[ADDIS ABABA] African heads of states have announced a raft of science and technology awards to increase the number of scientists in the continent.
The theme of the African Union (AU) summit — underway in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — is science and technology, with the goal of stimulating African development.
The award schemes aim to address the small size of Africa's scientific manpower by stimulating interest in science among young people. Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, only trains 83 engineers per million of the population each year, compared to 1,000 in industrialised countries.
Key among the scholarships announced at the summit yesterday (23 January) is the 'flagship' Mwalimu Julius Nyerere African Union Scholarship Scheme.
Over the next six months, the scheme will award 50 scholarships for studying bachelor degrees in African universities. The scheme will then be expanded to include postgraduate studies.
The scholarships will cover tuition fees at a university of choice in any African country, as well as accommodation costs and the price of a return ticket home.
According to the AU education commissioner, Beatrice Khamati-Njenga, the scheme encourages students to study in an African country with a binding agreement that the student will work in Africa for 2-5 years after graduating.
"This is a clear sign that the AU is committed to expanding scientific knowledge in the continent. It tackles many pertinent issues like lack of expertise and also the brain drain," she said.
The awards will be funded by the AU commission, which gets its funds from country members and donors.
A biennal award set up by the AU and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) will reward innovation. The AU-WIPO innovation and invention award will award a medal and US$13,000 for the best innovation that addresses problems affecting Africa.
In addition, a best practices award for information technology will be open to individuals and organisations involved in creativity, including African web designers and developers.
Ahmed Hamdy, the AU head of science and technology, explained that Africa has long lagged behind other countries in terms of capacity, and the AU is keen to change this.
He said the scholarships and awards clearly show the direction that Africa should take to increase the number of local scientists.
"It's Africa's time to build both its traditional sciences and modern ones," Hamdy told SciDev.Net.
He said young people in Africa lacked interest in science because of poor teaching methods and "irrelevant examples" used during teaching.