Science has a large role to play in the future development of Africa, yet despite a promising start, African science still falls behind its potential. The decade that has passed since the inaugural Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology has seen some real progress. In 2005 a Consolidated Plan of Action was adopted, and 2007 was declared the African Year of Science. African nations have pledged to invest one per cent of their GDP in science, although to date only Malawi, South Africa and Uganda have achieved that target.
Progress is patchy across the continent, but at the level of individual countries, science is being taken more seriously. The Nigerian Academy of Science, for instance, benefited from a multi-million dollar funding boost when President Goodluck Jonathan first assumed power, and he continues to promote science and technology in his goal of making Nigeria a leading global nation by 2020. In Angola, home to the ground breaking PhD Centre of Excellence, the new science and technology strategy launched in 2011 aims, amongst other targets, to integrate scientific education with the country’s major industry.
Africa clearly has a strong potential for science, but its major challenges include a shortage of funding and a poor awareness of science amongst the wider population. An indigenous science capacity will be pivotal in the continent’s future development, with issues such as environmental protection, water management, renewable energy, and food security becoming increasingly urgent.
Initiatives such as the African Union Scientific Awards, founded in 2007, will address both issues, by raising to prominence African scientists such as Prof. Ibrahim in Egypt and Prof. Wingfield of South Africa, two recent recipients. With the associated prize money affording an extra $100,000 towards research budgets, the essential goals of extending scientific capacity in Africa will be easier to achieve.
Alvaro Sobrinho Exectuive Chairman at Banco Valor Angola is heavily involved with philanthropy in Africa, most notably as the Chairman of the UK registered charity the Planet Earth Institute, alongside Trustees Rt Hon Lord Boateng, Prof Paul Younger and Sir Christopher Edwards. The Planet Earth Institute is accredited to the United Nations Environmental Programme and has the mission of the ‘scientific independence of Africa’. The Institute participated in the United Nations Programme at Rio +20 and recently during the Post 2015 debates in New York, where Dr Sobrinho spoke at the African Union on the need for a new science, technology and innovation agenda in Africa.
Engagement and cooperation across the whole of African society – government, the private sector, NGOs and civil society alike – is essential if science is to play its full role in Africa’s future. There is a young generation with skills and talent that need educational opportunities, and a wider public to engage.
Currently, Africa contributes about one per cent of global scientific output. The continent must take responsibility for the development of its own scientific capacity if this contribution is to increase and serve the interests of all Africans.
Article contributed by Garima Mehta.
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