‘Boost basic science projects’, say African scientists

Installing a solar water heater on a roof: scientists say African leaders should look to basic science to help the poor Copyright: USAID

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[CAIRO] African scientists have urged leaders to carry out science initiatives that will improve the lives of Africa’s poor, and to popularise science and technology at grass-root level.

Their calls were among nearly 20 recommendations made by the African Congress for Scientific Research and Technology held in Cairo, Egypt on 6-8 November.
The recommendations will be announced this week at the African Ministerial Council on Science and Technology (AMCOST) that began in Cairo, Egypt today (20 November).

The participants — scientists and representatives from nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) — said governments should cooperate more with NGOs to implement ‘basic science’ initiatives that improve the lives of Africa’s poor by using science to solve everyday problems.

Fred Oladeinde, president of The Foundation for Democracy in Africa, a US-based NGO, said governments and NGOs have separate strengths, and should work together to promote science in Africa.

"Governments should not get involved in implementation, they’re not efficient. And that’s where NGOs should come in and leave the legislation to the politicians," he told SciDev.Net.

Delegates recommended establishing continent-wide exchange programs for students and researchers, and creating a database for science and technology experts in Africa and among the diaspora.

Other proposals included holding innovation competitions at national, regional and continental-level, and strengthening science curricula in African schools. 

In what was one of the conference’s most lively sessions, an Egyptian graduate showed how he worked with 30 street children from two Cairo slums to install 100 solar-powered water heaters on top of apartment buildings in their neighbourhoods.

Amin Tejpar, a Canada-based science and technology consultant said the project instilled important scientific values in the children and illustrates the type of ‘basic science’ sorely needed by Africans.

"How to bring hot water to a village: now that’s an exciting engineering problem. It’s exciting science, not dull science," said Tejpar. "We just need to convince people of its importance… Why do we have to go after global science all the time?"

The meeting comes only two weeks after the Congress of African Scientists and Policymakers, which drew up a list of ten ways to boost scientific innovation on the continent (see AU congress suggests how to boost African science).

Recommendations from both meetings will be taken into account at AMCOST, which will draw up a final list of proposals for the African Union summit meeting in January 2007 on science, technology and innovation.