Africa should control its Research Agenda

6 April, 2012, Esther Nakkazi

By Violet Mengo (Zambia)

SCIENCE experts and delegates attending the first Africa Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation in Nairobi, Kenya 1st to 3rd April 2012, are looking for African solutions to African problems.

The call is for African governments to fund and promote research and development on the continent.[frax09alpha]

Director for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa Technology Division, Aida Opolu-Mensah, said during the official opening that for a long time Africa’s science and technology program has been set by the continent’s development partners.

“We need to be in the ‘driving seat’ if Africa is the new pole of growth—the continent has to be in the driving seat,” Mensah said.

He said Africa has to invest its own resources in the science and technology that they want to use in order to achieve new growth.

Mensah called upon African countries to fund science and technology programs from their national budgets, not to rely on ‘gifts’ from international partners.

In 2006, the African Union set a target for all member countries to spend at least one percent of their gross domestic product on science research and development.

According to research from an A.U. development program, known as NEPAD, only Uganda, Malawi and South Africa have reached that target.

African economies have grown rapidly during the past decade, and are predicted to continue expanding by most estimates. The International Monetary Fund expects African economies to grow by nearly six percent in 2012.

African Development Bank Vice President Kamal El Khesten pointed out that growth does not necessarily equate to development.

“This growth was not satisfactorily inclusive, in spite of double-digit growth rates in many countries; the occurrence of jobless growth has become the order of the day. The challenge is to address the disparity between skills development and the actual requirements of the labor market,” he said.

El Khestan said Africa needs to invest in higher education to prepare for jobs in science and technology for young people who are at the centre at attention of the conference in terms of youth employment.

There is no shortage of advice and guidance on science and technology development in Africa. The African Union has made numerous declarations on the subject, starting with the 2005 consolidated plan of action. The United Nations has its own recommendations, as do most international development agencies working in the continent.

Association for the Development of Education in Africa Chairman Dzingai Mutumbuka said many of these good ideas are never put into action. He hopes this forum will be different.

“It is time that we as Africans move away from arrogant conference resolutions to implementation,” he said.

The three days forum hopes to take some concrete actions in designing possible responses to water, energy and biodiversity needs in Africa.

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