Fall 2014 Vol. 14 Number 1
Supporting Science, Technology, and Innovation in Africa
During August, President Obama hosted a summit for 50 African leaders in Washington, D.C., to enable discussion of shared priorities and commitment to Africa's development. At the same time, the National Academies held a symposium to explore the roles of science, technology, and innovation in Africa's development.
Among the keynote speakers was Grace Naledi Mandisa Pandor, South Africa's minister of science and technology, who spoke about some of the challenges facing Africa and South Africa in particular, such as decreasing funding for universities. "Our institutions that would advance innovation are not receiving the support that they should in order to execute this role," she said. Loss of human capital is a problem as well, Pandor added, noting that 4 in 10 African scientists live and work in high-income countries. Solutions to these problems could include establishing conditions supportive of R&D investment and partnerships. "The investment of private companies and charities in R&D needs to be supported through favorable tax policy, a strong research base, and a culture promoted by government for international collaboration."
Building science and technology capacity through international partnerships was a priority mentioned by Wole Soboyejo, president of the African University of Science and Technology in Nigeria. One of the university's partnerships has created a pipeline of scientists ranging from students to senior scientists to run a virtual institute whose R&D projects have led to technologies that improve ceramic water filters and that convert kerosene lanterns into solar lanterns, providing rural areas with a more sustainable energy source.
The president of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Oyewale Tomori, noted the need for improved computer and Internet access to build Africa's scientific capacity, while his counterpart at the Uganda National Academy of Sciences, Nelson Sewankambo, pointed to the need to build awareness of the value of evidence in effective policymaking. The policy advice space in Africa is not crowded, so there is an opportunity for science academies to do more, especially given the "noise" policymakers hear on many issues. Private-sector perspectives were offered by representatives from IBM and General Electric, who stressed the importance of investing in local innovation and in building capacity by training people.
The event also included a teleconference with researchers at the Nelson Mandela Institute in Tanzania who are part of USAID's Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) Program. The program, whose grants are administered by the U.S. National Academies, supports scientists in developing countries who conduct research on development issues in collaboration with National Science Foundation-supported scientists.
-- Sara Frueh
Archived videos of the conference sessions are available online.