Africa-wide facility to fund science takes shape
Africa's science ministers will be presented with a menu of options for financing research on the continent next month.
They are expected to narrow this selection down to a single practical approach and present it to their heads of state for approval at next January's African Union (AU) summit.
Yet despite a public consultation on the matter, members of the continent's scientific community appear to have heard little of the initiative.
In July and August, the team conducted a three-week public consultation and interviews with key stakeholders (see Comments sought on African science funding body).
Last week (20-22 September) scientists and policymakers met in Pretoria, South Africa, to discuss the findings.
"The meeting was very fruitful," said Sandy Thomas of the UK Nuffield Council on Bioethics, who is a member of the ASIF project team.
Thomas told SciDev.Net that the meeting allowed the ASIF team "to get clarity about the strengths and weaknesses" of the proposed options for running ASIF, but said it would be premature to say which proposals received most support.
Among the options are: to ask a development bank to take on the role; to set up an intergovernmental body within the AU to manage the funds; and to create a nongovernmental organisation with the participation of private foundations (see Funding African science – an invitation for ideas).
The team will present its report to the African Ministerial Council on Science and Technology on 10 October, which will publish it online shortly thereafter. The ministers are expected to narrow the options down to two, which will be presented to an expert working group in November.
The working group will then choose one option to present to African leaders at the AU summit in January 2007.
"The idea of Africa-led funding for science and technology is desirable, and we must make it inclusive, transparent and credible," says John Dada of the Fantsuam Foundation, which promotes the use of information and communications technologies in Nigeria.
But he adds that the call for input from African scientists "never made it to my corner of the woods here in Nigeria, and I certainly would have liked to say a thing or two about it".
Sylvia Uzochukwu director of the Biotechnology Center at the University of Agriculture in Abeokuta, Nigeria, agrees. "I support an African science funding [body] and I feel [it] should be spearheaded by African governments," she says, adding, "I was not aware of any survey."
Uzochukwu and Dada made their comments to an online discussion group — set up by SciDev.Net — on the 2007 AU summit.
Linda Nordling, editor of Research Africa, says it is "somewhat disheartening" that some members of the group had not heard of the ASIF consultation.
"It seems that a key topic for science policy in Africa in general, and the AU summit in particular, is to improve the communication networks so that news of this sort reaches the people who want to have a say about it before the consultations close," she added.