Development aid ‘must boost science in Africa’

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[ALEXANDRIA] Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Africa, asked to recommend ways that rich countries could assist the continent’s development, say aid should include increased support for science and technology.

Among the recommendations is a call for partnerships between African research centres and those in the developed world to be strengthened.

The suggestions were made in a series of consultation conferences involving some 500 NGO representatives from across Africa, the last of which was held in Alexandria, Egypt last month. The other consultations were held in Cameroon, Kenya, Senegal and Zambia.

These conferences were organised by the Commission for Africa, an initiative of the UK prime minister Tony Blair and musician and development activist Bob Geldof, to help prioritise international efforts in Africa.

The NGOs also called for foreign aid to be used to set up multi-disciplinary research centres in Africa and for educational scholarships in specific scientific fields. They added that richer countries could facilitate the transfer of new technologies to Africa, particularly for water desalination and renewable energy supplies.

"There was a strong feeling that we need more centres of research excellence in Africa and more partnerships with institutions in developed countries so that we can learn from their experience," says Masse Lo, director of LEAD International’s Francophone Africa programme based in Dakar, Senegal.

The commission has set up similar consultations with governments, businesses, expatriate Africans, and UK development organisations.

The views that emerge from these consultations will be compiled and presented with corresponding recommendations to members of the ‘G8’ group of the major industrialised countries and to the European Union in March.

Many of the participants wanted to know why the UK government would want to set up such a commission. At the meeting in Alexandria, they asked why the United Kingdom should want to help Africa develop while helping the United States in Iraq.

"Does Tony Blair really want to help us?" asked Farida Allaghi from Libya who works with the Mentor Foundation, an anti-drugs charity. "Why do I get the feeling we are being used? If Blair is really interested in helping us, he should be here, and not doing this by remote control."

K. Y. Amoako, a member of the commission and undersecretary-general at the United Nations, acknowledged that people had a number of "legitimate concerns". He said he had sat on many such commissions in the past, but this one had the strongest potential to make a different as it had influential political backing.

He said, for example, the appointment of Peter Mandelson, a personal friend of Tony Blair and the former UK minister for trade, as new trade commissioner at the European Union would help Africa to secure better terms of trade. "The timing of this could not have been better," said Amoako.

Top of the NGOs’ list of recommendations are calls for rich nations to cancel the continent’s debt, negotiate terms of trade in which Africa’s exporters received a fairer price, and overseas development aid that is increased to 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product.

The NGOs also said that richer nations must work within existing Africa-led initiatives such as the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development — known as NEPAD. They also called upon rich nations never again to support undemocratic regimes in Africa, and stop selling weapons, which have fuelled so many of the continent’s past wars.