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[ABUJA] The African Union (AU) is hoping to set up a communal fund to pay for education, science and technology programmes on the continent.

The fund would be held by the African Development Bank (ADB), and be open to contributions from international donors as well as from African governments.

Many millions of dollars are pledged in support of science and technology development in Africa every year. But fears over how money will be managed are making donors reluctant to fund projects, says Hakim Elwaer, director of science and technology at the AU Commission.

"The moment you have a fund structure, with an efficient, transparent and credible management system, this gives more credibility for donors to put money in — especially the big development partners from Europe, Japan, America and the World Bank," Elwaer told SciDev.Net.

In addition to putting donors' minds at rest, the fund would also help the AU coordinate science and technology programmes on the continent – something that is problematic at the moment (see AU takes controversial lead in African S&T programmes).

Elwaer said that an important step towards establishing the fund came last week (3-5 December) when the ADB sent an envoy to the African Ministerial Council on Science and Technology (AMCOST) in Abuja, Nigeria, to express the bank's willingness to host the fund.

But much of the detail has yet to be worked out — such as how the fund will work, how much money it might hold and when it might be established. Moreover, the ADB told SciDev.Net that it is awaiting the outcome of a feasibility study expected by March next year (2009).

"Whether or not we actually go ahead with the fund and host it will depend on the conclusions of the study," says Sibry Tapsoba, the ADB manager responsible for science. "We are very positive but we are also very cautious."

The idea for a mechanism to coordinate pan-African funds for science programmes was mooted in the Consolidated Plan of Action (CPA), a continental science plan adopted by governments in 2005.

An African Science and Innovation Fund (ASIF) was discussed in the lead-up to the AU presidential summit in January 2007, but was dropped from the agenda (see AU endorses biotechnology plan, but not science fund).