African science ministers have backed a set of measures to promote science and technology across the continent, four of which will be recommended for endorsement at next month's African Union (AU) summit of heads of African states.
The ministers, who met last week in Cairo, Egypt, will ask the heads of state to create a Pan-African Intellectual Property Organisation, and to designate 2007 as a year for science, technology and innovation in Africa.
The leaders will be asked to agree that at least 1 per cent of countries' gross domestic product should go to promote research and development and to develop innovation strategies for economic growth.
And the ministers will also ask the AU summit to express support for South-South cooperation in science, technology and innovation, and to enhance the role of such cooperation in international partnerships.
A plan to create a 20-year biotechnology strategy was among many ideas that the ministers pledged to commit themselves to collectively, although it will not be submitted for endorsement by the heads of state.
They also agreed to move towards harmonising national and regional regulations that promote the application and safe use of biotechnology.
The proposal to nominate 2007 as a year of science, technology and innovation provoked lively discussion at the conference. Some ministers hesitated over launching such a year so soon, without clarifying what activities and programmes it would entail.
But there was an eventual agreement to call 2007 the 'launching year' for building up science and technology in Africa, profiting from the momentum provided by the summit meeting.
Other proposals, such as creating an advisory body made up of African presidents to put science and technology high on the political agenda, were dropped altogether, following disagreement over what its role and responsibilities would be.
Organised by the AU Commission on behalf of the African Ministerial Council on Science and Technology (AMCOST), the conference was attended by representatives from 26 AU member states and agencies, international and continental government and nongovernmental organisations, and the diaspora.
Their final recommendations, named the 'Cairo declaration', will be presented to the AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia next January, which will focus on 'Science, Technology and Research for Africa's Development'.
The ministers supported the creation of a mechanism for channelling financial support to regional science and technology initiatives, although choosing to call this the 'African Science and Innovation Fund', rather than 'facility', as had previously been proposed.
These regional initiatives were summed up in a list approved by the ministers in August 2005 (See Support urged for US$160m plan for African science). The revised description reflected concern to avoid the creation of additional institutional bureaucracy that some minister present felt was implied by the use of the word 'facility'.
The ministers pledged to create common guidelines for identifying and creating African networks of centres of excellence in science and technology.
They also vowed to better consult with local scientists, including science academies in Africa and African scientists in the diaspora. This comes partly as a response to recent criticism from the scientific community that it felt excluded from policy decisions (see 'African academies urge politicians not to ignore them').
Hassan Abdel Aal Moawad, a professor of microbial biotechnology at Cairo's National Research Centre in Egypt, called on African leaders to approve the recommendations and provide financial and political support.
"This is a golden opportunity for establishing a knowledge-based African society," Moawad, a former president of Alexandria's Mubarak City for Scientific Research and Technology Applications, told SciDev.Net.
The Cairo declaration [56KB]
Report of ministers [79KB]
Report of experts [104KB]