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[LONDON] A Pan Africa Chemistry Network, aiming to raise chemistry's profile and enhance communication between chemists and educational institutions, was launched in London, United Kingdom, today (21 November).

The network was launched by the UK Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) in partnership with the agricultural technology company Syngenta, who have donated £1million (approximately US$2million) to kick-start the initiative.

"Chemistry and chemists can be the cornerstone of sustainable development," said Temechegn Engida, president of the Federation of African Societies of Chemistry, at the launch.

The initiative aims to enhance the role of chemistry in Africa's economic and social development and strengthen Africa's capacity, workforce and access to scientific information to help achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals. Agricultural technologies will be a major focus.

The network will be based around regional hubs, the first of which is established at Nairobi University in Kenya. Two other hubs are planned, with Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa as potential locations.

It will also organise seminars, conferences and exchange programmes to facilitate knowledge exchange between scientists across the continent. Fellowships and grants will be available to attend these, and training workshops will be provided.

Basic education in chemistry is another focus for the network. The RSC is donating 16,000 textbooks worth US$584,181 to educational institutions throughout Africa and will also set up a mentoring scheme. An African version of its school science competition, aiming to enthuse children about chemistry, will start in Nairobi next year.

Simon Campbell, former president of the RSC, said the network will offer a "unique approach, bringing Africa's chemical science community together".

Engida, however, highlighted the paucity of national chemistry societies in African countries, and said dealing with this first was a top priority.

Calestous Juma, professor of the practice of international development at the US-based Harvard University, said at the launch that the network was "a seed that will lead to new institutes of higher learning."

The network will be governed by a board of trustees containing members from the RSC and Syngenta, with activities organised by an executive working group that will eventually contain members from the network itself.

The initiative builds on the RSC's Archives for Africa last year, which made its collection of research available online to institutions throughout Africa.