[YAOUNDÉ] Governments must not ignore how science academies can help improve and assess policy decisions, African scientists warned in the first statement ever issued by the Network of African Science Academies.
The scientists, who met in Yaoundé, Cameroon on 12-16 November, pointed to the absence of science academies from the agenda for the upcoming African Union summit on science and technology in January 2007.
African academies — which are frequently short-staffed and cash-strapped — are also not included in the agenda of the Conference of the African Ministerial Council on Science and Technology (AMCOST) currently underway in Cairo, Egypt.
Some academy members, primarily from Francophone Africa, felt that the statement's tone was too assertive and might antagonise science ministers.
However, Aderemi Adio-Moses, programme director of the African Science Academies Development Initiative (ASADI) within Nigeria, encouraged African academies to play a more activist role in society.
Nigeria is one of the main beneficiaries of ASADI, set up in 2004 to help build the capacity of African academies in providing reliable scientific evidence for policymakers.
The conference, hosted by the Cameroon Academy of Science, allocated two days to examining how existing scientific research into malnutrition, hunger and agriculture can be used to shape more effective government policies.
Samuel Domngong, president of the Cameroon Academy of Sciences, said ASADI members can make an impact by organising forums and writing reports about topics including malaria, science and technology education, HIV, tuberculosis, nutrition, good governance, corruption, and education policy.
The meeting is part of the gradual transformation of African academies — historically prestigious but largely honorific organisations for respected and elderly scientists — into something more similar to National Academies in the United States, and the United Kingdom's Royal Society.
"The academies offer a mechanism by which scientists can influence policy," said Robin Crewe, president of the Academy of Science of South Africa. "If politicians ask for advice, academies must be ready to give it."
Crewe, vice principal of the University of Pretoria in South Africa, told SciDev.Net that the UK government "doesn't think twice" about going to the Royal Society for assistance as the result of "relationship-building".
This week's AMCOST meeting, held under the auspices of the science and technology secretariat of the New Partnership for Africa's Development, will prepare for the African Union summit as well as further the development of centres of excellence in critical fields such as water technology.
Stephen Gaya Agong, director of the African Academy of Sciences based in Nairobi, Kenya, is scheduled to travel to AMCOST to present the statement from the academies on November 23.