A bid by Equatorial Guinea to host a facility to monitor and analyse African science and technology (S&T) activity will be considered by African presidents next week.
The African Science, Technology and Innovation Observatory would be the continent's central repository for S&T statistics and the main source of policy advice for bodies such as the African Ministerial Council for Science and Technology (AMCOST).
For example, it would track how much each country spends on research and development and could advise AMCOST on research areas that member states need to put more money into.
The bid will be discussed by the African Union (AU) presidential assembly, taking place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 26 January–3 February.
Equatorial Guinea was the first — and so far only — country to express an interest in hosting the observatory, says Hakim Elwaer, director of the AU Commission's human resources, science and technology department.
There may be some jealousy at the AU summit, since the observatory is an attractive project, he says. But the West African country did not have privileged access to information, he says. There were a number of calls for interest issued last year. "The difference is that they took them seriously," he says.
If presidents approve the bid, the observatory could be up and running by the end of this year, Elwaer adds.
Equatorial Guinea is one of the smallest countries in continental Africa. It is rich in oil, and enjoys a high income per capita, but inequalities between rich and poor remain large.
Those responsible for the Equatorial Guinea bid could not be reached for comment. However, the interest in hosting the observatory seems to come from the very top, Elwaer says.
"There's a sudden interest in science and technology at a presidential level in Equatorial Guinea," he says, adding that the country had recently made a US$3 million contribution to African science funding through the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
The African Science and Technology Indicators Initiative (ASTII) is currently collecting the information the observatory will store and analyse.
Keeping an eye on science data is essential to gauge the effectiveness of efforts to boost S&T, says ASTII coordinator Philippe Mawoko. "Science, technology and innovation indicators tell a story of their social impact in Africa, much as economic indicators like gross domestic product help assess a country's economic growth performance."