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African scientists, politicians, and policy advisors are being asked to make suggestions on the design of a proposed mechanism for funding regional research facilities across the continent.

The request has come from the science and technology office of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), which is drawing up the proposal at the request of African science and technology ministers.

At a meeting in September last year the ministers asked NEPAD to explore options for creating an African Science and Innovation Facility (ASIF).

This funding body would mobilise African and international technical and financial resources to implement a 'consolidated plan of action', which the ministers also approved.

The plan lists initiatives for building capacity in various scientific fields. It would cost US$159 million to implement between 2006 and 2010, and already has the support of donor agencies (Donor nations pledge support for African science).

The idea is that, through the ASIF, donors would be asked to support the complete range of initiatives, rather than those most attractive to them.

Plans for the ASIF will be presented to African heads of state for approval in January 2007 at the next African Union summit, which has science for development as its theme. It is being seen as a unique opportunity to put science and technology firmly on the African political agenda.

NEPAD is seeking people's views on various aspects of the ASIF by the end of August. Questions include what kind of organisation the ASIF should be, how to measure its impact, and how to ensure that African governments and the private sector contribute to it.

"This is a unique opportunity to design something that could both meet the needs of Africa and provide a way of harmonising support from donors keen to promote science at a regional level," says NEPAD advisor Geoff Oldham.

"We want to know what would make the stakeholders — including not only African government and donor agencies, but also both the scientific and business communities — buy into it," says Oldham, who is a former director of the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex, United Kingdom.

He told SciDev.Net: "We are seeking comments from a wide range of people on what they feel the organisational and governance structure should look like in order to persuade them to support it."

NEPAD's science and technology office will present its final set of options for the ASIF at the African Ministerial Council on Science and Technology in November.

If the science ministers approve of these plans, they will then be submitted to the full summit meeting in January.

Link to NEPAD questionnaire on the ASIF


Responses should be sent by 31 August to: [email protected]

Geoff Oldham is the chair of the trustees of the Science and Development Network (SciDev.Net).

Read more about the Second African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology in SciDev.Net's news focus