[ADDIS ABABA] Member states of the African Union (AU) have backed a proposal to provide scientists with diplomatic passports that would make it easier for them to move around the continent.
The move, approved last Friday (26 January) by foreign ministers meeting as the executive committee of the AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, would give scientists passports similar to those given to ministers and senior government officials travelling on official duty.
These act as fast-track entry documents so that officials do not need to apply for visas each time they wish to visit another AU member country.
The AU commission will further consult with individual states on which scientists are selected. But those working on intergovernmental programmes are expected to receive the privilege.
Chairman of the AU commission, president Alpha Konare, said the commission hopes to issue its first diplomatic passports to scientists in May.
Stephen Agong, executive director of the African Academy of Sciences, said the issue of entry visas was a "major bottleneck" for research collaboration between African scientists.
Amany Asfour, secretary general of the African Society for Scientific Research and Technology, said that it was important for all government ministries in Africa to help enhance scientific capacity across the continent — from those dealing with diplomatic issues to those responsible for basic education.
"Africa must invest in its 'brain' by increasing the budget for science and technology," she said.