African Union commits to science in Addis Ababa Declaration

Heads of State meeting on 29–30 January 2007 at the African Union’s annual summit in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) have sworn to boost research spending and develop science education on the continent.

The year 2007 is designated a year for championing science, technology and innovation in Africa. It gets off to a flying start with the establishment of a Pan-African Intellectual Property Organization to protect endogenous innovation. In the final Declaration on Science, Technology and Scientific Research for Development, the Heads of State vow to ‘increase funding for national, regional and continental programmes for science and technology (S&T) and support the establishment of national and regional centres of excellence in S&T.’

Regional, South–South and North–South cooperation in S&T will be enhanced. To this end, the Summit backed a proposal by African foreign ministers to equip scientists with diplomatic passports to foster research collaboration by making it easier for them to move around the continent. The AU Commission will now consult individual countries on which scientists to target for the scheme.

Member States are ‘strongly urged’ to allocate at least 1% of GDP to research and development (R&D) by 2010, a target UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura hailed as ‘an important step’ towards placing African countries in the driver’s seat of their socio-economic development.

‘Is this not too little too late?’ challenged Rwandan president Paul Kagame in his own address. He announced that Rwanda would spend 1.6% of GDP on S&T in the current fiscal year and planned ‘to increase it to 3% in the next five years.’ Rwanda has begun implementing a national policy on science, technology and innovation, he said, that included the goal of increasing the number of science students in tertiary institutions to 70% of the student population.

Member States vowed to revitalize African universities and scientific research institutions so that ‘they can play an effective role as loci of science, technology and engineering education and development and also contribute to public understanding of science and technology.’ Member States were invited 'to pay special attention to the teaching of science and technology’ and undertook to ‘encourage more African youth to take up studies in science, technology and engineering.’ In this spirit, the Summit approved a Mwalimu Julius Nyerere African Union Scholarship Scheme targeting 50 Bachelor students initially. An African Education Fund will finance the Plan of Action for 2006–2015 adopted by Ministers of Education in Maputo (Mozambique) last September. ‘Concerned’ that 27% of the African population is undernourished and ‘determined to reduce the continent’s annual expenditure of US$20 billion on agricultural imports,’ governments reaffirmed their commitment in Addis Ababa to allocating at least 10% of national budgets to agriculture and endorsed the African Seed and Biotechnology Programme.

They also endorsed a 20-year Biotechnology Strategy backed by science ministers in Cairo (Egypt) last November. The Strategy is articulated around Pan-African cooperation hingeing on regional strengths: drug manufacture in North Africa, malaria and HIV/AIDS control in southern Africa, agricultural biotechnology in West Africa, livestock research technology in eastern Africa and biodiversity in central Africa.

One of the rare proposals not endorsed by leaders was that for an African Science Technology Fund. The Fund was originally mooted as a means of accelerating implementation of Africa’s Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action to 2010. Wary that such a Fund might generate unnecessary administrative costs, the Summit decided to mandate an expert panel with more in-depth studies. One solution might be to entrust the Fund to the African Development Bank.

In the Declaration, Heads of State ‘recognize the support in S&T by international organizations such as UNESCO’ and ‘call on UNESCO and other bilateral and multilateral organizations to support the Member States, regional economic communities and the African Union to implement the Summit decision on science and technology.’

For details: m.el-tayeb(at)unesco.org

Source: UNESCO’s quarterly journal, A World of Science, April 2007

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