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Britain and Canada have pledged to join forces to enhance science and technology capacity in Africa, promising to respond to the needs of people in Africa, put Africans in the driving seat of development plans and to "stay there for the long term".

The commitment was made today (31 January) at meeting in London organised jointly by the two countries to discuss was of building science and technology capacity with African partners.

Hilary Benn, UK minister for international development, told the meeting that Canada and the UK could achieve more by working together than by going it alone. He acknowledged that international donors had in the past not always "acted in harmony", which had left developing countries "overwhelmed by a sea of unfocused goodwill".

Benn's words were echoed by Arthur Carty, science advisor to Canada's Prime Minister Paul Martin. Carty said that by working together, Canada and the UK had the potential to catalyse international action to improve lives in Africa. But he also warned that "we will fail unless we pay attention to the needs of Africans".

Carty told the meeting that Canada wanted "Africa to take its full place as a player in the science and technology community".

Canada, he said, would play its part by allocating five per cent of the country's research spending on international development research. He said that he hoped other countries would also adopt similar targets.

In addition, Carty said that government departments and Canada's research funding councils were also being mobilised to support less developed countries.

Benn announced that the UK Department for International Development's £86 million (US$162 million) annual budget for research would be "significantly increased". Priority areas for the new money would include Africa, climate change and improving governance in the poorest countries.

He said that the United Kingdom was committed to raising the international profile of Africa in 2005 through its leadership of the European Union, the G8 group of industrialised countries, and through its sponsorship of the Commission for Africa, which will produce its final report in March.

Benn said that the UK would also target some of its development assistance to Africa on strengthening governance and non-government organisations. "Science flourishes in countries that are stable and where there is democracy and free choice at the ballot box."

Osita Ogbu, executive director of the African Technology Policy Studies Network in Nairobi, said that he believed that the UK could learn from Canada on how to deliver aid in science and technology.

The Canadian International Development Research Centre, for example, is a rare funding agency, which gives a lot of autonomy to its offices in developing countries most of whose senior staff is drawn locally, he said.

International donors, said Ogbu, need to trust local experts more to deliver projects and rely less on foreign consultants. "Some donors are themselves becoming recipients of aid," he said.

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