African science on the rise thanks to regional initiative

The University of Cape Town is one of many universities taking part in the initiative Copyright: Flickr/DanieVDM

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Engineers, oceanographers and chemists in eight African countries will benefit from three grants of US$800,000 each from a new science and education initiative.

The Regional Initiative in Science and Education (RISE), run by the US-based Science Initiative Group with African partners, last month (28 July) announced the three-year grants to help three networks foster greater cooperation among African institutions and scientists.

Amongst the recipients is the Southern African Biochemistry and Informatics for Natural Products (SABINA) initiative, headed by John Saka, a chemistry professor at the University of Malawi.

SABINA, whose network includes the Malawi-based Tea Research Foundation of Central Africa and South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, aims to improve food security, health and exports using Africa’s biodiversity and scientific advances. 

The second grant was awarded to the African Materials Science and Engineering Network (AMSEN). The network aims to produce homegrown engineers to exploit Africa’s mineral wealth, with a target of 15 doctoral and masters students annually.

Lesley Cornish, from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa and AMSEN’s academic director, says much of the money will be spent on bursaries and travel expenses for students to visit tutors at participating universities — including the University of Botswana, the University of Nairobi in Kenya and the Federal University of Technology in Nigeria.

AMSEN will provide students with a pool of research mentors and facilities in Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria and South Africa, Cornish told SciDev.Net.

She adds that, aside from purchasing equipment, "an amount has also been earmarked to retain staff and researchers so that they can help build up their universities".

The third RISE grant was awarded to the Western Indian Ocean Regional Initiative in Marine Science and Education, which intends to use research and training to promote sustainable development and protect the coastal and marine environment. The initiative is led by Alfonse Dubi at the University of Dar es Salaam in Zanzibar and will partner with Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique and the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

Thomas Egwang, executive director of at the Kenya-based African Academy of Sciences, which helped design the initiative and will help with its coordination, says, "The networking [that these initiatives promote] will allow researchers to achieve economies of scale and add value that would not be possible if only one institution was funded".

He told SciDev.Net that the grants will "encourage these outstanding trainees to remain in the region to teach and conduct research at the universities or to bring their relevant knowledge to industry or government".