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[DAKAR] Western nations promised last week to support African efforts to increase scientific capacity using a set of priorities identified by African countries themselves.

They also pledged to promote the idea that supporting science and technology is an essential part of helping Africa achieve sustainable economic growth and alleviate poverty.

The commitments were made at the end of the Second African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology in Dakar, Senegal, on 27–30 September.

They followed the adoption of a 'consolidated plan of action' for promoting science and technology across the continent during 2006-2010 by representatives of African countries.

The African Union and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) organised the meeting. "[It] succeeded beyond our expectations," says John Mugabe, executive secretary of NEPAD's science and technology commission.

"There was a high sense of optimism," he adds. "The message is that this time around, members of the G8 group of industrialised countries are ready to make substantial commitments [to promote science and technology in Africa]."

The action plan says it is important for African countries to help fund its projects and initiatives by increasing their spending on research and development to one per cent of their gross domestic products (GDP).

But, given the continuing uncertainty over how much of this money will materialise, many delegates suggested that international partners must also make substantial contributions.

Aid agencies and donor countries issued individual statements of support, recognising African nations’ determination and commitment to take their destiny into their own hands.

Several donor governments represented at the meeting announced that they were keen to back efforts to boost research capacity.

The British government’s chief scientific advisor, David King, headed the UK delegation. He acknowledged that to be competitive in the world market, "Africa must invest in knowledge" and "reduce the brain drain by creating centres of excellence".

A representative from Canada confirmed his government's commitment to "strengthening the process of development initiated by African countries".

A senior official from Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) expressed particular support for developing a continent-wide system of indicators to measure levels of activity in science and technology. 

He also underlined IDRC's belief in the importance of increasing the capacity of journalists to help disseminate information about policies and policy decisions.

The French government promised to help define and implement the action plan.

The Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie, an international agency supporting francophone universities around the world, said it was keen "to combat the brain drain by developing a network of African researchers, restructuring science training and encouraging greater cooperation".

The Swedish government promised to help implement the action plan, and pointed out that Sweden had already pledged to increase its aid to developing countries from 0.8 per cent to one per cent of its GDP.

Sweden emphasised its willingness to provide support for work on science and technology policy, and said that it was particularly ready "to support universities that can play a role in achieving the plan's objectives".

Both Kenya and Egypt offered to host the next conference of African science and technology ministers in 2007. Each country has been asked to submit a detailed proposal, and the conference secretariat will make the final choice.

A proposal to make science and technology the main theme of the 2007 African Union annual summit is under discussion; such a move would reflect Africa's leaders willingness to fully endorse the field.

Translated from French

Statements made during the Second African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology

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