By: Linda Nordling and Munyaradzi Makoni


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[SOMERSET WEST, SOUTH AFRICA] African academies are still battling to obtain funding and recognition from policymakers despite several efforts to strengthen them.

This message came out of the sixth meeting of the African Science Academy Development Initiative (ASADI) taking place in Somerset West near Cape Town, South Africa, this week (7–11 November).

Support programmes like ASADI, which started in 2004, have resulted in a proliferation of academies on the continent and a renewed focus on their role in advising policymakers.

But as these programmes mature, academies are expected to raise their own funding — something that is proving a challenge for many, delegates said.

Although some academies are old and reasonably well-resourced, such as the 50-year old Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, others, such as the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences, set up in April this year, are new and untested.

"Core funding is the problem," Oye Ibidapo-Obe, president of the Nigerian Academy of Science, told SciDev.Net. He is lobbying Nigeria's government for stable funding to foot 60–70 per cent of the academy's bill.

"ASADI has been great for funding but now we want our government to pay," he said.

Ibidapo-Obe said he was fairly confident he could get his government to provide the funding. But the Academy of Science of Mozambique, created in 2007, is less secure, said chief executive Inocente Mutimucuio. It has funding for staff — but not enough to pay for visitors and seminars, he said.

The Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences is also concerned about its long-term financial sustainability, but Gibson Mandishona, executive chairman of the Centre for Renewable Energy and Environmental Technology, Harare, and a member of the academy, said: "The spirit to survive exists; we will look for other pockets of funding to keep our work going".

Getting noticed by governments is another challenge that few African academies feel they have cracked.

"Few understand the role of the academy in Mozambique. They think we are duplicating the activity of the Department of Science and Technology," said Mutimucuio.

Enriqueta Bond, chair of the ASADI board, said: "We are aware of the fragility of African academies. They need funding. Some don't have a secretariat and can hardly retain permanent staff".

But the ASADI programme is unlikely to be extended, said its director, Patrick Kelley. "Ideally, we would fade away in 2014. We are putting a lot of energy into teaching [the academies] how to sell themselves."