Final day of Forum urges ‘creative wealth’ and e-learning strategies

April 3, 2012


Maina Waruru
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net

African countries are being asked to use science, technology and innovation to create different, more inclusive forms of wealth that benefit entire societies and are more sustainable.

Under-development on the continent can be addressed by reduced reliance on inherited forms of wealth such as oil and minerals, and by shifting to “created” wealth through the application of science, technology and innovation, the Africa ST&I forum heard on its final day today.

“Science and innovation will create not only sustainable but equitable wealth for all in Africa,” said Donald Kaberuka, head of the African Development Bank (ADB) at the ministerial session of the forum.

“Created wealth has the potential to accelerate development and reduce inequality, as opposed to inherited wealth which fuels inequalities and at times sparks conflict in Africa,” he added.

Kaberuka said the bank has identified and is funding ST&I initiatives aimed at spurring economic development on the continent, alongside its investments in other sectors such as water, energy and infrastructure development.

He advised universities in Africa to place greater emphasis on e-learning education approaches, to help bridge the gaps resulting from a continent-wide shortage of qualified lecturers and the high number of university students.

“It would make a lot a sense to use e-learning in universities instead of having one lecturer teaching 1,000 students, resulting in poorly qualified graduates,” Kaberuka said.

By 2030, Africa stands to benefit from “demographic dividends”, as it is estimated a quarter of the world’s youth population will be Africans – but the opportunity to take advantage of this workforce will be lost if they don’t receive the education and skills training necessary to innovate and become entrepreneurs.

The ADB boss noted that some Asian counties have effectively utilised their large youth populations, with deliberate strategies to provide skills training and jobs, and said African countries need to perform the same task.

UNESCO director Irina Bokova told the meeting that UNESCO is helping African countries draft and reform their STI policies to align them with demands of current times, with a particular focus on grants and rewards for innovations for young scientists and women.

Declarations, dancing… but will the Forum deliver action?

April 3, 2012

Ochieng’ Ogodo

Ochieng’ Ogodo
Sub-Saharan Africa regional news editor, SciDev.Net

In an evening of a cosy buffet and free flowing drinks, many at the Forum’s conference dinner discussed Africa’s love of conferences and the lack of implementation of their outcomes.

Kenya’s Minister for Higher Education Science and Technology, Margaret Kamar, who was the host, could have not been more apt in terming the continent “a sleeping giant with tons of declarations with nothing being done to fulfil them.”

And she said she hoped that at the end of the Africa Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation that scenario would change.

“I hope tomorrow will mark the end of declarations for Africa and we must translate these outcomes into development,” she said.

She had some food for thought for the delegates, that unlocking the continent’s potential won’t come from meetings and resolutions but on the ability of her people to wake up the giant and give it the much needed push to development.

“It’s time for science, technology and innovation in Africa and there is no short cut. We must do it. We want solutions that will work. Practical solutions for practical problems,” Kamar said.

The dinner was also a chance for delegates to relax after a long day’s deliberations, with African beats belching out from big speakers.  There was talents galore in footwork, and some very intricate and rare dance steps.  It was a reminder that everyone there, irrespective of their stations in public life — academics, diplomats, and even journalists like me — have many other gifts… including dancing.

Nonetheless, Kamar’s remarks echoed what has been said in many other places, at other meetings in other posh hotels, where excellent declarations have been made that rarely translate into tangible solutions for Africa’s people, the majority of whom are trapped in abject poverty.

Africa can only come unstuck with a paradigm shift, not business as usual.

We are now waiting to see how — and whether — this Nairobi meeting that had at its theme the promotion of Youth Employment, Human Capital Development and Inclusive growth will contribute to bringing about real change.

Efforts to establish PAU praised at Africa STI Forum

April 3, 2012


Maina Waruru
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net

Delegates at the African Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation Youth Employment, Human Capital Development and Human Growth, underway in Nairobi, have been praising efforts to finalise host campuses for the Pan African University.

Earlier this year Algeria was named as the successful host of the northern node. It will host the Institute of Water, Energy and Climate Change, which is expected to open in September.

The University of Younde, Cameroun will host the Governance and Planning node while a   yet to be agreed upon university in South Africa will handle Space Sciences.

The other nodes hosted by the university of Ibadan in Nigeria and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) in Kenya, are already open, having commenced operation in September last year.

JKUAT hosts the institute of Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation, while the University of Ibadan hosts the Earth and Life Sciences institute.

“This demonstrates the African Union’s commitment to promote science and technology as a key driver of economic development,” said Erastus Mwencha, deputy chair of the African Union Commission.

“This university (PAU) will seek to link scientific research to the private sector to enhance capacity for innovation among African scientists.”

Mwencha told the opening of the African ministers’ session on the final day of the Forum that besides providing core funding for the PAU, the Commission is also managing a series of European Union research grants worth $US9 million each. Calls for research submissions were announced in January this year. Last year 36 African scientists benefited from the grant scheme.

Separately, ministers discussed efforts to increase spending on ST&I and noted that only Tanzania and Tunisia have allocated 1 per cent of GDP to research in response to a 2010 agreement between African countries.

“All the other countries remain way below the agreed percentage, with South Africa coming closest by allocating 0.93 per cent to research activities  in [its] budget last year,” said Margarate Kamar, Kenya’s Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister.

Forum hears calls for more Africa-centred research

April 2, 2012


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 .

Better support needed for Africa e-health solutions

April 2, 2012


Maina Waruru
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net

While mobile phones use has expanded at an astonishing rate in Africa, this on its own is insufficient to bring so-called E-health solutions to the millions of people living in remote, poor rural areas.

Cellphone use must be complemented by other relevant technologies, infrastructure and applications that will ensure the cost of accessing health ICT is made cheaper and cost effective, the first African conference on Science Technology and Innovation for Youth Employment, Human Capital Development and Inclusive Growth was told on Monday.

“We must never over-rely on mobile phones alone as a means of delivering E-health, and must move to other technologies such telemedicine and video conferencing — which could be a bit expensive, but whose cost can be brought down if we start manufacturing of the requisite devices here in Africa,” said Robert  Jalang’o of the Multimedia University College of Kenya.

Mobile phone use has expanded enormously in Africa

Mobile phone use has expanded enormously in Africa, but the conference heard other technologies and infrastructure is needed to roll out e-health solutions to all the continent's peoples.

Mr Jalang’o addressed a session on E-health at the conference, which is underway in Nairobi, saying that the high cost of foreign technologies must be brought down if ICT use in the sector is to be fully realised. This, he said, needed to involve undergraduate and post-graduate students  in producing these technologies, which he added would not only give them specialist knowledge, but provide them with jobs as well.

Speakers at the session noted that back-up infrastructure — such as transmission masts and solar power facilities to power the stations and handsets —  must also be in place to serve people living in the most remote regions of the continent.

While it was agreed that mobile phones should not be over-relied on to deliver health solutions, there was a consensus at the session that these gadgets will be the most popular option to deliver E-health in rural Africa into the foreseeable future.

As a result, the participants said, there is a need to make addressing the challenges relating to access a priority at all levels — not just for policymakers.

“Let’s teach our people  how they can develop content for e-health even at grassroots level as well, so that through using [mobile] phones they can share their expertise in fields such as indigenous health knowledge,” Muhammadou Kah, vice-chancellor of the University of the Gambia, told the session.

He said involvement in generating content for e-health solutions should engage people at village level, noting that locally-produced content would be the most relevant in addressing local health needs.

Pan-African University controversy continues

April 2, 2012


Maina Waruru
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net

I picked up interesting undertones from the first day of the meeting.

It seems the disagreements surrounding the selection of the Pan-African University (PAU) node for the Southern Africa region are far from being over; at least that was the impression I had as Beatrice Njenga of African Union gave  a rundown of the project  to the conference today.

South Africa’s Stellenbosch University had been chosen to host the space sciences centre but there were concerns by other regional countries who claimed they were not consulted — and also that they would have preferred to host a centre on water issues.

Njenga was upbeat that the project was doing well. PAU’s most recent fourth of five centres being set up around the continent by the African Union (AU) was announced on 18 March in Algeria.

Alfred Watkins, executive chairman of Global Innovation Summit had some interesting sentiments on the broader issue of investing in science in Africa.

He lamented widespread inertia when it came to the need for “practical solutions for practical problems,” and added that “vision with no implementation was mere hallucination”.

The same sentiment had been expressed earlier in the morning by Kenya’s Minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology, Margret Kamar.

“Africa is full of declarations we must now move to action,” she said.

According to a UNESCO report, Sub-Saharan Africa has seen growth in recent years in science and technology, particularly in the areas of internet access due to the explosion in mobile phone use, and I’ll have more to say on that in another blog post.

However, R& D output has remained low across the continent.

Greater ST&I investment needed to fight youth unemployment and poverty

April 2, 2012


Maina Waruru
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net

The African Conference on Science, Technology and Innovations for Youth Employment, Human Capital Development and Inclusive Growth opened in Nairobi on Sunday with calls for tangible action to use science and technology to fight youth unemployment and poverty.

Speakers at the first day of the conference said the time had come for the continent to use knowledge already in its possession to tackle these double  malaises  which continue to afflict the continent even as scientific and technical advances continue to be made around the world.

“It is now quite clear that the ability of African countries to achieve rapid and inclusive development and [the] ability to compete in the global market lies in their  ability to use science and technology and to creatively innovate, ” said Margaret Kamar, Kenya’s Minister for Education, Science and Technology.

“It is only through this that Africa governments will be able to address some of the most pressing challenges of  human capital  development and youth unemployment,” said the minister at the opening of the conference.

The forum — the very first of its kind in Africa — is sponsored by the United Nations  Education  and Science Council (UNESCO) and the African Development Bank (AFDB).

It aims to generate concrete steps and points of action including a “Nairobi Declaration” on a way forward that addresses the conference’s main themes and the measures that need to be taken to actualise the dream of African economies driven by ST&I.

Delegates include government ministers, bureaucrats and civil society activists and representatives from the private sector.

Lamine Ndiaye, President  of the African Academy of Sciences urged the continent’s governments to increase funding for ST&I, saying the traditional apathy of funding for ST&I would not work for Africa.

Major science, technology and innovation meeting for Africa

March 31, 2012

David Dickson

David Dickson
Editor, SciDev.Net

Not whether, but how: that’s the question now facing both African governments, and the international finance organisations that back many of their activities, about investing in science and technology.

The change in attitude on both sides over the past decade has been dramatic. Ten years ago, few African governments took the need to build capacity in science and technology seriously.

Today it is widely accepted as essential for priorities that range from increasing food production to providing jobs for young people.

How far things have progressed, and how much further there is to go, will be on the table at a three-day meeting in Nairobi next week, the First Africa Forum on Science, Technology and Innovations for Youth Employment, Human Capital Development and Inclusive Growth, which will be attended on its final day by more than 30 ministers from across the continent.

In the past, these would have been primarily science and technology ministers.

This time, according to Lidia Brito, head of science policy at UNESCO — one of the main sponsors of the meeting — the goal has been to bring together ministers from different departments, including higher education, finance and planning,  to discuss how to make science “one of the building blocks of national development agendas”.

Before that, she explains, there will be two days of meetings with experts from outside Africa. “They will ask questions such as: Where is the innovation? Where is the new knowledge? Where is the capacity?”

In each case, there will be a specific focus on youth employment, inclusive growth and human development.

“Is Africa getting moving, where should it being moving, what are the barriers?” are the questions that the experts will be addressing, says Brito.

The first part of the conference will put the answers to these questions together, she says. They will then be presented to the ministers.

“We hope to achieve a commitment to the idea that we need to integrate policies,” she explains.

“Science ministers need to work more closely with finance ministers, and we want to reaffirm some of the commitments of heads of state to invest more strongly in science, technology and innovation.”

More than 250 delegates are expected to attend the forum, which in addition to UNESCO has been sponsored by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the African Union (AU), and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) , and will end with a declaration on what the continent needs to do to integrate science more fully into its development agenda.

There have been many such declarations in the past. Most have fallen by the wayside, often because of the absence of finance ministers who are able to commit the funds that allow things to happen (a criticism of, for example, the AU science summit of 2007).

This time, with the finance ministers attending and fully engaged in the process, the anticipated Nairobi Declaration will hopefully have a longer shelf life.

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