» French edition of UNESCO Science Report launched in Djibouti
08.12.2016 - Natural Sciences Sector

French edition of UNESCO Science Report launched in Djibouti

The Minister of Higher Education and Research, HE Nabil Mohamed Ahmed, speaking at the launch. © UNESCO/E. Fernandez Polcuch

The French edition of the UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030 was launched on 4 December 2016 at the Kempinski Hotel in Djibouti to a packed auditorium.

‘I am convinced that the translation of this report will enable French-speaking countries to devise science policies which not only reflect their own needs but also emerging global challenges,’ observed His Excellency Prime Minister Abdoulkader Mohamed Kamil, in his opening remarks to an audience made up of government officials, academics, university professors and students. ‘These challenges are characterized by globalization and the speed with which data are now being exchanged in an increasingly digitized world’.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova acquiesced. Recalling the uniqueness of this report, she said that ‘our ambition is simple, yet significant: to share the knowledge contained in this report with the greatest number, in order to strengthen policy, accelerate research and support innovation’. She added that, thanks to the strong spirit of co-operation between UNESCO and the Republic of Djibouti, ‘we have been able to extend the reach of this report to the 274 million French-speakers around the world’.

Ms Bokova expressed her gratitude to the Republic of Djibouti for financing the French edition, a move indicative of the country’s determination to boost its commitment to higher education, research and science policy for sustainable development’, she said.

The will to make science a pillar of international co-operation

Both speakers recalled that the President of the Republic of Djibouti, His Excellence Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, had offered the report to dozens of heads of state and government attending the Summit of French-speaking countries in Madagascar on 26 and 27 November. ‘This was a way for Djibouti to reaffirm its attachment to the pursuit of international scientific co-operation for the sustainable development of developing countries, in particular’, said the prime minister. ‘I am very grateful for this gesture’, added Ms Bokova, ‘as the political symbolism is powerful. This gesture reflects the will to make science a pillar of international co-operation’.

‘We wish to show that our country is constantly looking to the future while respecting its culture and traditions, the prime minister went on to say. ‘We are already looking to the future by modernizing our infrastructure, developing green energy sources and equipping our research centres and universities… Our country’s involvement in the production of this report only serves to reassert our desire to share knowledge at both the regional and international levels’.

Why Djibouti is nurturing a scientific culture

‘This report speaks volumes about the disparities between different regions of the world, even if considerable progress has been achieved’, observed Dr Nabil Mohamed Ahmed, Minister of Higher Education and Research, in his own intervention.

In the Republic of Djibouti, he said, ‘a few years ago, scientific research had little means at its disposal. In less than 15 years, the number of university students has grown from 400 to more than 10 000 (out of just under 900 000 inhabitants)… ‘We know that achieving sustainable development will demand greater scientific and technical knowledge…, which is why we are nurturing a scientific culture in our schools and universities and encouraging the young to be creative and innovative’.

The steep rise in student rolls may be due to the fact that the government finances each student’s education up until the completion of a bachelor’s degree, as recalled by moderator Dr Mohamed Jalludin, Director-General of the Centre for Research and Studies of Djibouti (CERD).

‘Most researchers and professors are graduates of some of the world’s best universities’, the minister went on to say. He described how some of them were today conducting development projects in the field of energy, plant research, mining, medicine and human sciences at CERD, with the support of the University of Djibouti’.

Never before has the world invested so heavily in science

‘Knowledge is the oil of knowledge societies’, opined Ms Bokova. ‘More and more developing countries are turning to science in their development strategies’. The transition towards knowledge societies is under way but will only succeed if built upon more inclusive growth that creates jobs, smarter growth characterized by qualified service providers and goods with higher added value, and more sustainable growth that is respectful of the environment’. She recalled that, according to the UNESCO Science Report, low-income countries had doubled their investment in research and development to almost US$4 billion between 2007 and 2013.

In fact, global spending on research and development progressed faster (+30.5%) between 2007 and 2013 than global economic growth (+20.1%), as Susan Schneegans, Editor-in-Chief of the report, recalled in her own presentation of global trends. Despite the debt crisis, the private sector in most developed countries maintained or even augmented its own investment in research and development, even as public support for research waned in the face of austerity budgets.

In the developing world, meanwhile, the commodities boom enabled many governments to increase their own commitment to research and development. In Ethiopia, for instance, which has seen some of the fastest economic growth rates in Africa over the past decade, the national commitment to research rose from 0.17% to 0.61% of GDP between 2007 and 2013.

The need to participate fully in the new economy

In Djibouti, ‘we are firmly convinced’, the minister said, ‘of the importance for us to acquire and develop digital technology, in order to participate fully in the new economy taking shape before our very eyes'.

This new economy is already visible in Kenya, for instance, where the socio-economic success of the country’s technology incubation hubs encouraged the government to raise its own investment in research to 0.79% of GDP by 2010, according to the report. Although nearly half of this (47%) came from abroad, Kenya’s level of commitment to research more than doubled. The government now plans to set up technology incubation hubs in all 47 counties.

Africa is on the move

Author Remy Twingiriyama observed in his own presentation of the report’s findings on East Africa that the Kenyan government’s Science, Technology and Innovation Act of 2013 had the potential to be ‘a game-changer’. The act had created a National Research Fund and made provision for the fund to receive 2% of GDP each financial year. Such a rise in Kenya’s commitment to research would place the country on a par with the European Union average for this indicator.

He also observed that Rwanda had become a champion of green growth. After banning plastic bags in 2008, which had since been replaced by biodegradable banana, cotton and papyrus alternatives, the country was planning to develop ‘a green city’.

For their part, authors Almamy Konté and Nouhou Diaby focused on pan-African trends and trends in West Africa in their own presentations. They observed that West Africa was still lagging behind the rest of Africa in terms of investment in research and development, and thus in terms of scientific output, but that it, too, was making progress.

One of West Africa’s strengths lies in the coherence of its subregional strategy. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is the only regional community to have adopted its own science and technology policy, known as ECOPOST (2012), which is indexed on the region’s socio-economic development strategy to 2020, Vision 2020, adopted in 2011.

Nouhou Diaby highlighted another particularity of West Africa. It is unique in having a common currency and in the fact that citizens can travel within the subregion on a common passport. Trade barriers have also been removed between the 15 ECOWAS members and transport infrastructure, such as ports, roads and railroads, is in the process of being rehabilitated, in order to fluidify exchanges within the region.

In East Africa too, infrastructure is being modernized. The development of the port of Djibouti and the rehabilitation of the railway linking Addis Ababa to Djibouti – which should be operational by early 2017 – should open up new markets for Djibouti’s manufacturing sector.

The Republic of Djibouti lies at the crossroads between Africa and the Arab world. In his presentation, author Jauad El Kharraz focused on key trends in North Africa. Here again, Africa is on the move, with Morocco intending to become Africa’s leader in wind and solar energy by 2020 and Tunisia leading the continent for the number of technology parks.

The need for reliable statistics and foreign investment

After lunch, in his second intervention, Dr Konté insisted on the importance of having reliable statistics to inform policy-making. He observed that almost none of foreign direct investment (FDI) in research flowed to Africa (0.8%), according to the UNESCO Science Report. In comparison, 29% of all related investment flowed to China and India.

The lack of FDI targeting Africa was of concern, he said, since such investment had a beneficial effect on trade and investment, the development of enterprises, technology transfer and human capital development. Between 2001 and 2011, China and India’s world share of business investment in research and development had quadrupled to 20%, according to the report, placing them on a par with European enterprises.

Following Dr Konte’s presentation, Ernesto Fernandez Polcuch, head of the section for science policy and partnerships, summarized UNESCO’s programmes in science, technology and innovation policy. One of these, the Global Observatory of Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Instruments (GO-SPIN), maps national innovation systems in partnership with governments.

Signing of a memorandum of understanding

The Government of Djibouti has expressed interest in participating in GO-SPIN. The Ministry of Higher Education and Research is also keen to collaborate with UNESCO on the development of an observatory of climate change in East Africa, which would be hosted by CERD, and to participate in the Unitwin/UNESCO chair programme. A memorandum of understanding was signed on 4 December to formalize this cooperation.

Preparing the young for tomorrow’s world

The day ended with a session during which about 80 students from the University of Djibouti were able to put questions to Professor Zohra ben Lakhdar, L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science laureate, on how they could best prepare for tomorrow’s world of work. Like other speakers, Professor ben Lakhdar stressed the important role that technicians and engineers would play in tomorrow’s world, which will tend to lean towards science-based industries.

She advocated internships in companies for engineering students, as nothing could hold a candle to a hands-on experience of working on a project when it came to training engineers. To the budding entrepreneurs in the room, she had the following message: whether you are proposing to develop a pharmaceutical product or a service, the main thing is to master your chosen field’.

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