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[HELSINKI] Africa has lost out on another opportunity to host the world's largest gathering of science journalists, the World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ).
Despite two of the three bids to host WCSJ 2015 coming from Africa, the event's governing body — the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) — selected the Korean Science Reporters Association to host the 9th edition of the conference in Seoul. Kenya and South Africa missed out.
Previously, Egypt was left without WCSJ 2011 when the Arab Spring erupted, forcing the event to be moved to Qatar.
The WFSJ's announcement was made this week (26 June) at WCSJ 2013 in Helsinki, Finland, during the federation's annual general meeting.
Vesa Niinikangas, the outgoing WFSJ president, said that all the bids were strong. The board assessed each bid's proposal for developing the programme for the next conference and found the South Korean bid the most impressive, he said.
Kenya's bid, Niinikangas said, lacked strong global perspective in its proposed conference programme. The board also felt that the two Kenyan science networks behind the bid — the Kenya Environment and Science Journalists Association and Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture — were too young to organise such a meeting, he said.
However, he applauded the fact that Kenya had received the support of other African science journalists associations for its bid, which he said was good for deepening the cooperation among science journalist networks.
Niinikangas said that the bidding team from the South African Science Journalists' Association (SASJA) lacked racial balance as it contained only two non-white members. The bid also lacked support from other African associations, he said.
The decision to hand WCSJ 2015 to South Korea left many African science journalists unhappy.
Diran Onifade, the president of African Federation of Science Journalists, said it was unfortunate that the board thought that Africa was unable to host the event.
African countries, he said, are capable of staging the conference given that the continent has hosted major international events, including the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa. He added that Kenya is home to many international organisations such as the UN Environment Programme.
"WCSJ is a piece of cake," Onifade told SciDev.Net. "We have many corporate organisations in Africa that have the money to give sponsorship to the event."
Onifade also dismissed the board's belief that Kenya's science networks are too young to run the event, saying that their age is irrelevant.
But he admitted that future WCSJ bids could be boosted if African science networks staged a greater number of continental meetings.
"We need to do more internally, since we have not successfully organised an African conference to demonstrate our strength as African networks. If we can organise an Africa-wide event which is not Kenyan, South African or Nigerian, then the success of such an event could be used to support Africa's bids," he said.
Adele Baleta, a member of SASJA, described the decision as disappointing, adding that the association had worked hard to produce a strong bid.
She dismissed claims of racial imbalance as inconsequential, saying that all groups in the country are represented in the membership.
Niinikangas said that South Korea's bid was favoured because it had the potential to raise the federation's profile in Asia, which is home to many of the world's emerging economies.
He added that South Korea had shown that it would work closely with neighbouring countries in Asia.
Niinikangas also dismissed as speculation rumours that the Asian association's bid was successful because it had promised to raise the more than US$240,000 needed to stage the event.
"You can never be sure that financial promises made during the bidding will come to fruition. Therefore, financial considerations did not influence our decision," he said.
Chul Joong Kim, president of the Korean Science Reporters Association, pledged that his association will do its best to meet its responsibilities and produce an excellent programme in 2015.