Policy

Researchers and politicians map a path towards stronger research in Africa, together

Panellists Amr Adly, Marie-Monique Rasoazananera, Amadou Tidian Ndiaye, Seema Kumar and Tolu Oni (from left to right)

Build a national research strategy should be the aim of every African governement. Some are already paving the way.

The partial results of a survey of African young scientists have shown that dissatisfaction with research infrastructure and support is preventing them from reaching their potential on the continent. Presented by Dr Tollulah Oni, co-chair of the Global Young Academy, during the Young African Scientists in Europe (YASE 2018) conference in Toulouse the 6th July 2018, these results also showed professional African researchers’ major concern for the future is a lack of funding and resources.

“Game-changing science is a long-term process,” said world-renowned HIV researcher Quarraisha Abdool Karim, from Kwazulu Natal University in Durban, South Africa, during her keynote address to the conference, where panellists and young African scientists grappled with the future of African research. She also emphasised that Africa’s future lies in its own hands: “We have to lead the research that is being done in Africa, especially where it affects Africans.”

Lack of research strategies

Between the doom and gloom of Africa’s worst socioeconomic circumstances and the naive, nebulous optimism seen at conferences and high-level discussions of Africa’s future lies the truth: Africa is an enormous, complex bundle of societies and peoples with a few shared challenges and almost endless possibilities for economic growth and social development. Getting from this realisation to action on the multitude of growing and constantly changing challenges requires vision, commitment and hard work from research, government and industry sectors across the continent and, indeed, the world.

According to the YASE 2018 panel, very few countries in Africa have a formalised research strategy at the national level; notable exceptions to this are South Africa and Egypt.

Research push and industry pull

The status quo is well-illustrated by the story of Senegal, as described by Amadou Tidiane Ndiaye, Head of Cabinet, Ministry of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation, who said that Senegal’s lack of a guiding research policy is holding the country back. “Senegal needs a system-wide approach to science and technology to address the challenges we face, he said. We have no research policy, no dedicated research budget. There needs to be a conversation between the economy, research and government to make this a reality.

Amr Adly, Vice Minister of Higher Education & Scientific Research for University Affairs at the Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education & Scientific Research, said that Egypt built its research strategy around the country’s needs and the importance of cooperating with industry. “For us, the idea of using both research push and industry pull is very important,” he said. “We are providing seed funding for researchers if they are responding to industry requests, and offering a financial incentive for researchers publishing research internationally, which incentivises research as an industry in itself.” He says that Egypt is also very keen to share what they have learned with the rest of Africa and to support research collaboration within Africa.

The greatest ressource : scientists

Somewhere between these two examples is Madagascar, which has just begun to implement an integrated research strategy. According to Marie Monique Rasoazananera, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Madagascar’s new research strategy focuses on biodiversity, climate change and addressing the sustainable development goals. The country is building platforms to help researchers and industry work together better, and providing support for scientific innovation and entrepreneurship.

All of the panellists agreed that the best resource available to African countries are it’s people, especially young motivated scientists. As Rasoazananera put it, “Scientists are our greatest resource; we need to think about how best to support them and get the most value from their contributions.”

Dr Oni summarised the session, saying “Don’t wait for someone else to do something; everyone can do something to move Africa forward: build your skills, look at opportunities for exposure, build your networks and build each other.” Together, governments and young researchers can achieve a shared vision for a thriving Africa.

Paul Kennedy, Science Link

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