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  • Ministers promise decade for African science


[CAIRO; CAPE TOWN] African science ministers concluded a high-level meeting in Egypt last week by declaring 2011–2020 the "decade for science in Africa".

The decision, taken at the end of the African Ministerial Council on Science and Technology (AMCOST) meeting last week (7–10 March), will aim to keep science and technology at the forefront of the continent's political agenda.

The decision was made in recognition of "the challenges that African Union (AU) member states are facing in harnessing science and technology (S&T) for socio-economic development and the need to sensitise the African Community and to engage the AU leaders in S&T".

The initiative will be based on a programme Egypt has been running for some years to boost science and technology in the country, according to Maged Al-Sherbiny, the country's Assistant Minister for Scientific Research (see Egypt gets serious about science with 12-year strategy).

The AMCOST bureau will be responsible for the initiative, with help from the African Union Commission (AUC) and the New Partnership for Africa's Development. "That will ensure its smooth operation," said Al-Sherbiny.

The five-member ministerial bureau of AMCOST, elected at the Egypt meeting for the coming two years, now includes both Egypt and South Africa — the continent's two most powerful states — as chair and second-co-chair respectively.

Observers commented that this strong leadership could revive the AMCOST meetings, which have been criticised in the past for poor attendance and a lack of political leadership.

"The member countries are now getting to understand what it is all about," said Umar Bindir, Director General of Nigeria's National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion. "I think the future meetings of AMCOST will be more challenging and more focused."

The ministerial meeting also endorsed South Africa's bid to host the Square Kilometre Array international radio telescope (see South Africa grooms students for astrophysics) and agreed to set up a continental working group on space science to meet the continent's growing interest in the field (see Launching your own satellite — the pros and cons).

The draft resolution from the meeting urges member states to put more resources, including staff, into the AUC Department of Human Resources, Science and Technology, which is struggling to implement all of its own programmes because of a lack of funding.

Libya offered to host a workshop with African member states and representatives from donor countries and agencies to discuss how to mobilise more funding for the continent's science programmes.

Ahmed Hamdy, head of science, technology and ICT at the AUC directorate, told SciDev.Net that African countries need to take responsibility for putting money into continental programmes.

"Several member states are waiting for someone to take the championship role," he said. "We are hoping that soon we will be able to announce the availability of funding from Africa into Africa."

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