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[CAPE TOWN] Senior African scientists have asked the world's richest and most rapidly developing countries, meeting under the G8+5 banner next month, for help to stem the ruinous exodus of scientists from their continent.

Migration is one of the main agenda points of the meeting, which will take place in Italy from 8–10 July.

In a statement published on 11 June, the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC) urges the governments of the G8+5 grouping — including Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa — to help Africa rebuild its university sector. It also urges them to take up the proposals for African universities that have been made in the past.

It calls for training programmes that would allow African research students to stay in Africa or study in other developing countries rather than in rich ones where they may be more likely to stay.

Brain drain remains a devastating force in Africa, NASAC says.

"One third of all African scientists live and work in developed countries. This outflow represents a significant loss of economic potential for the continent, especially in today's global society where scientific and technological knowledge drive development," the statement reads.

Although the primary responsibility for addressing brain drain rests with African governments, external assistance will remain "instrumental" for resource-starved countries, it continues.

Africa has yet to see many results from the endorsement of centres of excellence by the G8 summit in Gleneagles in 2005 (see G8 leaders give indirect boost for science in Africa) or recommendations by the Commission for Africa, also in 2005, that the continent needs US$5 billion in funding for universities and US$3 billion for centres of excellence (see Commission 'to seek US$5 billion for African universities' and Science capacity 'imperative' for Africa's development).

The NASAC statement calls upon the G8+5 to honour the Gleneagles commitments and outlines several ways in which extra funding would help reverse Africa's brain drain.

The statement also underlines the need to connect African scientists in the diaspora with those remaining at home.

"Tens of thousands of Africa's scientists now live and work in developed countries. Most will never return. It is important to recognise this reality and to devise policies that will allow Africa to take advantage of the knowledge and expertise of their emigrant citizens," NASAC says in the statement.

Abed Peerally, a Mauritian agricultural scientist and early shaper of NASAC, told SciDev.Net that to stop brain drain Africa must also address a range of socioeconomic challenges.

"We need more good governance, sound economic policies and a dramatic boost to infrastructural development without which no amount of science and technology (S&T) input would have any impact," he says.

Meanwhile Calestous Juma, development expert at Harvard University, questions the effectiveness of lobbying the G8+5 grouping and urges African scientists to explore other avenues to foster S&T in their countries.

Juma believes industrial and infrastructural development, such as the new fibre optic cable being laid along the East African coast, offer better avenues for revitalising S&T in Africa.

"This is the most important investment in the region since the construction of colonial railways," he says. "The academies should look further and identify other practical opportunities to foster new partnerships."

Link to NASAC statement [2.5MB]