Science diet will grow Africa

Egypt is expected to cajole and nag (possibly even bully) politicians from the continent to strengthen the African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology (Amcost).

Members of Amcost, the high-level policy and political forum for ministers of science and technology, have been criticised in the past for not attending sessions or taking a lead in reaching it goals.

Egypt took over responsibility for Amcost in March and will chair the meetings for the next two years. “We are looking to augment African infrastructure in science and technology,” said Maged al-Sherbiny, Egypt’s assistant minister of scientific research.

Al-Sherbiny, a respected Cairo University professor of immunology and vaccine researcher, told the subscribers-only online news website Research Africa that Egypt will concentrate on implementing Amcost’s four-year-old consolidated action plan (online at www.nepadst.org). It was devised by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) and has been hampered by the failure of the African regions to establish science desks.

Hani Helal, Egypt’s minister of higher education and scientific research and former president of Senghor University in the ancient city of Alexandria, has pledged to provide resources to get it off the ground, and said Africa cannot achieve economic growth without science. ‘Science and technology is the only way for achieving development.

Building on the golden triangle of education, research and innovation is important. We are ready to pour out resources,” he said. Egypt willl use its ties with Arab countries to help Africa collaborate, Helal, a minerals research specialist, said.

Augmenting science infrastructure requires a lot of funding and Egypt, one of Africa’s four largest economies, is only one of a few African countries to meet the African Union target of spending 1% of its gross domestic product on science. South Africa has not reached this yet.

Egypt is taking over from Kenya, which took a lead in mediating between two rival organisations, the AU’s and New Partnership for Africa’s Develpopment’s offices for science and technology. Relations between them were strained because of a duplication of roles.

The tensions came to a head while Kenya was hosting the African science ministers in 2007 and the AU’s department of human resources, science and technology accused Nepad of failing to consult it. ‘We forged harmony.

In the two years that Kenya has been chair, regular consultation has been held,” says Sally Kogsei, a former civil servant and diplomat who is now Kenya’s minister for higher education, science and technology. But, Kogsei said, challenges remained.

‘The target of allocating 1% of the gross domestic product for scientific research has not been achieved by the majority of member states. I urge us to work a little harder,” she says.

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Research Africa is the world’s leading source of research funding opportunities. Annual subscriptions range from R27 815 to R103 095. But a free three-month subscription to Research Africa is available to researchers who subscribe to the Mail & Guardian. Contact Wendy Lessing at [email protected] or phone her on 021 4091478 or go to www.researchresearch.com.

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Christina Scott
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