two days of the Forum have also been characterised by general calls for an African Science Academy to be established to boost ST&I on the continent and nurture young talent.

While funding for such an initiative could potentiall be sourced from international donors, many delegates have said that African states need to fund ST&I work in their respective countries in order to retain control over the funding and direction of various disciplines.

“They must be able to raise their own funds which they can control away from relying purely on donor funding,” was a conclusion read to the plenary by Ammoussougbo.

It was further felt that a realistic plan of action that would involve the continent’s science and technology government ministers needed to be developed by each country’s delegation, in order to help move the ST&I agenda “from talk to action”.

Further, the mainstreaming of science, technology and mathematics teaching in all institutions of learning — from primary school to university — and the encouragement of experts from the African diaspora abroad to collaborate and share knowledge with the continent was recommended.

Another recommendation was for the improved training of lecturers, and the implementation of deliberate measures to improve their working conditions was necessary in order to retain African experts at home.

Finally, the plenary heard calls for the establishment of regional and national ST&I forums, and improved communication of ideas with the wider public, to encourage all Africans to better appreciate the role of science, technology and innovation in national development .

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