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[ADDIS ABABA] An Africa-wide forum for parliamentarians which aims to give science, technology and innovation (ST&I) a more central role in the policy-making process was launched this week (2 May).

The African Inter-Parliamentary Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (AIPF-STI) was launched by speakers, presidents and delegates of African parliaments on the sidelines of the Second Session of the Committee on Development Information, Science and Technology (CODIST-II), held in Ethiopia.

All national African parliaments, the Pan-African Parliament and all regional parliamentary assemblies will be members. Observer's status may be granted to the Network of African Science Academies, the media, representatives of science councils or universities and regional and international organisations such as the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) and UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Africa is the least advanced continent in ST&I and the move will boost its growth at national, regional and continental levels, said Aida Opoku-Mensah, director of the ICT and science & technology division at UNECA. "The move by parliamentarians to take interest in ST&I will help push its agenda within their governments so it gets due attention," she said at the launch.

Conversations between parliamentarians and scientists should, Opoku-Mensah said, lead to improved structures for research and development — essential if Africa is to meet the Millennium Development Goals and address other development challenges.

Lidia Brito, director of the division of science policy and sustainable development in the natural sciences sector of UNESCO, said the forum will encourage dialogue but also ensure that African parliaments have structures that support ST&I such as strong parliamentary committees.

"It will be about bringing parliamentarians, scientists and journalists together to share their common ground with a specific common agenda — which will be to influence the policy-making process," she said.

Brito added that this is the first Africa-wide forum for parliamentarians with a central agenda of promoting ST&I.

Abdirahim Abdi, speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly, said: "For scientists to push their agenda at policy-making level, they need to work closely with MPs to lobby governments for funding against competing national interests". The forum would further this goal, he said.

Abdi said the first major challenge for the forum will be funding, although all member states will carry some financial responsibility for its running costs. Possible hosts for the secretariat are the East African Legislative Assembly and UNECA.

The forum was launched as a result of collaboration between UNECA, the African Union, UNESCO, ISESCO and other partners.