The new African Union (AU) commissioner for science and technology has put education firmly at the top of his agenda.
Jean-Pierre Onvéhoun Ezin, a mathematics researcher at Benin's National University, took office last month (29 April).
In an interview with SciDev.Net, Ezin said he plans to implement a controversial decision — made at the African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology (AMCOST) in Kenya last November — to include education in the proposed intergovernmental African Science and Innovation Fund (ASIF) (see Africa-wide facility to fund science takes shape).
Although Ezin avoided stating whether he agreed with the decision, he told SciDev.Net that funding boundaries between the two sectors "must be established right from the start".
"At the moment, my top priority is education, with emphasis on how to get the highest quality higher education and research to serve as a motor for the whole educational system," he told SciDev.Net.
The ASIF decision was meant to avoid duplication of efforts, but has infuriated scientists who fear projects for general education will swallow resources for science.
"It's true that many projects are initiated and swallow resources. You must understand that Africa is a vast continent and that 53 countries are members of the AU. They often have different priorities," says Ezin.
Ezin said the African Development Bank, which will house the fund, has already begun a feasibility study for ASIF. But he would not say whether the fund would be ready to launch next year as the AU had previously suggested
According to Research Africa, one of the commissioner's first tasks will be to draft a framework for a panel on climate change with the science and technology office of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).
Ezin hopes his previous work with NEPAD as the founder and director of the Benin Institute for Mathematics and Physical Science will "help tie closer links" between the AU and NEPAD.
He told SciDev.Net that the AU is also working with member states on framework legislation for bioprospecting in Africa, creating a Pan-African Organisation of Intellectual Property — which has stirred debate over restrictions placed on individual countries' rights — and the formation of a Pan-African Association of Women in Science and Technology.