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The African Union (AU) has backed plans to create a scientific and cultural branch modelled on the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The AU council gave the proposal, from Sudan, the green light at its summit last week (21 January) in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

Among its aims, the proposed African Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (AFESCO) intends to boost the continent's scientific capacity, promote international cooperation and protect African cultures.

"It is a wonderful window of opportunity for all African countries to share their knowledge, skills and experiences while promoting the scientific collaboration that is vital for building common interests and mutual understanding between the peoples of Africa," says Awatif Elegam of Sudan's National Centre for Research.

Akadiri Yessoufou a researcher at the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin told SciDev.Net that the organisation could help define African education policies and major priorities for science and development.

However, Mamadou Goita, special advisor to the director-general of the Mali-based Rural Economy Institute, cautions, that before the organisation is set up, the way it will be funded and managed should be clarified to avoid any overlap with UNESCO.

The Sudanese newspaper Alray Alaam reported on 23 January that the International University of Africa in Khartoum would host AFESCO.