Experts who spoke at the launch of the Sub-Saharan Africa Science Granting Councils Initiative in Kenya last month (11-12 September) emphasised the need to strengthen national science, technology and innovation (ST&I) systems and organisations to accelerate research and development on the continent.
“Strengthening research management can help address development problems in Sub-Saharan Africa,” said Stephen McGurk, acting vice-president of programs and partnerships branch of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada.
“Strengthening research management can help address development problems in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Stephen McGurk, International Development Research Centre (IDRC)
McGurk added that innovation to develop cheap vaccines for livestock, for instance, could help improve livelihoods economically and people’s nutrition.
The launch brought together officials of science granting councils from 12 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa: Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The five-year, US$15 million initiative funded by UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), IDRC, and South Africa’s National Research Foundation (NRF), seeks to support research and evidence-based policies that will contribute to the economic and social development of Africa.
According to Beverly Damonse, the acting chief executive officer of South Africa’s NRF, the initiative will be piloted in the 12 countries.
“This is a start of inclusive development as it focuses on a country’s needs and priorities,” Damonse said, adding that it will provide learning and benchmarking opportunities to countries in areas where development is necessary.
While opening a forum organised by Kenya-based African Centre of Technology Studies that led to the launch of the initiative, Jacob Kaimenyi, Kenya’s cabinet secretary for education, science and technology, said the advancement of ST&I is critical to the efforts to diversify and transform Africa’s economies. “This will be possible when we strive to apply science and technology to eradicate poverty, ignorance and disease …and mitigate climate change,” Kaimenyi said.
According to Kaimenyi, science granting councils are in a unique position to contribute to public policy through the collection, analysis and use of indicators in a number of important economic sectors. For instance, he said, the councils can train and fund young researchers and promote collaboration among research organisations. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, the director of Kenya-headquartered African Women in Agricultural Research and Development, said the initiative has the potential to transform the innovation landscape of Africa. “The intensified focus on getting science and innovation to work towards Africa's prosperity comes at exactly the right time for a continent on the move,” she noted.
Kamau-Rutenberg, however, challenged the initiative to ensure that scientific research in Africa is sensitive to gender. “This is our unique opportunity to innovate by showing the world a way to do science that places gender at the centre,” she added, saying that gender responsiveness can transform the lives of most Africans, especially those who live in poverty.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.