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  • AU congress suggests how to boost African science

[ALEXANDRIA] African scientists and politicians have proposed a wide range of measures to boost science and technology on the continent, ranging from more flexible visa laws for greater mobility of scientists, to the creation of a continent-wide scientific advisory committee.

The proposals were made at a three-day congress of African scientists and policymakers, held in Alexandria, Egypt from 27-29 October, which was convened for the first time by the African Union (AU).

One proposal recommended that every member set aside one per cent of the annual gross domestic product to fund science and technology programmes to aid Africa's development.

To encourage the African diaspora to contribute to their homeland's scientific development, African countries should facilitate low-cost direct remittances to send funds back home, the delegates said.

The delegates put forward 50 individual suggestions, of these 10 will be chosen to be submitted to a meeting of African science and technology ministers later this month in Cairo, Egypt.

If approved, these will be presented at the next AU summit meeting of heads of state being held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January 2007 under the theme of science, technology and innovation.

Several speakers also urged that African governments make their own commitment to increasing support for science and technology, rather than leave this to the private sector or international finance institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

To change the face of Africa, this is the chance, said Nagia Essayed, AU Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology.

We might not have enough financial resources, but unless we put our own money into this, we won't get others to believe in us.

The conference drew up a declaration urging African governments to create favourable conditions for mobility of scientists, engineers and technicians by introducing more flexible visa laws for scientists and dedicating future summits to science, technology and innovation.

Other recommendations included strengthening intellectual property rights to encourage innovation, establishing specialised research centres for developing local technologies and upgrading science and technology education in schools.

Over 120 scientists and politicians attended the conference, from nearly all of the AU's 53 member states. The conference saw much lively debate over how to best use science and technology to alleviate the suffering of the majority of the continent's 880 million people.

Africa lags in development because it remains colonised, argued Sadeg Faris, a Libyan emigrant and chief executive officer of eVionyx, a New York-based energy company.

If you look around you in Africa, you will not find anything that was invented or developed here, says Faris. That's because the continent is forced to sell its raw materials cheaply in order to buy expensive technologies developed in the West. It's a vicious cycle.

But mathematics professor Aderemi Kuku, a Nigerian emigrant working at Miami University in the United States, said Africa's problems had a simpler origin, namely that it was unprepared to invest enough in scientific infrastructure.

Where there's a will, there's a way, said Kuku. But our countries have never demonstrated this will.

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