AFRICANGLOBE – An emerging generation of young people in Africa has been tipped to set the international agenda in the field of science and technology.
Leszek Borysiewicz, the vice-chancellor of Cambridge University and the former chief executive of the UK’s Medical Research Council said he believes that the continent’s youth was its greatest asset and was set to make important contributions to scientific research and development.
And he urged Africa’s leaders to do more to invest in this talent and ensure that its top students reach their full potential.
In a recent interview Professor Borysiewicz said: “Africa is the continent with the youngest people, one full of opportunities and with an amazing amount of young talents. I am an ardent believer that this talent will drive the science and technology agenda of the future. That is why we need to harvest every opportunity not just for Africa’s benefit, but also for the benefit of the whole world. These young people are going to make a lot of contributions that’ll help all of us.”
Asked whether he thought a legendary scientist like Albert Einstein could emerge from Africa, Professor Borysiewicz said: “Einstein was a brilliant scientist, but he was a loner. He did not work with teams. Modern science requires large-scale teams. In my own field of biomedicine, in cases where leadership is very much with the African investigators, they now participate, showing leadership in their domains and tackling global challenges such as HIV and many other conditions. I would like to see that extended to mathematics, into physics, into Africa space programmes.”
However Borysiewicz said that this emerging talent needed backing.
He said: “The only way you are going to get real success here is to take the brightest and best that you’ve got and give them the opportunity to really succeed. In science and technology — and particularly that driving at economic development — it is a game of winners. That means a country must back its 100 best young students and actually ensure that the facilities are provided for them in-country.”
He continued: “You must create an environment where economic growth can result from science and technology. This is a very complex and difficult issue, but there is a real opportunity to be able to do that, especially in some of the wealthiest African states. It is a very big challenge because, of course, voters will want to know what is being delivered for their money. This is where courage is needed from policymakers and scientists because they are taking decisions which may prove to be unpopular.”
The academic’s comments come in the wake of a recent address given by technology billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates who claimed that Africa faced a bright future because of its tech-savvy young people.
Delivering the 2016 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture at the University of Pretoria (Mamelodi campus), Gates said he was optimistic about the future of the continent because of its young people.
He highlighted the fact that African twenty-something entrepreneurs are “driving startup booms in the Silicon Savannahs from Johannesburg and Cape Town to Lagos and Nairobi” and were not “locked in by the limits of the past.”
Gates mentioned a startup founded by Thato Kgatlhanye, a 23-year-old South African, that makes school backpacks from recycled plastic bags. The flaps of the backpacks feature solar panels that charge while children walk to school. At home, children can take out the solar panel, put it into a jar-like lamp and turn it on to use as a study lamp.
Gates said: “Our duty is to invest in young people, to put in place the basic building blocks so that they can build the future. And our duty is to do it now, because the innovations of tomorrow depend on the opportunities available to children today.”
He continued: “We must clear away the obstacles that are standing in young people’s way so they can seize all of their potential. If they do not have access to economic opportunities, they will not be able to achieve their goals. If we invest in the right things, if we make sure the basic needs of Africa’s young people are taken care of, then they will have the physical, cognitive, and emotional resources they need to change the future. Life on this continent will improve faster than it ever has.
“And the inequities that have kept people apart will be erased by broad-based progress that is the very meaning of the words ‘living together’.”