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  • Commission for Africa finds science support lacking


[CAPE TOWN] Donor support for science and technology (S&T) in Africa has been "disappointing", according to a report from the Commission for Africa published last week (12 September).

Some US$3 billion, which the commission had urged donors to spend on building centres of excellence in S&T, has not been spent. And the state of external support for African S&T in general is "unclear".

The commission was set up in 2004 under the leadership of then British prime minister Tony Blair. It aimed to push the developed world to make and honour commitments to Africa. Most of its 17-member board members are African heads of state.

The first report, 'Our Common Interest' — published in 2005 — made recommendations ranging from debt relief to the dismantling of trade disadvantages. Last week's report, 'Still Our Common Interest', gave a mixed verdict on progress over the last five years.

It praised the African Union's (AU) 2005 Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action for Science and Technology (CPA) as well as annual meetings of the African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology (AMCOST), which is leading several initiatives.

But it said that despite new funding from the European Commission and others there has been little progress overall and no coordination of donor funding.

"Consultations on the creation of an African Science and Innovation Facility (ASIF) were held in 2006 but there appears to have been no further action towards creating this facility since then," the report says.

"It is essential that AMCOST makes progress on developing priorities for funding to science and technology, while donors need to set up and provide funds to ASIF."

Aggrey Ambali, acting director of the Office of Science and Technology of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), said: " 'Disappointing progress' is rather a qualitative position. Remarkable progress has been made in the implementation of the CPA.

"There has been no benchmark against which progress in science and technology is measured on the continent. That's why the NEPAD Agency established the African Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators (ASTII) Initiative."

Lack of benchmarking also meant the commission had failed to notice "marginal" progress in creating centres of excellence, he said.

Donors have been giving money to fund these, he insisted, "but not all of it is being made through one channel hence there is no tracking system for this commitment".

John Mugabe, from the University of Pretoria in South Africa, a former science and technology advisor to NEPAD, said: "The report has not really been read and used by African leaders and even by regional institutions such as the AU and NEPAD."

"There was a false assumption that African countries and their leaders owned or genuinely endorsed the commission's process and would take the recommendations seriously."

He said that while the commission had "made many good concrete recommendations in its first report" it "did not identify specific and strategy ways and means of implementing the recommendations".

"The commission assumed that strong or capable institutions to implement its recommendations existed in Africa and internationally."

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