17 August 2012

Africa: Panel to Review Continent's Science and Technology Roadmap

Photo: © Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Kate Holt
Joseph Ndunguru works at the Mikocheni Agricultural Institute in Dar es Salaam.

Nairobi — The African Union (AU) has set up a high level panel of scientists to breathe new life into its roadmap for collaborative research, which was first adopted by science ministers in 2005.

The Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action (CPA), officially endorsed by AU heads of states and governments in 2006, aimed to turn African countries from resource-based to innovation-led knowledge economies.

Its achievements include the African Science and Technology Indicators Initiative, which last year published a survey of science and innovations produced for the first time from within Africa; and the creation of prizes such as the AU Scientific Awards programme.

Yet its achievements in catalysing activities across Africa remain hidden because of a lack of assessment, according to Calestous Juma, professor at Harvard University, United States, and a co-chair of the new panel.

"The AU needed an independent panel of experts to help it take stock and propose its next steps," Juma told SciDev.Net. "It is notable that Africa's premier political body is seeking independent expert input into its work."

Achievements aside, the CPA had also come under fire for its slow progress and failure to coordinate science aid, as well as a failure to set up an African science fund.

The eight member panel, established last month (23 July), will now guide the AU through a review of CPA's achievements and failings, and will present its report to a ministerial conference in Brazzaville, Congo, in November.

"Our focus will be to contribute to a movement, rather than just producing a document," said Juma, who is co-chairing the panel with Ismail Serageldin, director of the Library of Alexandria, in Egypt.

"We will focus on getting heads of state and government to serve as champions [for science]," he said.

Berhanu Abegaz, executive director of the African Academy of Sciences (AAS), called on the panel to press for appropriate policies to promote science, technology and innovation.

"I hope the panel will impress on African governments that it is difficult to eradicate poverty unless one implements inclusive innovation, involving the people to be taken out of poverty," he said.

Abegaz added that the panel's recommendations should prioritise promotion of skills and practices needed for economic development, and focus on mainstreaming products generated from indigenous knowledge.

Shem Wandiga, managing trustee at the Centre for Science & Technology Innovations, Kenya, said it was prudent to review policies and actions.

"AU member states are rich in natural and mineral resources that are being exploited by outsiders at [rock bottom] prices," he said. "Adding value to these resources would enable owners to develop middle level economies. They cannot add value to their resources without adopting and adapting science, technology and innovations."

"The panel should come up with concrete activities and specific plans for funding resources. It is time we stopped asking others to do things we can do for ourselves," he added.

Link to CPA [307kB]

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