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First Conference of Ministers of Research and
Development in West Africa and Central Africa
(COMRED/AOC)
Hôtel Mont Fébé, Yaounde (Cameroon) 12–14 January 1999
Final Report (in French)

Report of the Meeting of Experts

Contents

General theme: for Africa to give fresh impetus to African research and reappropriate it for the benefit of the African peoples in the context of globalization

The Meeting of Experts charged with preparing the first Conference of Ministers of Research and Development in West and Central Africa (COMRED/WCA) took place at the Mont Febe Hotel in Yaounde from 12 to 14 January 1999.

Experts taking part in the meeting came from the following countries: Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon, Niger, Senegal and Togo.

Also present at the meeting were the following:

Messers Mose Houssou et Ndiaga Mbaye from CORAF

a representative of PRASAC (Pôle régional de recherche au développement des savanes d’Afrique centrale), of the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), and of CRBD

a UDEAC delegation led by its Secretary-General
a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative
Director of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Central Africa
Experts from the Centre for International Cooperation in Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD) and IRID (Institut de recherche pour la développement) (France)
an AUPELF/UREF (Agence universitaire de la francophonie) representative
GEMARSTA representatives.

Agenda    Back to top

During the meeting, the following agenda was examined:

  1. Africa's preparation for the World Conference on Science for the Twenty-First century, organized by UNESCO and the International Council for Science (ICSU) in Budapest in June 1999;
  2. Revival and renovation of agricultural an environmental research for development in Africa within the context of globalization;
  3. New information and communication technologies and national, regional and international ‘virtual universities’;
  4. Sustainable funding of research and development in Africa.

Opening address    Back to top

The Meeting of Experts was opened by Prof. Henri Hogbe Nlend, Minister of Scientific and Technical Research of the Republic of Cameroon.

In his opening address, Professor Henri Hogbe Nlend recalled the challenges that Africans in general and scientists in particular have to take up. He insisted on the need for urgent lasting solutions to be found for such problems as food insecurity, the drop in agricultural production, the loss of a great part of African products on international markets, environmental degradation and growing poverty.

Professor Hogbe Nlend said that, faced with these challenges, only a political will to cooperate could take Africa out of the current crisis for no country couuld single-handedly solve all the development problems to which it was confronted; but pooling means within a negotiated, accepted and therefore legitimate institution could accelerate the removal of constraints, improve research tools, remotivate scientists and restore their credibility.

Election of the Bureau    Back to top

After the official opening of the meeting and adoption of the agenda, the Minister presided over the election of the bureau of the Meeting of Experts.

On the proposal of the meeting, the following bureau was elected :

Chairman: Mr Justin Njomatchoua, Secretary General of the Ministry of Scientific and Technical Research of Cameroon
1st Vice-Chairman Mr Kouada Issoifou, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Technology of Niger
2nd Vice-Chairman: Ms Adèle Sambo, Director of Research and Scientific Co-operation of Gabon
Rapporteurs: Messrs Moïse Houssou and Ndiaga M’Baye (CORAF)
Meeting Secretary: Mr Charles Binam Bikoï of Cameroon

Introductory speeches    Back to top

The first session took place under the Chairmanship of Mr Justin Njomatchou, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Scientific and Technical Research of Cameroon.

Introductory presentations on the four items on the agenda were presented respectively by:

Mr Cheikh Tidiane Sy, Head of the UNESCO Regional Bureau in Central Africa on ‘Africa's preparation for the World Conference on Science for the Twenty-first Century organized by UNESCO in Budapest from 26 June to
1 July 1999;

Messers Moïse Houssou and Ndiaga Mbaye, respectively Chairman and Executive Secretary of CORAF, Mr Henri Rouille d’Orfeuil of CIRAD, Vice-Chairman of the World Forum on Agricultural Research and Mr Jean Ngou Ngoupayou, Deputy-Director of IRAD (Cameroon) on: ‘Revival and Renovation of Agricultural and Environmental Research for Development in Africa within the context of globalization’; and Mr Gilbert Okombi, Director of the Department of Research, Statistics and Forecast of UDEAC-CEMAC on ‘National Agricultural Research Centres in West and Central Africa: Situation and Prospects’.

Mr Cheikh Tidiane Sy and Mrs Isabelle Turmaine (AUPELF) on ‘New information and communication technologies and national, regional, and international ‘Virtual Universities’.

Mr Dazogbo (FAO) ‘Sustainable funding of research & development’.

After the various presentations, questions and commentaries followed. The experts welcomed Professor Henri Hogbe Nlend’s initiative by recognizing the urgency of organizing such a meeting at a time when, in spite of efforts made by countries, the infrastructures of research institutions are falling into disrepair, financial resources are dropping, scientists are losing credibility and a gap is developing each day between the North and the South.

Experts welcomed the idea of preparing an African message for the recognition of Africa and the taking into account of its priorities in the new dynamism towards the globalization of science and research–development.

In the various presentations, the speakers recalled the necessity for Africa to prepare itself to contribute to the evolution of Science and Technology by seeking the means of access to new information and communication technologies through establishing national, regional and international alliances. While accepting the validity of cooperation models being developed across the world, they insist on the importance of conducting operations at the national level and recommend that all reinforcement begin with national research systems.

Discussions also made it possible to recall the principles that must guide cooperation and partnership. These include: common interest, balance, transparency and durability.

After this first session launching the Meeting of Experts, four working groups were constituted following the themes on the agenda.

Conclusions and recommendations    Back to top

  1. Africa’s preparation for the World Conference on Science
    for the Twenty-First Century

The experts reacted positively to the draft World Declaration on Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge presented by the representative of UNESCO and believed it was on the whole acceptable and could be exploited.

However, they pointed out that prior national concertations would have made possible a more in-depth study of the draft.

Experts deplored the absence of the draft Science agenda – Framework for Action mentioned at the end of the Declaration. This draft should serve as ‘a means of acheiving the goals set forth in the declaration’.

After an analysis of the draft Declaration, the experts retained the following as specificities of the region:

  1. Proliferation and improper use of arms and technologies of mass destruction;
  2. the despoilment of countries of the sub-region as concerns the exploitation and valorization of research findings. This evokes the crucial problem of intellectual property in the sub-region;
  3. the degradation of the environnement as a result of excessive exploitation;
  4. poor monotoring and protection of research activities;
  5. insuffucient funding for scientific and technical activities;
  6. delay in the adoption and appropriation of new information and communication technologies.

The experts proposed the following recommendations on the preamble to the draft Declaration:    Back to top

Line 65b: Considering that the inequitable distribution of the benefits on Science has broadened the gap between industrialized and developing countries;

Line 65c: Conscious of the fact the exploitation of scientific achievements has led to environmental degradation just as it has brought about social disequilibrium and exclusion;

Line 81b: Noting that Scientific knowledge is greatly used to develop destructive technologies;

Line 81c: Confident that world peace can only be achieved and guaranteed through humane and peaceful use of scientific and technological discoveries.

The experts recommended further that, in order to obtain a more in-depth study of the draft Declaration, taking into consideration the specificity of the sub-region, national consultations on the draft Declaration be initiated to find a national consensus, if need be by organizing a sub-regional and even regional consultation meeting before the Budapest Conference.

The experts recommended to development partners:

  • to resolutely link research development to the requirements of good governance and the fight against poverty to ensure sustainable support and funding for research activities in the sub-region.

The experts proceeded to diagnose the economic and social context of African agriculture and concluded that, in spite of concrete efforts made by all the countries of the sub-region, African agriculture was still confronted with a two-fold crisis: a production crisis, and an agricultural and environmental crisis. In effect, food security is far from having been achieved; natural and environmental resources continue to deteriorate and poverty is gaining ground everywhere.

This crisis is aggravated by globalization that is imposing an increasingly unbridled competition on our economies and on our producers. In order to take up these challenges, actors are being diversified and made more responsible, the State is disengaging itself and productive sectors are being liberalized. To fully play its role and take up the challenges, research must be reorganized and reinforced according to the following three main orientations:

  • Institutional reinforcement: perfecting administrative, financial and scientific management tools, renovation and equipping of research and training units;
  • Reinforcement of regional and international cooperation;
  • Setting up sustainable funding mechanisms.

Concerning institutional reinforcement, experts recommended:    Back to top

  • the setting-up and renovation of reliable and productive agricultural and environmental Research structures in States, that are capable of solvin our major agricultural problems; and the building up of real national and environmental research systems including research institutions, universities, and trainig schools, non-governemental organizations and the private sector around these structures.
  • the reinforcement of collaboration between research popularization and all actors of agricultural and environment development. This approach will make it possible to identify pertinent research programmes, taking into account the need to protect the environment (water, forest, soil, biodiversity), and capable of encouraging rapid technology transfer and adoption by users;
  • the drawing up of a strategic plan for national agricultural research in conformity with the agricultural master plan;
  • a powerful partnership approach intergrating all development actors, in order to take into account all social requirements;
  • the taking into account of biodivertity conservation and a more proper management of natural and environnement ressources for sustainable agricultural development;
  • the taking into account of development strategies in national development plans when drawing up a master plan for scientific and technical research;
  • the revision or preparation of a status for research staff for better motivation and prospects of career development.

Concerning scientific cooperation, the experts recommended that:    Back to top

  • themes on scientific cooperation at the regional level be the expression of national research priorities;
  • methods and modalities of implementing this cooperation be defined in a participatory way to make it possible for actors to identify and exercice their role;
  • initiatives being taken within CORAF be pursued and reinforced and that results be shared with all national systems;
  • communication tools be developed to share experiences and consolidate the achievements of various national systems.
  • for proper preparation of the World Forum on Agricultural Research billed for the year 2000, CORAF organise and programme the drafting of a clear message that would translate the will of the sub-region to play fully its role. To achieve this, they recommended that:
reports on the studies being conducted within CORAF on institutional development, scientific and technical information, strategic planning and the definition of research and cooperation priorities be published and widely disseminated at the latest in July 1999 in view of their appropriation by the different partners and for their authentication by competent political authorities among which the COMRED/WCA.

After an uncomplacent analysis of the state of development of new information and communication tecnologies, the experts acknowledged that progress made in the implementation of the French-speaking Virtual University project will contribute to:

  • a qualitative improvement in training;
  • the diversification of access routes to higher education and research;
  • taking into account the development concerns of universities of the South;
  • entry of African universities into the world of NICTs;
  • aid proposed to African universities;
  • setting up of Virtual Campuses;
  • various programmes retained.

After an exchange of ideas, the experts brought out the various difficulties linked to the application of NICTs in the field of education and research. These include:

  • inadequate financial and material means for the information and communications sector;
  • a relatively limited capacity of networks (in quantity and quality) in the different countries that could help in perfecting such pedagogic tools;
  • intellectual protection;
  • appropriation of NICTs by African countries;
  • inadequate technical and pedagogic human resources;
  • the high cost of telecommunications;
  • insufficient common reflection on the domain in africa.

The experts,    Back to top

Considering thet there is no real higher education without total access to scientific and technical information, that is new information and communication technologies;

Considering that globalization of the economy and of research will of necessity develop competition among actors;

Considering that this natural competition calls for an unavoidable organization of well thought out cooperation so that each of the partner countries may fully play its part;

Considering that structuring of information exchange, its organization, its equitable sharing among both consumer and producing actors of information is essential;

Considering that new information and communication technologies constitute one of the means of establishing balanced dialogue between (and for the benefit of) all actors of research, education and development;

Recommend the following:

  • that regional and national reflections be held in oder to make possible the taking into account of African realities when perfecting new tools. To achieve that, they congratulate Senegal for volunteering to host a forum on this theme next March, in collaboration with AUPEL-UREF;
  • that a training policy for young Africans be implemented in primary and secondary schools, in order to ensure a smooth transition to the world of NICT;
  • that a daring policy on the training of trainers in the area of NICT be set up at national and regional levels;
  • that a policy to encourage the development of national and regional contents (databanks, electronic, etc) be implemented;
  • that the various virtual university projects should take into account the training/job balance;
  • that encouragement be given in the minimal rehabilitation of university infrastructure and African research structures to facilitate the integration of various virtual university projects and enable researchers to gain access to the various sources of available information;
  • that specificities of the African rural world be taken into account when installing the new tools;
  • that a policy of training centred around fundamental sciences be applied, in order to make available qualified human resources;
  • that incentives be proposed to the various governments by a body set up in each country on the initiative of the Ministers of Education and Research, for:
the acquisition of equipment (through a policy of gradual tax lifting or through subsidies for the purchase of equipment destined for the education–training– research sector);
perfecting reliable and efficient telecommunications networks;
the installation of preferential pricing of telecommunications services;
  • that due consideration be accorded to form in the virtual world, especially during tutorials and practical instruction through the grouping of students;

  • that the education–training–research sector be part of the Internet management organs and especially those in Africa.

The experts identified several possibilities for funding scientific research in Africa.

Within the context of the revival and reappropriation of research for economic and social development in west and central Africa, experts acknowledged the need for each of the States to recognise scientific research as a national priority and manifest this political will by setting efficient mechanisms for sustainable funding for its national scientific and technical system.

To that effect, in spite of financial hardships experienced today by our countries, each State should devote at least 1% of its gross domestic product to research, pursuant to the Lagos Action Plan. The credibility of each State depends on that. Furthermore, that would be testimony to its attachment to research, a prerequisite for foreign financial aid to this sector.

The experts recommended:

  • the adoption of a national scientific and technological policy, with clearly expressed priorities based on the aspirations of the people, that will guarantee proper negotiation with donor institutions;
  • the setting up in the countries of an appropriate national research structure to coordinate and monitor research policy;
  • the carrying out of impact studies to better understand the profitability of investment in scientific research for economic, social and cultural development
  • the setting up of circuits to promote research findings;
  • permanent dialogue at all levels with policy-makers through the setting up of national research boards, by organizing open-door days and awareness-building seminars;
  • qualitative and quantitative improvement in the socio-economic research environment by adapting the size of institutions to the real funding capacity, by improving the efficiency of research structures and working conditions of researchers;
  • that, pursuant to the recommendation of the Director-General of UNESCO, Organization for African Unity (OAU) countries that benefit from the United Nations Development Programme Indicative Programme devote 3% the programme's resources to the development of scientific and technical research. Furthermore, these officials should try to consider the funding of research as a constant concern and diversify the sources at the national level, by broadening the scope of customers of research to all potential users, by marketing research findings and by setting up national research funds.

Lastly,

Considering that scientific and technical research constitutes an unquestionable factor of sustainable economic, social and cultural development on the one hand and that the funding of research must be the concern of all actors in society at all levels on the other hand,

the experts recommended the following to countries:

  • to use institutional and diplomatic mechanisms to mobilize extra resources to fund research;
  • to support the on-going initiative at the World bank and the African Development Bank to set up the Regional Competitive Fund and to accelerate procedures for its implantation.

Conclusion    Back to top

The experts expressed hearty thanks to Cameroonian authorities for the warm and friendly welcome they received throughout their stay. They renewed their acknowledgement of, and their availability for, COMRED/WCA and

recommended the setting up of a COMRED/WCA monitoring mechanism for the application of decisions made in Yaounde.

Adopted at Yaounde, 14 January 1999

Contact:    Back to top
For further information, contact: c.binam@cybernum.com

 

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