African science academies need to sharpen their act

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[ABUJA, NIGERIA] Academies of sciences, in most part of the world, are regarded as reservoirs of intelligence in contributing evidence-based advisory role to policy formulation and implementation.

In Africa, rather, the academies are seen as a collection of old and retired university professors who have outlived their usefulness in educational institutions, with little to offer and thus their contributions are never sought during policy formulations or implementation. That is the feeling I got while attending the 40th anniversary celebration of the Nigeria Academy of Science last month (14 November) in Abuja, Nigeria.

The academies are seen as a collection of old and retired university professors who have outlived their usefulness in educational institutions.

Alex Abutu

Scientists and researchers from various academies of sciences in Africa at a plenary session concurred that the contributions of the academies to policy formulation and implementation remained at near zero and need to change.

Although some of the scientists blamed governments for non-patronage, others indicated that the academies have not been able to align their programmes to key government activities.

Ralph Mills-Tettey, a fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, says that one reason for the neglect is that research by fellows of the academies are no longer addressing or tailored to solve societal challenges.

For Turner Isoun, a fellow of the Nigeria Academy of Science and former minister of science and technology for Nigeria, research cannot be done without funding so academies must put pressure on governments. “Governments across the continent [does not listen] when it comes to research funding and we must put pressure on them,” Isoun said.

It is, therefore, high time the academies came out of their cocoon to make society feel their impact, according Uche Amazigo, retired director of the WHO African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control.

Amazigo urged the academies to seek strategic ways of engaging the private sector in their dealing so as to attract funding rather than relying mainly on western donors.

My take is that as the academies think of repositioning themselves to attract government attention, it is important that they focus their research and development activities on solving everyday societal challenges, which African governments spend so much money in acquiring temporary solutions from abroad.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.