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  • Africa 'needs more nuanced science cooperation with Europe'

[DUBLIN] European science cooperation with Africa needs redefining, as it is failing to address wide-ranging needs and challenges experienced by African countries and often ignores those countries most in need of support, a conference has heard.

Speaking last week (14 July) at the Euroscience Open Forum 2012 (ESOF), in Ireland, Ismail Serageldin, director of the New Library of Alexandria, Egypt, said that Europe should not limit its science and technology cooperation with Africa merely to funding.

Instead, it should involve the continent in European flagship research initiatives, implement 'twinning' programmes that promote real action on the ground in Africa, and facilitate joint research, said Serageldin.

There is a need to translate rhetoric into action, Serageldin said, adding that, despite many existing declarations on cooperation, rhetoric is not equal to action.

South Africa's minister of science and technology, Naledi Pandor, highlighted that cooperation should not be based on fragmented projects. We need to draft a well-defined strategic approach that delivers results, she said.

Pandor warned against viewing Africa as a single homogenous entity: there are 54 countries with very diverse capacities and challenges, which cooperation strategies should address, she said.

Lidia Brito, director of science policy and capacity building at UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), said Europe's investments in Africa should be more sustained than in previous years, and that the European Union should support sustainable growth in Africa and the development of skilled personnel.

At a separate session 'Africa: A scramble for natural resources or knowledge economy partnerships' on Thursday (12 July), ESOF heard that the transfer of scientific capacity and knowledge from Europe has been limited to a handful of richer and more scientifically advanced countries.

Currently, countries such as Egypt, Kenya and South Africa are involved, but many resource-rich but economically poor countries, such as Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda, are ignored, said John Ouma Mugabe, professor of science and innovation policy at the Graduate School of Technology Management at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

Yet many of these countries at the periphery of science cooperation are in the biggest need of collaboration, Mugabe said.

Africa ranks among the world's top producers for many minerals: it is estimated that half the world's production of cobalt and diamonds, and a large percentage of global manganese, phosphate and gold deposits are in Africa. And up to six million people in Africa are engaged in informal, small-scale mining, which boosts rural economies.

But when not managed properly, informal mining can precipitate smuggling and civil wars, as well as depleted reserves, environmental pollution, health risks and deforestation, the session heard.

We need to reframe Africa-Europe science and technology cooperation in the area of natural resource management, Mugabe said, adding that Africa needs technical training and technology transfer, to help with the management and governance of mineral resources.

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