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[NAIROBI] The World Bank's vice-president for Africa, Gobind Nankani, has urged rich countries to increase their support for strengthening scientific and technological capacity in Africa and other developing countries.

Such a move, says Nankani, would both accelerate the poor nations' economic growth and boost their ability to develop 'home-grown' solutions to the problems they face. He added that the question of what the developed world can do to assist in development of science and technology in Africa and elsewhere was "extremely urgent".

Speaking to SciDev.Net during a visit to Nairobi last week, Nankani, stressed the role that increased research capacity in the universities of developing country could play in strengthening health systems, improving agriculture and tackling diseases.

According to Nankani, development assistance to poor countries amounts to about US$58 billion each year, of which about US$ 20 billion takes the form of technical assistance. "If a large chunk of this could go to scholarships, it would make a tremendous contribution to capacity building and, thus, a formidable expert base," he added.

Nankani said that poor nations needed to identify areas in which the international community could make interventions to support their scientific and technological activities.

He said that the Commission for Africa, an international body set up by the UK government to identify ways for development aid to best meet Africa's needs, was of fundamental importance to the scientific and technological advancement of the continent, including its poor nations.

In developing science and technology in Africa, Nankani said, it was important to recognise the need for a regional approach, as high-quality research centres were expensive to develop.

The World Bank, he said, was taking such an approach by working with the African Union to help design and mobilise funds for the Mandela Institute of Science and Technology. This will be set up at institutions in four areas in the continent: southern, central, eastern and western Africa.