» Is science starting to oil the wheels of Ghana’s development?
18.10.2017 - Natural Sciences Sector

Is science starting to oil the wheels of Ghana’s development?

© Square Kilometer Array Africa, Ghana Radio Astronomy Observatory.

Science, technology and innovation (STI) will be the bedrock for Ghana's socio-economic transformation in the coming years, if the new government’s policy statements are anything to go by. So says George Essegbey, Director of the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute (STEPRI) of Ghana’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and lead author of the chapter on West Africa in the UNESCO Science Report. He delivers the following account of developments in Ghana since the report was published in November 2015.

Things have been moving fast in Ghana, since Nana AddoAkufo-Addo won the presidential election in December 2016. One of the government’s priorities has been to revise the National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy adopted in 2010. The Minister for the Environment, Science and Technology (MESTI), Prof. Kwabena Frempong-Boateng, chairs the Technical Committee in charge of the revision. The minister’s deputy and chief directors also sit on the committee, along with representatives of stakeholder groups and the Director of STEPRI.

In August this year,MESTI organized a national consultative workshop of stakeholders to engage industrial players, civil society organizations and the media in discussing the Draft National, Science, Technology and Innovation Policy and to solicit their input.

The draft policy will be approved and adopted by the Cabinet without the need to pass through Parliament.. A science, technology and innovation bill is currently being drawn up to take the policy forward. It makes provision for establishing a Presidential Advisory Council on Science, Technology and Innovation (PACSTI).

PACSTI will strengthen the linkages between the central point of decision-making in Flagstaff House (the Presidency) and MESTI and its agencies. PACSTI is fundamentally an effort to embed science, technology and innovation (STI) at the pinnacle of Ghana's governance structure in the hope that STI will be more proactively harnessed and exploited in the national interest, in future.

PACSTI will be responsible for coordinating and monitoring implementation of the revised policy and other national STI programmes. It will also draw on the expertise of academia and other key stakeholders, including the diaspora.

A national fund for science, technology and innovation

The draft policy makes provision for setting up a National Science, Technology and Innovation Fund. The scientific community has been calling for such a fund for years.

The previous government had set the wheels in motion for setting-up a research fund but its main purpose would have been to appease the academic community following the government’s decision to cancel the payment of research allowances to academic staff. The present government intends to pursue this policy. All research allowances will be cancelled and the new Research Fund will be placed under the Ministry of Education.

The Science, Technology and Innovation Fund envisaged by the National, Science, Technology and Innovation Policy was originally to be placed under MESTI. This fund would have been accessible to researchers and all potential inventors and innovators from both the public and private sectors. However, as things stand, it looks as if there won’t be any dedicated fund for science, technology and innovation. Rather, the Research Fund should cater to some of the innovation fund’s objectives. The fund should help Ghana to reach its goal of raising investment in research and development (R&D) from 0.38% of GDP in 2010 to 1% of GDP in the short-to medium-term.

Investment in astronomy and space science

President Akufo-Addo reiterated this goal at the inauguration of the Ghana Radio Astronomy Observatory in Kuntunsenear Accra on 24 August this year.(1)

Ghana is collaborating with eight other African countries(3) to build the world’s largest radio telescope in South Africa, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). Each of the partners has committed to converting their redundant telecommunications dishes into satellite dishes as part of their contribution to the project. Once Ghana completes this process in 2019,it will become only the second country on the continent after South Africa to host a Radio Astronomy Observatory. The Ghana Atomic Energy Commission and SKA Africa have cosponsored the dish, which has been built by Ghanaians trained by South African experts within the SKA’s Human Capital Development Programme.(1)(2)

When Ghana joined the SKA project in 2007, it had no astronomy programme. Since then, numerous Ghanaian scientists and engineers have been trained in Ghana, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Although there were no articles on astronomy recorded in international journals between 2008 and 2014, the output of Ghanian scientists across other scientific disciplines almost tripled over this period.

Professor Dickson Adomako, Director of the Ghana Science and Technology Institute, explained at a media briefing how Ghana’s central geographical position enabled astronomers to observe both the northern and southern hemispheres, a drawcard for foreign astronomers. The data collected by the antenna would also help Ghanaian institutions to plan better in a wide range of domains, he said.(2)

Anita Loots, Head of the Africa Planning Office for the SKA project, described Ghana’s observatory as a ‘timely facility’, since attaining the Sustainable Development Goals would depend ‘very much’ on Africa’s ability to gather data in areas such as agriculture and sanitation to make informed decisions.(2)

At the inauguration, President Akufo-Addo spoke of the role that the National Science, Technology and Innovation Fund would play in supporting research at the country’s public and private institutes and universities. He added that the government would be making an effort to ‘increase collaboration among research institutions, industry, especially the private sector, and political authorities at all levels. ‘These measures, I hope, will make the transition from research to product development and industrial production much easier’, he said.(1)

A need to diversify the economy

Ghana is one of several West African countries with industries producing value-added goods, according to the regional Policy on Science and Technology adopted by the Economic Community of West African States in 2011. The policy observes that both Ghana and Nigeria have specialized institutes for aeronautics, chemistry, metallurgy and other industries, as well as technology parks and cyber villages.

Ghanian exports are dominated by only a handful of products, however. Gold and cocoa alone accounted for about 53% of exports in 2013, according to the UNESCO Science Report.

Ghana has only been exporting petroleum since 2011 but this accounted for 22% of exports by 2013. A 2014 study by the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research at the University of Ghana pondered whether ‘the increased importance of oil in GDP signaled the risk of Ghana becoming oil-dependent. The study observed that ‘the advent of oil production seems to be changing the pattern of the country’s exports’ and questioned whether Ghana was ‘teetering toward an oil-dominant country, or might the proceeds be employed wisely to diversify the economy?’

Mixed signals coming from government

As recalled by the UNESCO Science Report, the main objectives of the original National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (2010) were to use STI to reduce poverty, increase the international competitiveness of enterprises and promote sustainable environmental management and industrial growth. The revised policy builds on this foundation.

If there are some strong signals that the government intends to match actions to its words, there have also been some weaker signals. The most obvious one is the exclusion of the Minister of Environment, Science and Technology from the Cabinet (although he is entitled to attend Cabinet meetings). This suggests that STI may not be considered such a top priority, after all.

The manner in which financial resources will be allocated to the agencies responsible for STI is another issue that is yet to be addressed appropriately. The old order of frugal and stringent government funding for research institutes, in particular, has not changed. Only when it does will the government be seen to be following through on its pledges.

Nevertheless, on the whole, there appears to be a lot of goodwill towards science, technology and innovation in Ghana at the highest levels of decision-making. The scientific community should be able to capitalize on this goodwill to pursue the country’s necessary socio-economic transformation.

1 Graphic.com. Akufo-Addo launches Ghana Radio Astronomy Observatory. 24 August, Accra.

2 Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (2017), Launch of Ghana radio astronomy observatory. Government news, Accra, 24 August.

3 Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia; see Box 20.3 of the UNESCO Science Report (2015) for details

Source : George Essegbey, with excerpts from the UNESCO Science Report : towards 2030.

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