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The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), a multinational programme to promote economic and social development, is setting up a Commission on Science and Technology to explore ways of stimulating activity in both fields across the African continent.

In particular, the new commission will follow a two-prong strategy of identifying centres of research excellence in different African countries, and establishing an African Science Fund to fund them.

The commission will be based in Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, which has been given administrative responsibility for co-ordinating NEPAD’s science and technology component.

The creation and operation of the commission will be overseen by a team made up of Rob Adam, director-general of the South African Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology; Zerubabel Mijumbi Nyira, executive secretary of the Ugandan National Council for Science and Technology; and David Akuro Mbah, technical advisor to the Ministry of Scientific and Technical Research of Cameroon.

John Mugabe

Kenyan John Mugabe — who has completed two terms as executive director of the African Centre for Technology Studies in Nairobi — has been approached to act as executive secretary.

Mugabe has a background in technology policy. He says that his brief would be “to translate NEPAD’s goals with respect to science and technology into a programme of action”. He adds: “If this is not done now, Africa will be losing an opportunity”.

If his appointment is ratified by the countries overseeing the commission, Mugabe’s first step would be to spend the next two months canvassing support for the programme among African countries, particularly those not among the original 15 members of the New Africa Initiative which met in Nairobi last August to launch the process. He would start work in Pretoria in July.

According to Mugabe, one of the main aims of the first phase of the commission’s work, which will last for two years, will be to identify and assess potential centres of excellence on the continent.

The commission will also explore the possibility of creating an African Science Fund. “In the past African countries have spread their limited resources too thinly”, says Mugabe.

The aim is to identify existing research institutions for potential support from the commission, and ensure that, despite being spread across the continent, they support each other’s efforts by being linked together — particularly where their research goals overlap.

The overall aim of the new initiative, says Mugabe, is “to create incentives for research to be undertaken in Africa by Africans.” The exact form that the fund will take — including its governance structures — is still under discussion.

Neville Arendse, head of the multi-lateral directorate at the South African Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology — where the commission will be based — is anxious to allay fears that South Africa will dominate its agenda.

“Although South Africa is clearly an important player in the field of science and technology, the commission’s initiatives will reflect consensus decisions by its member states,” he says.

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