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[ADDIS ABABA] Rwandan president Paul Kagame has urged fellow African presidents to heed calls by the continent's scientists for increased funding.

He also reminded them of the need to bridge the gap between promised intentions and concrete deeds.

Speaking at the African Union (AU) summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Monday (29 January), Kagame said that "we must be mindful that statements of intent do not remain just that – statements".

Kagame said that the recommendation from African science ministers to set aside one per cent of gross domestic product for science, technology and research was not enough.    

"Is this not too little too late?" he said, adding that countries need to raise the amount but also plan how best to use the money to benefit society.

"Clearly it is not just about investment in science and technology, but also about improving the efficiency of this investment for greater impact on all aspects of national life."

Kagame pointed out that Rwanda was currently spending 1.6 per cent of its gross domestic product on science and technology, but hoped to raise it to three per cent in the next five years.

This would draw it level with spending common in the developed world. The current AU average is less than 0.5 per cent.

He said that African leaders and policymakers "got it right" in 1980 when they insisted that Africa needed to use science and technology as the basis for the continent's socioeconomic development, a commitment expressed in the so-called Lagos Plan of Action.

 "Twenty-seven years later, that statement still rings true," he told the summit.

His comments came shortly after strong pleas to support science and technology were made by Calestous Juma, chairperson of the AU's high-level panel on biotechnology (see African presidents urged to boost science), and the AU commissioner for human resources, science and technology, Nagia Essayed.

Kagame's comments have received wide support among African scientists, many of whom see him as a champion of science and technology across the continent. 

Ghana's president John Kuffor — who was voted next chair of the AU — noted the urgent need for heads of states to work together on issues of science.

Read more about the AU summit in SciDev.Net's dedicated news focus.

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