[CAPE TOWN] Political turmoil in Côte d'Ivoire threatens to derail efforts to set up a national science fund in the country, according to one of its leading scientists.
The warning follows the West African country's government once again postponing overdue general elections, originally planned for 2005, amid controversies over voting lists.
The country's political situation threatens a government commitment to establish a US$24 million science trust fund and set up an independent body to distribute the funding, Bassirou Bonfoh, director-general of the Swiss Centre for Scientific Research (CSRS) in Côte d'Ivoire, said on the sidelines of an international meeting in South Africa last week (11-15 April).
Ivorian scientists received a $12 million windfall from the Swiss in 2007 as part of a Swiss- Ivorian national development fund. At the time, the Ivorian government promised to match the donation and set both sums aside for a national trust fund. The annual interest on the fund would support research grants, and overseas donors would be encouraged to contribute to the fund.
According to Bonfoh, the government also agreed to set up an independent national research foundation to allocate the grants, with a 2013 deadline for the launch of each.
The country's scientists face an uphill battle to make the government honour its commitment, Bonfoh told SciDev.Net during the International Network of Research Management Societies conference, which took place in Cape Town.
The government "may [now] want to use the money for other things," he said, adding that persuading the government to pay up would most likely "require long negotiation".
The science ministry spends little on research, allocating just US$800,000 for research and development annually, Bonfoh told the meeting.
The CSRS has been managing a grants programme from the interest on the original US$12 million windfall, worth US$720,000 per year. But this is only an interim solution, Bonfoh said, adding that the lack of a dedicated body to administrate the money could hamper further investment in science.
Political instability continues and, with only a little over a month to go until the end of a May election deadline imposed by the African Union, hope is dwindling that this deadline will be met.
The Swiss government may scale back its funding for the country if the election standoff continues, Marcel Tanner, director of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Basel — which has strong links with the CSRS — told SciDev.Net.
This would strike research across the country, but particularly at the CSRS, which depends heavily on Swiss funding.
Tanner said the fact that the current minister of science and education is only interim — since the government was dissolved in February — suggests a lack of commitment to the policy area. "Certainly, in the science ministry, [the fund] is not a priority," he said.