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[RABAT, MOROCCO] Africa’s education and science ministers have agreed to work together to boost scientific education and infrastructure and develop new monitoring and evaluation systems to track their progress. 

Delegates at the 2nd African Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation, which was held last month (14-17 October) in Morocco, agreed to create clear mechanisms for science and technology funding, and build regional networks for training and innovation.

They also vowed to include the most vulnerable in societies and women in plans for expanding understanding of science, but the ministers proposed no targets for science and technology funding or projects.

“We also need monitoring and evaluation that allow us to assess progress.”

Ignace Gatare, National Commission for Science and Technology, Rwanda

Seja Maphanyane, Botswana’s deputy principal secretary for infrastructure, science and technology, told SciDev.Net that the forum was an opportunity for ministers and high-level civil servants to build support so that they can lobby their own governments to meet the targets.

African heads of states have repeatedly committed to spending one per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) towards research and development, with their first commitment in 1988, according to the African Union.  And earlier this year, African government heads agreed to a Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024 that includes spending and development goals that exceed the one per cent committed.

A report published the World Bank and Elsevier in September notes that most Sub-Saharan African countries spent less than 0.5 per cent of their GDPs on research in 2011, and just nine spend between 0.5 per cent and one per cent. The report adds that many developed countries devote at least two per cent of GDP on research.

Rwanda has come close to the one per cent research-spending goal, with around 0.5 per cent of its GDP devoted to research, says Ignace Gatare, the director-general of the country’s National Commission for Science and Technology.

Other African countries devoting 0.51 per cent to one per cent of GDP to research spending are Botswana, Gabon, Kenya, Mali, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda, according to the report.

Maphanyane said regional commitment and cooperation, represented in the final declaration, will help Africa do something about the failure to adequately invest in research: “We do recognise that year in, year out, we never reach the goal,” she said, attributing Botswana’s failure to meet the spending target to conflicting priorities that change periodically.

The Botswana government needs to spend money constructing research buildings and laboratories, she added.

Gatare urges African countries to commit to well-defined funding mechanisms and strict evaluation methodologies. “We need to build from existing programmes,” Gatare tells SciDev.Net. “We also need monitoring and evaluation that allow us to assess progress.”

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.