Initiatives launched to drive R&D in Africa

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  • The three provide a source of funding for African researchers and innovators
  • Unlike previous schemes, the new ones will be administered in Africa by Africans
  • An expert challenges African governments to invest more in R&D to boost growth

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[NAIROBI A new scientific alliance and two other initiatives to provide long-term opportunities for developing research leadership and innovation to help tackle Africa’s development challenges have been launched.

The Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA), unveiled in Kenya last week (10 September), will enable researchers and technology innovators tap into a single pool of resources to further their work and build collaborations within the continent and beyond.

“It is important for [African] leaders to recognise the transformative nature of science on society and commit more support to the sector.”

President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, Mauritius 

The AESA is to be administered by the Kenya-based African Academy of Sciences (AAS) in collaboration with the Africa Union (AU)’s New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) Agency. It received the full approval of African leaders at the January 2015 AU’s 24th Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Thomas Kariuki, its director, said that AESA was established by AAS and the NEPAD, and is supported by three global funders — the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) — with an initial seed funding of US$5.5 million.
“AESA supports initiatives in all areas of science, particularly health research relevant to Africa,” Kariuki said, adding that the initiative would drive the agenda for the next generation of African scientists and innovators.
According to Kariuki, the initiative is a milestone in Africa’s research and innovation landscape.
He said: “The continent is bubbling with talented researchers and innovators supported by some of the most dynamic institutions…AESA will work closely in collaboration with African and international partners and particularly strive to establish South-to-South collaborations which have been lacking in the past.”
Mauritius President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, an award winning researcher and a fellow of the AAS, challenged African governments to invest more in scientific research as a means of tapping the continent’s great potential.
“The gross domestic product (GDP) for most African countries has improved over the decades but a worryingly low portion of this is ploughed into scientific research,” Ameenah said. “It is important for [African] leaders to recognise the transformative nature of science on society and commit more support to the sector.”
She noted that while African scientists are involved in major research projects across the globe, the continent produces a mere two per cent of global research output, with most countries investing a dismal 0.5 per cent of their GDP on research.
At the AESA’s launch, two other research programmes were introduced. The UK-based Wellcome Trust announced funding awards for seven leading African researchers to the tune of £46 million (nearly US$70 million) through its DELTAS Africa scheme over an initial period of five years. DELTA’s total funding includes US$10 million support from the DFID.
Grand Challenges Africa, to be led by AAS through the AESA platform, was also announced.

“Grand Challenges Africa builds on over a decade of Grand Challenges investment in local innovators, including hundreds of Grand Challenges grants awarded to innovators across Africa,” said Trevor Mundel, president of global health at the Gates Foundation, in a statement issued by the Wellcome Trust and the AESA on 10 September.
“The programme will ultimately develop, launch and manage Africa-specific Grand Challenges targeted to the development challenges preventing African countries from reaching the Sustainable Development Goals,” the statement added.

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