Launch of pan-African parliamentary science forum
On 2 May, parliamentarians from 21 African countries launched the African Inter-Parliamentary Forum on Science, Technology and innovation (STI) at the United Nations Conference Center (UNCC) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The meeting was co-organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) and UNESCO.
The founding members of the forum are the Central African Republic, Gabon, The Gambia, Kenya, Malawi. Mali, Morocco and Senegal. Chairing the Steering Committee will be the Hon. Abdirahin Haithar Abdi, Speaker of the East Africa Legislative Assembly based in Kenya. In early June, the draft charter for the forum was being circulated to all the member states for approval.
Increasingly, Members of Parliament are expected to be able to assess the implications for their county’s development agenda of emerging trends in STI and evolving policy practices. Parliamentarians are being called upon to legislate on emerging or technical issues that may at times be controversial. These issues include genetically modified organisms, bioethics, the protection of indigenous knowledge, technology transfer, climate change adaptation and mitigation, nanotechnology and biodiversity conservation and use. Given the socio-economic repercussions of legislation on these issues, parliamentarians need to be aware of the importance of STI policy for facilitating empowered, people-centered decision-making.
The forum will strengthen STI governance through co-operation and dialogue among parliamentarians, policy-makers, the scientific community, industry and representatives of media, civil society and the private sector. It will promote the development, dissemination and sharing among members of national parliaments of scientific information and knowledge, experience in policy-making, legislative action and funding. It will also undertake studies and foster debate among members on issues of common interest, including poverty reduction and attainment of the Millennium Development Goals. The forum will also promote the harmonization of national legislation and policies promoting STI for development. It will capitalize on the role the media could play in communicating science to parliamentarians and to the public at large. The forum will also promote the creation or strengthening, within all African parliaments, of a committee on STI and a technology assessment structure or support agency for science and technology.
The launch preceded the second meeting of UNECA’s Committee on Development, Information, Science and Technology (CODIST) taking place at the same venue, the theme of which was Innovation for Industrial Development in Africa. The forum appealed for CODIST support and recommended that African parliaments adopt innovative funding mechanisms and legal frameworks to attract foreign direct investment and help reach the goal of devoting 1% of GDP to research and development in each country.
In January 2003, UNESCO and the Parliament of Finland organized a roundtable which adopted the Helsinki Declaration recommending the creation of sub-regional parliamentary science fora. Regional and sub-regional fora within this programme took place in Cairo (Egypt) in 2004, in Chandigarh (India) and Buenos Aires (Argentina) in 2005, in Tehran (Iran) in 2006, in Brazzaville (Congo) in 2008 in Mombasa (Kenya) in 2009, in New Delhi in 2010 and in Paris in 2010.