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African science researchers and policy advisers have agreed to set up a foundation, endorsed by a range of African-based banks, to promote the use of scientific and other forms of knowledge by both public and private decision-makers in the continent.

The body, to be known as the Knowledge Management Africa (KMA) Foundation, will be under the auspices of the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

It will be a focal point for various initiatives across Africa, each designed to investigate an aspect of using scientific and technical knowledge to promote social and economic progress.

South Africa, for example, will host studies on the use of indigenous knowledge and how it can be enhanced through the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and intellectual property laws. 

But the foundation could also demonstrate to external donors that African banks are prepared to support knowledge-based investment projects. And this in turn will help persuade donors to back such projects with their own funds.

The decision to set up the foundation was made at the end of a three-day meeting in Dakar, Senegal, on ways of promoting effective knowledge management in Africa, both to improve the services that governments provide to their communities and to boost Africa's role in the global economy.

A statement, known as the Dakar Declaration, approved yesterday (7 May), emphasised the need to move from "development rhetoric" to concrete, action-oriented programmes. These include the development of infrastructure and the more efficient use of resources needed to promote sustainable growth in fields such as health and agriculture.

The foundation will also investigate how to build centres of excellence across the continent as "repositories of knowledge" — and the creation of networks of researchers intended to promote knowledge-sharing and cross-border collaboration.

In addition, it will seek to increase engagement in the continent's development efforts from both the African scientific diaspora and what the Dakar meeting referred to as "friends of Africa".

"The main goal of this foundation is to promote knowledge management in Africa as a way of using scientific and technical knowledge as a productive force," says Ousmane Kane, director of the African Regional Centre for Technology, which was one of the main organisers of the meeting together with Senegal's National Academy of Science and Technology.

"To do this, we want to make the initiative more sustainable and to bring in other stakeholders and partners," says Kane. For example, he points out that, while the initial meetings were supported primarily by the DBSA, the Dakar meeting was also supported by the African Development Bank (ADB) and the Islamic Development Bank — both of whom will be represented on the board of the new foundation.

Links with the ADB in particular, which has been steadily increasing its commitment to supporting science-related projects in recent years, are likely to be strengthened by the decision to hold the next KMA meeting in two years' time in Tunisia, where the bank is based.

The decision was welcomed by Innocent Butare, a senior programme specialist for the Canadian-financed International Development Research Centre.

"It is important to see that those behind this initiative are insisting on the need to back such projects with African resources before approaching international donors," Butare told the final session of the Dakar meeting. "With that basis, the support of donors is something that you will get."

The move was also welcomed by Snowy Khoza, a senior executive within the ADBS who has been promoting improved knowledge management as central to the provision of more effective public services in South Africa.

"However long it takes, it is important to find African solutions to address African challenges," Khoza said.

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