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Malawian president Bingu wa Mutharika has merged education, and science and technology under a single ministry of which he will personally take charge.

The move was part of a cabinet reshuffle announced by the Office of the President and Cabinet earlier this month (10 May) and with immediate effect. Mutharika will also head the ministry of agriculture and food security.

The education and science ministries report on administrative and operational issues directly to the president, according to Henry Mbedza, Malawi director of science and technology.

Mbedza told SciDev.Net that by merging the two ministries, Mutharika had done the right thing, as education is the foundation to producing much-needed technologies.

He added that the merger will assist policy makers in prioritising science in education "to produce the much-needed human resource which is currently insufficient in Malawi".

Chikumbutso Mtumodzi, the presidential press officer, told SciDev.Net that Mutharika has taken responsibility for these ministries because he is conscious of the need to administer and run them efficiently. He added that the president would not receive any additional pay for these extra duties.

The establishment of merged education, science and technology ministries is in line with African Development Bank (AfDB) policy to accelerate sustainable economic growth.

In April, the AfDB announced a new strategy bringing together higher education, science and technology, and vocational training (See African bank adopts 'landmark' science strategy).

So far 12 African countries including Algeria, Chad, Republic of Congo, and Tanzania have incorporated this strategy into their education or science and technology ministries.

Calestous Juma, professor of international development at the US-based Harvard University, said Mutharika was "on the cutting edge of modern thinking about how to govern science and innovation for development". 

He said these developments illustrate a growing recognition of the important role that innovation plays in economic transformation.

Juma added that Africa's science and technology activities are supported by policy guidance and advice from the African Union and the New Partnershp for Africa Development, and have operational support from the AfDB.

"Though nascent, no other region of the world has such clarity in institutional arrangement to support the integration of science, technology and innovation in development efforts [than Africa]."

John Mugabe, executive secretary of the African Ministerial Council on Science and Technology, described the merging of ministries by most African countries as a positive development that will broaden the technology spectrum of Africa in the long run.

"It is encouraging to note that more African countries are beginning to experiment and try this approach," he said.