The 14 countries that make up the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have agreed to co-ordinate their science policies and work together to develop the region's science and technology infrastructure.
In particular, the countries — which include Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana — will harmonise some of the rules governing how scientific research is carried out, especially customs regulations on the movement of researchers and scientific equipment.
They have also agreed that although primary and secondary education will remain a national responsibility, higher education should be coordinated at regional level and that the creation of regional training centres should be made a priority.
These decisions were taken when ministers of science and technology in the SADC region met in Mozambique on 1 December.
The meeting was a follow-up to the continent-wide meeting that took place in Dakar, Senegal, in September, when African countries demonstrated their commitment to integrate science and technology into development (see www.scidev.net/ms/senegal).
The Mozambique meeting was intended to secure the commitment of African leaders to develop science and technology in the region, despite the failure of previous such attempts, such as the Lagos plan of action of 1979.
Zambia's minister of science and technology, Judith Kapijimpanga, told SciDev.Net the ministers had been keen to find ways to facilitate the mobility of qualified scientific staff and their equipment from one SADC country to another.
"This means also that there must be coordination between the customs authorities of the different SADC countries," she said.
Kapijimpanga added that the fact that ministers were working to coordinate customs authorities clearly indicated a serious commitment to developing science and technology in the region.
She also said that once a detailed study of each country's science policy had been completed, the ministers planned to find ways to modify these policies to bring them more in line with one another.
A regional law to harmonise the regulations covering science is expected to be enforced towards the end of next year. Kapijimpanga said enforcement would come from each country's customs authorities.
In particular, the law hopes to eliminate the current requirements on scientists to seek new work permits and pay taxes on their equipment.
Meanwhile, in a further indication of the region's growing commitment to boost its scientific and technical capacities, the executive secretary of SADC, Tomaz Augusto Salomão, has said that countries in the region need to increase the productivity of their people through better education, promoting science and technology, and developing new skills.
"Infrastructure development is key to regional integration," said Salomão, who was appointed to his post three months ago. "But the development of the region's human resources is cardinal to the region's development."