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Africa's science academies should do more to advise their governments on key issues that affect the continent, a conference in Kenya has heard.

Delegates at the meeting called for stronger links between the academies and their counterparts in developed nations to help them fulfil this role.

The 7-8 November meeting was the first conference of the African Science Academy Development Initiative (ASADI), a ten-year, US$20 million project funded by the US-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The US National Academies of Science is running the health-focused initiative, which aims to engage Africa's science communities in policy issues, and build links between the national science academies and their governments (see African science academies get US$20 million boost).

More than 200 leading scientists and policymakers, mostly from Africa, attended the meeting. While many of the scientists said they wanted a greater role in national and regional policymaking, some policymaker pointed out that scientists have not noticeably engaged with the issues.


"You blame politicians for not reading your journals, but the fact is that you also do not read their policy briefs," former Ugandan vice-president Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe told the gathered scientists.

She added that the lack of a strong links among the continent's science academies has been a barrier to developing quick and effective solutions to problems.

Kazibwe described the frustration she felt as Uganda's agriculture minister when trying to create policies to tackle the water hyacinth, an invasive weed infesting Lake Victoria, which is overseen by authorities in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

She noted that each nation had its own research priorities for tackling the weed, which has become both an environmental and health concern for the region.

"What was missing was authoritative, consensus-based advice from the scientific community," she said.


If the region's science academies had been collaborating and agreeing on action, she said, they could have provided coherent advice at the same time to relevant ministers in all three countries.


Leaders of both African and US academies noted that science-based policymaking is a central component of good governance.


Ogunmola Gabriel, president of the Nigerian Academy of Science, said that strengthening national science academies and recognising the role of scientists in development would help African countries achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals.

Click here for further reports from Nairobi meeting.