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[ADDIS ABABA] African heads of state have been urged to use their influence to promote policies guiding the growth of innovation, science and technology in the region.

Calestous Juma, chairperson of the African Union's high-level panel on biotechnology, made the call in a keynote speech delivered at the Union's summit meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Monday (29 January).

Juma's recommendations include the establishment by African presidents of a joint council on science, technology and innovation. He said this would provide a link between science and executive decisions.

"Bringing science and technology to the centre of Africa's economic renewal will require more than just political commitment; it will take executive leadership," said Juma, the first director of the African Centre for Technology Studies in Kenya, and currently a professor at Harvard University.

"This challenge requires concept champions, who in this case will be heads of state, spearheading the task of shaping their economic policies around science, technology and innovation," he said.

Juma called for African presidents to encourage their scientists to become involved in many fields of science, noting that the life sciences — in which Africa has invested heavily — would not bring about development on their own.

In addition, he suggested that African presidents form science and technology alliances between both themselves and other countries with advanced technologies.

He cited a recent "technology alliance" between Brazil and South Africa aiming to find solutions to agricultural, health and environmental challenges.

Juma said Africa needed similar agreements that promote the use of regional technological capabilities in international trade. He said, "The real challenge is how to use international trade and technology cooperation as critical tools for enhancing regional stability".

The proposals came as African heads of states agreed to seek greater cooperation in science and technology, both from within and from other technologically advanced countries.


Read Calestous Juma's keynote speech in full  [267KB]

Read more about the AU summit in SciDev.Net's dedicated news focus