Big spending on science promised for East Africa

Mshinda: Tanzania's science spending pledges are a "major boost" Copyright: SciDev.Net

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[CAPE TOWN]  A 30 per cent salary hike for Ugandan scientists and US$20 million for Tanzanian research were among the science highlights in the two countries’ national budgets for 2010/11.

The spending pledges — unveiled yesterday (10 June) — go some way to fulfilling promises made recently by the East African countries’ presidents to improve conditions for science and technology (see Science R&D enjoys a windfall in Tanzania).

In January, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni promised to raise Ugandan scientists’ salaries to "international levels" in the financial year starting on 1 July. Yesterday’s budget allocated 18 billion Ugandan shillings (US$8 million) for the boost — not enough to match salaries in rich countries, but a welcome increase for the country’s researchers whose pay is low even by East African standards.

"[It’s] okay in the short term but not enough to stop one from going abroad where you earn six to ten times more," said Tom Egwang, an Ugandan immunologist and founding director of Med Biotech Laboratories, Kampala.

Near-market research and innovation have also received a boost: an extra US$540,000 will go to the Uganda Industrial Research Institute and around US$2.2 million to Makerere University, in Kampala.

A further US$450,000 is allocated to Enterprise Uganda, a fund supporting entrepreneurship, and US$1.8 million will feed into a venture capital fund to support start-up companies aimed at university and college graduates.

Meanwhile, Tanzania’s allocation of 30 billion Tanzanian shillings (US$20 million) to the country’s Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) is a thirty-fold increase from last year for the agency, which is emerging as the country’s main research coordinator and funder.

The allocation will not fulfil president Jakaya Kikwete’s pledge last year to increase the country’s science spend from 0.3 per cent of GDP to one per cent. However, it is still a "major boost", said Hassan Mshinda, director of COSTECH.

"We were expecting to get more, but there was a drought last year and donors have cut their contributions. But for the first time, R&D has been identified as a priority area in the Tanzanian budget," he told SciDev.Net.

Much of the support will go to training new scientists, Mshinda added.

A detailed Tanzanian science budget will be released later this month (30 June). Increases in the health and education budgets (25 and 17 per cent, respectively) are also expected to bring benefits to research institutes and universities.

Critics have questioned whether the two countries can afford their generous budgets in the current financial climate (see Financial crisis squeezes African science funding).  Both countries have had to increase their borrowing from domestic and international sources to bankroll the budgets, since aid has fallen in the wake of the global credit crisis.

But both Uganda and Tanzania are expecting healthy economic growth in the coming year. They pointed out that yesterday’s budgets decrease their dependence on aid funding. Uganda also expects to be able to fund much of its future plans with revenue from its recently discovered oil fields.

Another boost for East African science came in Kenya’s budget, also published yesterday. The country has allocated 560 million Kenyan shillings (US$7 million) to upgrade all 14 of its science and technology colleges. It also announced funding to address the threat of climate change (see Africa facing climate data shortage).

Link to Kenyan budget speech

Link to Tanzanian budget speech [339kB]

Link to Ugandan budget speech[1.21MB]