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[ADDIS ABABA] Africa must increase its engineering capacity, and develop human and institutional capacity through more training and better labs in science, technology and innovation (STI), according to a panel of experts reviewing the continent's science plan.

The High Level Panel on Science, Technology and Innovation highlighted these key proposals in its draft report setting out recommendations to guide the continent's science, technology and research development from 2014-2024.

The African Union (AU) appointed the panel last July to review the continent's Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action on behalf of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), an AU strategic framework for socioeconomic development.

The panel is co-chaired by Calestous Juma, professor of the practice of international development at Harvard University, United States, and Ismail Serageldin, director of the Library of Alexandria in Egypt.

Its draft report calls for enhanced entrepreneurship by scientists through effective innovation, technology transfer from research facilities to the markets and commercialisation.

"The panel has recommended that attention be given to advanced education and R&D facilities on the continent," said Mahama Ouedraogo, head of the Science and Technology Division at the AU Commission (AUC), the union's secretariat.

Speaking to SciDev.Net at a summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last month (25 May) — which marked the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the union's predecessor, the Organization of African Unity — he said that the final report, due to be ready for adoption by the union later this year, would accelerate Africa's transition to sustainable development through innovation and a move to a knowledge-led economy.

Aggrey Ambali, head of NEPAD's Policy Alignment and Programme Development Directorate says: "This document will further reaffirm [the partnership's] commitments to embed STI as an engine for Africa's transformation".

Meanwhile, the AUC voted for science, technology and research as the key priority when they were reviewing the next four-year strategic plan, which was presented for adoption by the heads of states during the Addis Ababa summit.

According to Hakim Elwaer, the commission's director of human resources, science and technology, the AUC is committed to ensuring that science and technology contributes to sustainable development efforts in Africa.

"It was surprising but exciting that the whole team of leadership and expertise involved voted for science, technology and research," he tells SciDev.Net.

The proposal to prioritise science, technology and research — presented and adopted by heads of state during the summit — says that the immediate focus would be on promoting science and technology and on encouraging more young people and women to get engaged in science.

Efforts would also be made to promote science, technology and research among African parliamentarians and to develop space science and technology for the continent's socioeconomic development, he said.

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