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The Development of Science and
Technology in Africa
University of Natal, Durban (South Africa) 27–31 July 1998

International Conference
Projects for the development of science and technology in Africa

Executive Summary


  • Background
  • Research and development
    a) Exchange programs
    b) University–industry links
    c) University–national/international facilities links
    d)  Mechanisms and sources of support
  • Education
    a) National support for strong linkage between education stakeholders
    b) International support for educational programs in Africa
    c) Raising awareness level for S&T value
  • Policy
  • Assessment
    Strategies: How should assessment be carried out?
    a) Assessment of African S&T systems and capacities
    b) Foresight planning
    c. Modelling

Steering Committee

Background    Back to top

The present Conference was organized to analyse the current situation of science and technology (S&T) in the region and to develop proposals for a programme of cooperation and development. Forty-six scientists, educators, and government representatives from nine African nations and several industrial countries participated in this Conference.

Dr L. Mtshali, Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology for South Africa gave the opening address. Prof. G. O. P. Obasi, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, gave the keynote address: ‘The Development of Geosciences in Africa’.

This White Paper presents a program of action consisting of six proposed areas for cooperative effort. It is the product of several activities that transpired during and after the workshop, including brainstorming and synthesizing ideas raised at the meeting, draft report writing, and follow-up work by a committee, the African Program for Science and Technology Steering Committee (APSaTSCo), that was formed to finalize the report. This committee consisted of 25 participants who stayed on after the presentations at the workshop. The committee took upon itself to (1) draft this document, based on the issues and ideas raised at the workshop and (2) make personal commitments for follow-up actions.

This document serves as the initial effort to summarize the analysis conducted by the meeting participants. Subsequent steps have already been initiated. Among other actions, it is intended that this report will be submitted to the attention of governmental and international agencies, associated major development banks, and private sector consortia, such as trade associations, in order to increase awareness of their roles and of opportunities for action and cooperation to advance S&T in African countries.

The main topics of the conference were:

  • Advanced study (M.Sc. and Ph.D.): need, modalities of realization (e.g. split doctorates or sandwich), connection with scientific development policies and brain drain problem.

  • Use of new technologies for teaching and communication.

  • Regional courses and possible establishment of regional institutions for scientific research and training.

  • Role and possibilities of national and regional actions on the part of the African National Research Councils of Science and Technology.

  • Development of research and teaching capacity in the universities.

  • Role and possibilities of international cooperation.

  • Contribution of the scientific and technological infrastructure to economic development and regional peace.

The following six areas for cooperation in the development of S&T are summarized in this report:

Each area was evaluated by a working group which, based on issues and ideas that were identified at the Conference, produced a draft for the area. The drafts were then edited by APSaTSCo.

It is important to stress that this bottom-up approach was undertaken by a group of individuals who presented their own views and worked through a consensus-building process to arrive at conclusions and recommendations contained in the present report.

While the participants came primarily from the fields of physical sciences and mathematics, governmental and inter-governmental representatives also participated. The working groups addressed a broad spectrum of issues. The conclusions are more generally applicable to a range of scientific and technical activities.

The overall conclusion is that there are a number of significant opportunities for international cooperation for the development of Science and Technology in Africa. These projects should begin with seed funding as early as possible.

Research and development    Back to top

Science and Technology Research and Development Partnerships in Africa


The widening economic gaps between nations is linked more and more to corresponding gaps in science and technology (S&T). To be effective, S&T needs to maintain relevance and have a sufficient resource base. In order to maintain relevance and garner support from influential sectors, S&T research and development (R&D) agendas need to be set locally. By maintaining relevance and gaining support, R&D should contribute more effectively to economic development and influence emerging national policies.

A fundamental need for development of S&T and R&D is to have partnerships for exchange of people, ideas, and support facilities. The university and research institutes should enhance their relevance to society by developing partnerships with the local community, industry, and national research facilities. The universities should be open to meet the needs of the local industries and should also update their research programs to meet the practical needs of society. Local R&D programs should be as selective as possible in order to avoid mis-management of limited local funding. However, these linkages should not be limited nationally, but should extend to include regional and international elements. These actions will enhance the standard of educational expertise both for instruction and for the students. R&D should be coupled with the educational goals of the universities to promote and strengthen national economies. Stronger national economies will contribute, through partnerships and linkages, to an equally stronger regional economy.


  • To promote sustainable science and technology research and development in Africa.


It is essential that partnerships and linkages be established between various sectors within each nation and between African nations. These interactions involve, among others, exchange programs, cooperation between industry and educational institutions, linkages in research facilities, and identification of other mechanisms and sources of assistance and support. These interactions should be promoted at all levels: international, national and regional. Strategic elements are listed below under each of the categories identified as being important ingredients to the partnerships.

a) Exchange programs

Exchange needs to occur in a variety of ways and at different levels (local, national, and international). The main objective of these exchange programs should be the promotion of the skills of African scientists by involving them in up-to-date scientific investigations that have direct consequences on the social well-being of their own countries. These exchange programs should allow African scientists to emerge from scientific isolation. One should establish incentives for scientists to avoid brain-drain from already exhausted African universities and research institutes, such as reliable funding and infrastructure for research, adequate salaries, and open exchange of ideas and data. Legal mechanisms may be developed and implemented as the last resort to stem brain-drain.

The Exchange Programs may include the following:

  • exchange of experts/scientists

  • collaborative training for R&D programs

  • access of African scientists to international facilities

  • intra- and extra-African student, postdoctoral, and faculty exchanges

  • active participation of African scientists in international S&T bodies, such as the International Council for Science (ICSU).

b) University–industry links

The second important category is that of linkages between industry and universities. These linkages should be in the form of partnerships in which mutual support for specific programs can be identified and implemented. For instance, some of the R&D activities of local industries could be hosted at universities or research institutes and financed mostly by these industries. This would certainly ease the financial burden of the universities and research institutes occasioned by the heavy funding needed to equip some of their research laboratories.

Examples of such partnerships include the following:

  • industrial chairs

  • internships

  • joint research programs

  • sandwich degree programs

  • sharing of laboratory facilities/infrastructure.

These partnership components will create a positive environment that encourages researchers to form interest groups to aid in interaction and interpretation of research in the context of enhancing education and production. A key component of this environment is the creation of multiple industrial chairs or joint appointments.

Other issues need to be addressed in this context and include the promotion of local industry and economy, provision of technical assistance to existing small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and promotion of the creation of new SMEs.

c) University–national/international facilities links

The establishment of links between university and national/international facilities is envisioned to constitute viable partnerships. Partnerships with these facilities could address local and regional issues and lead to economic gains. Examples of existing partnerships are the European Union Euro-Mediterranean programs, where research groups from both sides of the sea collaborate in projects related to agriculture, environment, and health. Examples of potential partnerships are those which focus on the African Great Lakes, the Rift Valley, regional climate, and Southern Skies.

Developing these links requires identification and promotion of existing and emerging centers of excellence, whose missions involve fostering stronger R&D partnerships.

d)  Mechanisms and sources of support

Mechanisms and sources of support must be identified for the expressed purpose of bringing new financing to partnerships that is not normally available. Establishing these partnerships will spark yet additional funding that will be made available to academic, technical, and local/national communities. For instance, international funding/banking organizations like the World Bank, the Islamic Bank of Jeddah, and the African Development Bank, could make some form of funding available to fulfill these objectives. The African governments should also make a solid commitment to reinforce and revitalize already existing R&D agencies, as well as allocate funds in support of these programs. The local African private sector should also commit to supporting these programs of African scientific and technological development. These contributions would certainly constitute a real, positive signal to the international agencies and industrial countries that R&D is an urgent priority for Africa.

Education    Back to top


The sustained prosperity of a nation depends upon the level and quality of its education system. Education empowers individuals and maximizes national intellectual resources in order to sustain social and economic progress for the benefit of all. Access to free compulsory education is a right, and nations must address the appropriate length of the educational experience to meet national needs for the development of their intellectual capacity, especially in S&T.


  • A commitment to increasing the level of literacy and numeracy must be a prime requirement for all nations.

Toward this end, African nations:

  • Must establish, through their national education policies, strong links between stakeholders in their educational system to ensure curriculum development across the full educational process, giving attention to the need for coordination at every stage of a student’s development.

  • Should seek more sponsorship or assistance from international agencies and from the private sector, recognizing Africa’s inadequate local resources, to help narrow the gap between Africa’s educational system and that of the developed world.

  • Must raise the level of awareness of the value of S&T among the general population and among those who influence educational policies.


There are several strategies identified for each of the above-mentioned objectives. These strategies are discussed briefly under each objective.

a) National support for strong linkage between education stakeholders

National education policies should establish strong links between stakeholders in education to ensure curriculum development across the full educational process, also taking into account the need for coordination between each stage of a student’s development. Scientists and technologists from academia and industry should be included in designing the curriculum.

The curriculum should be designed to meet the needs of Africa and address immediate needs to include awareness of the environment. Topics such as pollution, hydroclimate variability, conservation, use of natural resources, and soil erosion, are worthy of inclusion.

Curriculum for early study years should include mathematics and science to ensure the opportunity for all students to have a choice of pursuing scientific study later.

There is a need to raise the level of academic quality of teaching, particularly within the pre-university educational sector.

The following actions are recommended:

  • A closer linking of teacher training education with universities.

  • The inclusion of basic mathematics and science in all training programs for teachers.

  • Sponsorship of staff development workshops as in-service training for science teachers.

b)  International support for educational programs in Africa

In recognition of the large gap between the educational systems in Africa as a whole and those of the industrialized world, and noting the lack of local resources, it is essential that international agencies and the private sector provide assistance.

Support from international agencies is required for sponsorship of programs such as the following:

  • Widening of access for women to education, including higher education.

  • A review of the most successful international programs to help identify appropriate methods for nurturing and assisting African education programs.

  • A continuing adult education program to develop an improved knowledge base and a general awareness of the benefits of S&T.

  • Development of support and teaching materials to assist the learning process for students whose mother tongue is not that of the tuition used for S&T in later study years.

  • A review of academic content and levels of achievement within S&T programs across Africa.

  • Funding for academic staff exchange schemes at all levels of the educational system coupled with follow-up funding to enable implementation of the educational experience in Africa.

  • Pump priming funds to explore opportunities and to develop materials for an electronic ‘virtual education’ scheme of relevance to Africa. This scheme should be supportive of academics in managing the process of learning, and of the student experience and should provide in-service teacher development directly at the required point of learning. This effort should build on existing, successful distance education programs, such as that run for years by the University of South Africa (UNISA) in Pretoria.

c)  Raising awareness level for S&T value

The level of awareness of the value of S&T must be raised among both the general population and those with influence on educational policies. There are a number of examples of quality science being undertaken in Africa which may be used for the promotion of the discipline. The South African Large Telescope is a typical multinational achievement that could be used for this purpose of promoting and increasing awareness.

International support is needed for an African-driven project to investigate practices employed to promote science in industrialized countries. This project could identify practices for successful adaptation and/or application in Africa.

African nations should explore the opportunity for developing high profile promotional material for dissemination across the available media services.

To stimulate an early awareness of S&T among young people, consideration should be given to the development of low-cost, early-learning materials based upon science and relevant to Africa. Such a project would help the development of skills among the young in Africa. Coordination should be provided via an international agency (e.g., UNESCO, UNICEF etc.) and based upon the following principles:

  • Design of activities jointly between the industrialized world and collaborators in Africa.

  • Manufacture of products in Africa from local materials.

  • Sponsorship by multinationals who may wish to take advantage of self-promotion via these products.


Africa’s program to enhance education in S&T should recognize the various stakeholders, their interrelationships, and their changing roles in the process of providing quality education. Each country, nationally and with its neighbors, should build strong linkages among stakeholders. A systematic approach should be developed to assess the needs of, the problems and the possible solutions for, each entire educational system. Recognizing the limits of local resources and the need to share some of them, there is also a necessity to explore national and international resources/assistance to realize these educational objectives. It is also necessary to increase the awareness level as to the value and contributions of S&T not only among the general population, but also among those who can influence or are responsible for developing national educational policies.

Policy    Back to top


From the proposals presented to the workshop, a consensus emerged that the governments of the continent urgently need to undertake a new and strong policy towards the development of S&T. Such a policy should include both national and regional actions as a basis for further actions at the international level.

It is recognized that S&T development is a necessary condition for the peaceful social development of the continent, the necessity of which is obvious, and the sustainability of which requires that adequate human and financial resources be available in the S&T sector.


  • An increase in the gross domestic product (GDP) fraction invested in S&T, starting with a 1% target and gradually increasing to 3% at the end of 10 years.

  • A change of policy for the loans and programs of technical assistance, to include S&T as a substantial part of the targeted increase of the GDP.

  • The involvement of multinational business concerns and local firms in the development of policies of S&T.

  • The development of a political consensus on the need of a strong S&T policy.

  • The prevention of brain drain.


The development of S&T policy will require the involvement of scientists with access to policy makers. This liaison may be accomplished through professional scientific societies and should promote to the policy makers adequate public awareness programs on the utility of S&T for development. A useful element of such a campaign would be the study of cases showing that payoffs of S&T investment are significant and would allow African economies to make the transition from tertiary to secondary economies. It would be important to show that the primary sector would also receive a great advantage from S&T development.

The GDP fraction invested in S&T should be increased. An urgent need is to soon reach the threshold recommended by the South Commission and UNESCO of 1% of GDP, from the current much lower values, with the perspective of a further increase to 3% by the end of the next decade. The latter level may appear to be too high, since it is analogous to that of the most advanced countries, but, given the lower income of the continent, its actual total value would represent the minimum needed to face the most urgent necessities.

Governments should explore strategies for effective private sector contributions to this investment.

A likely consequence of governmental decisions for increased investment in S&T is that international agencies and development banks will realize the necessity of a change in policy for their loans and programs of technical assistance, as well as a similar recognition in bilateral agreements with donors from the developed world. All such outside loans, programs and agreements should include S&T, with a sufficient percentage of the funds earmarked for it.

In order to make such an act of conviction possible, the planning and advisory people in government should be adequately knowledgeable of S&T policies. Likewise, the advisory staff should be strongly linked to the actual scientific environment of the country.

Additional actions required for the strengthening of S&T have been identified in the establishment of foundations for basic science and in the access to private sources of funding. A special role to facilitate access should be requested by the governments to be played by the multinational companies operating in Africa, especially in primary sectors. These multinationals should be encouraged to support R&D in S&T.

A complementary action should be the promotion of fiscal and financial incentives to private and public firms for investment in R&D. This could be accompanied by the promotion of local firms, such as engineering firms, as a tool to enhance the market for technically trained people. The need for increasing technical manpower requires a policy of equality in the access to all levels of scientific education. Loans to students seem to be an appropriate mechanism for this, and banks should be encouraged to identify and implement suitable modalities for such loans.

These actions by national governments must be accompanied by strong and visible actions at the international level. African governments should request that the 1979 Vienna Program of Action be reexamined at the beginning of the new century and, after analyzing the causes of its failure, be suitably revised.

African collaborative relationships with funding institutions should be developed, for example with the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the Arab Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), other intergovernmental funders, and private sector funders. This requires that African nations offer the funding agencies clear economic arguments to support their request for S&T programs. Such action would benefit from the support of agencies like UNESCO and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and from scientific associations and institutions like the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Third World Association for the Advancement of Science (TWAS), the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), the International Institute of Theoretical and Applied Physics (IITAP),and the International Physics Seminar (IPS). In particular, UNESCO could be instrumental in proposing that the banks launch, and possibly run, a broad program of S&T development.

The results of this meeting should be presented in important forums such as the Organization for African Unity (OAU) and the forthcoming UNESCO World Conference on Science for the 21st century: a new commitment. For this purpose it may be appropriate to establish a committee which can act in cooperation with the African Mathematical and Physics Unions to further policy changes in S&T for Africa.

A final point of consensus was that these political strategies on S&T in Africa cannot lead to any sustainable situation unless scientists are used in areas where they are competent and in their own country/region, thus alleviating internal and external brain drain. One very important way of doing so is for governments to insure that adequate living and working conditions are provided to these scientists.

Assessment    Back to top


We submit that a comprehensive assessment of ALL S&T activities and resources in Africa is key to progress and implementation of the other categories that were identified in the workshop and presented in this White Paper. Several assessments have already been performed and this fact must be taken into consideration.


  • • Data and models are required to inform and convince governments and funders that it is necessary and efficient to invest in S&T development. S&T policy planning in the absence of reliable data will be meaningless. The social and economic impacts as identified in this workshop of S&T need to be communicated in an understandable and quantifiable manner. Any capacity-building exercise needs to be carried out on the basis of a thorough understanding of what is already in place and what is necessary to develop further.

Strategies: How should assessment be carried out?

There is a need for a comprehensive assessment of Africa’s S&T. This needs to be followed by some action, such as a research and capacity foresight exercise, which would provide bases for a focused approach to the utilization of constrained resources. A set of modelling exercises should be implemented to measure, in the African context, the social and economic impact of S&T.

These three items are elaborated upon below: assessment, planning and modelling. For each of these items, a broad overview or motivation is given first, after which are listed more specific points generated in the brainstorming session.

a) Assessment of African S&T systems and capacities

Broadly, the assessment should cover the following areas:

  • S&T human resources available in universities, colleges, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government scientific laboratories and institutions at all levels and in all relevant disciplines. Special emphasis should be placed on the role of women in science and the development of youth.

  • Existing research and teaching programs, areas of subregional, regional, and international cooperation at the current time, S&T facilities and those facilities that will provide an enabling environment for S&T development in universities, colleges, NGOs and government institutions.

  • Quality of existing governmental S&T policy and policy processes and determination of where such policy does not yet exist.

  • Fundraising strategies, the availability of funding resources.

  • Attempts at increasing the public awareness of S&T activities.

  • Evaluation of strategies of non-African institutions in a similar position with a view to identifying and learning from the strengths and weaknesses with respect to S&T development.

  • Other assessments and studies that have been done so as to determine what has already been covered and where gaps exist.

Specifically, the following items should be considered, among others, in the assessment of African S&T systems and capacities:

  • S&T programs in Africa to determine patterns of success. Fundraising strategies (and source identification) in the context of globalization.

  • Possible sources of funding for each problem area. Successes and failures of S&T models for centers, including those that are outside the region Such as the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) models.

  • African resources for developing S&T.

  • Core science capabilities.

  • Existing regional S&T cooperation programs and keys to their success, e.g. mathematics program in Zimbabwe.

  • Generation of a roster of African scientists with gender specification.

  • Telecommunications and information technology to the extent to which it will facilitate and support S&T development.

b) Foresight planning

In a broad sense, there is a need to identify regional and continental thrust areas so as to have a focused approach to optimal employment of S&T resources. We further submit that the generation of data within the African assessment will be extremely relevant if done in such a context. It is therefore necessary to implement an assessment of those natural resources, that could facilitate the development of S&T.

Specifically, there is a need to explore the environmental impact of S&T (e.g., renewable energy, water, soil and ecosystem management, eco-tourism).

c) Modelling

Broadly, we have identified a need to develop clearly understandable models to inform policy makers and the public at large about the significant economic and social impacts of S&T.

Specifically, it is necessary to quantify economic impact of S&T in Africa, to study the role of industrial investment for the promotion of S&T, and to study the role of S&T for industrial development.


The nature of any interventions in capacity-building will be greatly enhanced if there is a very clear understanding of the S&T systems and their capacities. This will be provided by a rigorous audit to determine what is already there and what is necessary, i.e., determine the gap.

Further capacity-building will be enhanced by an understanding of the particular social and economic challenges facing Africa and the role of S&T in addressing these. This will also be enhanced by an understanding of the cultural context of the required development. The modelling and foresight exercises will help with providing direction for these interventions for capacity-building.

Capacity-building    Back to top


In order for a capacity-building initiative to be effective, it is assumed that certain conditions will be in place. They include the following:

  • That the educational system is restructured to reflect the prevailing socio-economic conditions.

  • That adequate arrangements for funding have been made.

  • That there is an assessment of existing S&T facilities that have potential to be developed.


Any capacity-building program in S&T in the region must have the following objectives:

  • Increase participation of disadvantaged groups in S&T such as youth and women.

  • Promote regional and international cooperation in research and training.

  • Stimulate the growth for the utilization of newer and emerging technologies.

  • Encourage the establishment of S&T funds for national and regional programs.

  • Promote investment into human resources development including training for the sustainable management of S&T equipment.


In order to realize the above objectives, it is recommended to promote regional cooperation by:

  • identifying and transforming existing facilities into Centers of Excellence;

  • strengthening research institutions networks;

  • showing national commitment by allocating resources for sustainable capacity-building programs in S&T.

Infrastructure and telecommunications    Back to top


In order to effectively attain an operational capacity in S&T, it is a necessary prerequisite that adequate infrastructure be established in information technology, in particular through national telecommunication policies, to enable African researches and educators to utilize optimally their resources.


For the purposes of achieving the above objective, it is recommended to:

  • ensure access to information data bases;

  • develop a virtual university in S&T linking African universities and centers of excellence;

  • establish electronic networking for the dissemination of S&T information.


Steering Committee (APSaTSCo)    Back to top

African Program for Science and Technology


The members of APSaTSCo are:

Bawa, Ahmed Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Natal, South Africa Bedford, Donald University of Natal, South Africa
Beesham, A University of Zululand, South Africa
Buah-Bassuah, Paul University of Cape Coast, Ghana
Buck, Warren Hampton University, USA
Buckley, Chris University of Natal, South Africa
Carolissen, Randall University of the Western Cape, South Africa
Chapman, Graham DeMontfort University, Leicester, England
Gasmi, Taieb Institutio Pluridisciplinar, Spain; Laserlab, Algeria
Gutowski, William Iowa State University, USA
Hasselgren, Lennart, International Physics Seminar, Uppsala University, Sweden
Kohi, Yadon Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology, Tanzania
Krumm, Peter University of Natal, South Africa
Lassila, Kenneth Iowa State University, USA
Maharaj, Manoj University of Durban-Westville, South Africa
Maharaj, Sunil University of Natal, South Africa
Massaquoi, Joseph UNESCO, Nairobi, Kenya
Msezane, Alfred Center for Theoretical Studies of Physical Systems, Clark Atlanta University, USA
Mweene, Habatwa University of Zambia, Zambia
Osofisan, Adenika University of Ibadan, Nigeria
Rule, Lita Iowa State University, USA
Vary, James Director, International Institute of Theoretical and Applied Physics, Iowa State University, USA
Violini, Galileo UNESCO, Chile
Wague, Ahmadou University Cheikh Anta Diop, Senegal
Zingu, Edmond Mangosuthu Technikon, South Africa


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