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President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has urged fellow African leaders to move beyond making broad statements of support for science and technology as tools for development to backing concrete plans for putting such commitments into effect.

"It is no longer just a question of discussing how important science and technology are," said Kagame, referring to the January 2007 African Union (AU) summit that will focus on science (see AU Summit 2007).

Kagame, who recently took direct control of his country's science and technology policies (see Rwanda's president creates a new science ministry), was speaking on Monday (19 September) at the Royal Society in London, United Kingdom.

After his talk, Kagame told SciDev.Net that the AU summit would be a "big step" towards achieving political recognition in Africa of the need to put science at the heart of development plans.

But he added that the summit should come up with "specific and measurable" proposals.

He supports a continent-wide approach to science and technology — such as in regulating biotechnology, as proposed in the 'model law' for biotechnology (see Southern African nations adopt common GM strategy).

But said that countries must build strong national policies for the continent-wide policies to work.

He also suggested that African governments need to fully integrate science and technology into their national economic plans before they are in a position to benefit from assistance offered from abroad.

Kagame spoke of the importance of building science capacity from the bottom up at the grassroots level, and investing in education at all levels. He said the neglect of tertiary education institutions in the 1980s and early 1990s "was disastrous for the African continent".

Kagame also told the meeting that combating the brain drain would require a strategy for making scientific careers attractive, without which African countries would be forced to rely on highly paid foreign technical consultants.

"There are issues of [good] governance and of planning involved here," said Kagame.

Part of the challenge was psychological, he said, adding that scientists had to be kept comfortable and properly rewarded "so that they stay around".

Link to full text of Paul Kagame's speech  [120KB]