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The African Union Scientific Awards, some of which are scheduled to be given later this week (9 September), will be officially renamed at the ceremony as the African Union Kwame Nkrumah Scientific Awards in order to increase the AU's international visibility.

AU leaders reached their decision to change the prizes' name, which will be effective starting next year at their Kampala summit, earlier this summer.

"[African Union] leaders wanted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of [Ghanaian leader] Kwame Nkrumah's birth," Jean Pierre Ezin, AU commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology told SciDev.Net. "The prizes will have a new name, nothing else will change."

The fact that AU leaders discussed the awards, which they want to become more prestigious, showed "recognition at the political level" for the work of the AU's science and technology division, said Hambani Masheleni, senior policy officer at the division.

"What we are doing is building advocacy for science and technology through these individual awards so that they can contribute to pan-African development."

The move might help ensure more sustainable long-term funding, Macheleni said.

The awards are currently funded by the European Union's institutional support to the AU Commission for Human Resources, Science and Technology. This totals around €2 million (US$2.6 million), of which US$500,000 is allocated to the awards programme. 

"We have a budget to look at continental and regional African awards that are funded by the AU," said Macheleni.

The awards were set up in 2007. They include the Young Scientists National Awards worth US$5,000 each, funded separately by the AU and the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS); the regional Woman Scientists awards, each worth US$20,000; and continental Top Scientist awards — one for life and earth sciences and the other for basic science, technology and innovation — each worth US$100,000 and open to "all outstanding scientists" in Africa.

AU leaders also discussed bringing the controversial UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences awards under the AU awards umbrella, but Ezin said that no application had yet arrived from member states on this subject.

Macheleni was cautious on the prospect of an AU-UNESCO-Obiang award. "The UNESCO awards are quite different from what we are handling here, it is a different style," he said. "But if we see we are having parallel efforts, we can come together to agree and to complement each other on the same objectives."

"Honouring science in Africa is important," said Mohamed Hassan, head of TWAS. But he added that  the science issues in Africa are much wider than giving out awards and that the AU needs to build science capacity and help development.

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