African research in danger due to low prioritisation

Laboratory technician Denis Bongoyinge prepares a blood sample

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  • Low funding R&D in developing nations is stifling development
  • African nations are missing the target of one per cent GDP allotted to R&D
  • Research must improve human welfare, says an expert

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[ABUJA, NIGERIA] The future of research in Africa is in jeopardy unless adequate management of national scientific research systems is done, a meeting has heard.

Experts at the meeting said that inadequate management of national scientific research systems is frustrating researchers in Africa and other developing countries.

Top researchers from developed and developing countries at a meeting held by the International Council for Science held in Nigeria last month (7-8 March) noted that the limited availability of research positions, the lack of adequate research laboratories and high-performance technical platforms are other factors stifling the future of researchers.

“There is also a complete absence of stimulus — no academic awards, recognitions or appreciation [for scholars].”

Nazar Hassan, UNESCO Cairo Office

The meeting which attracted about 30 scientists from countries such as Burkina Faso, Mozambique, South Africa and Norway called for a general overhaul of the educational system in developing countries to focus more on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and creation of specific organisations responsible for research management to ensure that researches are tailored towards national goals and aspirations.

Nazar Hassan, a senior regional science, technology and innovation specialist with the UNESCO Cairo Office, said that shaping the future of researchers would entail developing countries going to the drawing board and implementing the recommendations of the first conference of ministers responsible for the application of science and technology to development in Africa that was held in Dakar, Senegal, in 1974.

Hassan added that the recommendations included the need for African nations to devote one per cent of their gross national product (GDP) to research and development (R&D) by 1980.

This target has proved difficult to achieve, said Hassan, noting that by 1980 most countries allocated only 0.36 per cent of their GDP to R&D.

Hassan added that lack of funding is a problem but there are others such as the low value accorded to researchers, with politicians’ priorities in many African countries having greater considerations than those of scholars.

“Most countries in the developing world lack strategic plans,” said Hassan. “There is also a complete absence of stimulus — no academic awards, recognitions or appreciation [for scholars].”

Ibidapo Obe, former vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos in Nigeria , said that changing the narrative means that research in developing countries must provide better welfare including human security, and lead to participation in new and emerging research frontiers such as drone technology and nanotechnology.

“Researchers in developing countries must focus primarily on aspects of knowledge expansion that relate to human welfare since development is an aggregate value of comfort to life,” he said.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.