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[DAKAR] The president of Senegal has urged African countries "not to remain passive consumers of new technologies, but to keep in step with the rest of the world in developing an effective research capacity".

According to Adboulaye Wade, Africa has the capacity to emulate the success of Asian nations in becoming a home for technological research.

Wade was addressing the opening session of the second African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology, which is taking place in Dakar, Senegal, this week (27-30 September).

In a separate speech, Yaye Kene Gamassa Dia, Senegal's minister for scientific research and the new president of the Committee of African Science and Technology Ministers, underlined the need for "a new vitality in the scientific and technological systems of African countries".

Gamassa Dia, previously professor of biotechnology at the University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, urged African countries to collaborate more closely to develop the science and technology needed to address the challenges of poverty and economic growth.

This was particularly important, she said, since guaranteeing the continent's food security, building its infrastructure and developing high-quality products for world markets all depend on Africa's technological potential.

The Dakar meeting is being attended by the ministers of science and technology and other high-level experts from 34 of the 52 African states.

It has been organised by the African Union and its New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), to agree on ways in which science and technology can be used to narrow the technological gap between developed and developing countries.

Concrete steps for achieving this are outlined a five-year plan of action that was drawn up after the first ministerial meeting, held in South Africa in November 2003 (see Support urged for US$160m plan for African science).

The plan, which is due to be endorsed by the ministers today (30 September), envisages putting in place "strategic axes of governance, programmes of action and mechanisms for allowing the development of an African system of research and technological innovation".

The latter, it says, would be built on "the creation and reinforcement of networks of centres of excellence focusing on specific programmes of research and development".

Gamassa Dia said that plan "could play a decisive role that would benefit all levels of the African population". She emphasised that there was no need for Africa to reinvent the wheel. Rather, it was merely a question "of using judiciously the expertise of existing African institutions that are already functioning well".

For this strategy to be effective, she said, the continent would need "to break with previous strategies and make use of the appropriate resources allowing science and technology to act as driving forces in [its] economy".

"Experts agree that the 21st century will be characterised by the greater use of knowledge and know-how within the productive system, and that this phenomenon will be irreversible," she said.

Ministers attending the meeting are being asked to approve the creation of financing mechanisms that co-ordinate the raising of funds to support science and technology initiatives from both African countries and international aid organisations.

Botluale Tema, a representative of the African Union, emphasised the need for African countries to generate the scientific and technological capacity to resolve their own problems, and not remain dependent on outside assistance.

He invited the continent's political leaders to support the programmes proposed in the plan of action through their national budgets, and thus to reduce their dependency on external funding.