Africa ‘needs more world-class research centres’

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International donors should fund more regional networks of centres of scientific excellence to help countries in Africa learn from each other’s experience of carrying out international quality research.

This was the view of several speakers who today (1 February) addressed a meeting convened in London, United Kingdom, to discuss ways of building scientific capacity in Africa.

Many delegates from African countries welcomed the UK government’s commitment to supporting such centres of excellence in African countries. They agreed that this was not an elitist concept but necessary for the long-term development of the continent’s research capacity.

Among those welcoming that commitment was John Mugabe, science and technology advisor to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), based in Pretoria, South Africa.

Mugabe said renewed commitment from international donors was good news as in the past they had shown little interest in funding advanced research centres, or in supporting regional networks of such centres.

Mugabe’s comments were echoed by Aki Sawyerr, secretary-general of the Association of African Universities, based in Accra, Ghana and by Silas Lwakabamba, rector of the Kigali Institute of Science, Technology and Management, which is based in Kigali, Rwanda.

Lwakabamba also called on donors to support one of the oldest of such networks — the African Network for Scientific and Technological Institutions (ANSTI), which was created in 1980 to promote cooperation among African institutions engaged in university-level research.

Mugabe, however, said he disagreed with donors, such as Britain, who believed that science and technology needed an environment of democracy, free speech and stable government in order to flourish (see Donors pledge long-term support for African science).

He said that science and technology had advanced in many countries in Asia where these conditions had not necessarily existed first.

By contrast, said Mugabe, supporting science and technology in countries that were poorly governed could help them to improve. For example, he said that it was science that provided the basis for the ‘peer review’ mechanism in NEPAD in which African countries scrutinise each other’s performance in governance, transparency and accountability in return for aid and trade partnerships from developed countries.

He said that science and technology would also be evaluated under NEPAD’s peer review system, and that Ghana was among the first countries to submit its science policies to external scrutiny.

The London meeting was organised jointly by the British and Canadian governments under the title ‘Building Science & Technology Capacity with African partners’.

Click here for SciDev.Net’s coverage of the 31 January – 2 February meeting ‘Building Science & Technology Capacity with African partners’