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African Continent Releases First Survey of Its Own Science



A major pan-African science, technology and innovation (ST&I) survey, aimed at mapping the state of research to help with policymaking, was released yesterday (24 May).

The ‘Africa Innovation Outlook 2010′, prepared by the African Science and Technology Indicators Initiative (ASTII) and launched at its workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, covers 19 countries from across the continent and aims to plug an information gap on the state of science in Africa.

“We have to build the capacity within our continent for our people not only to collect data but to analyse these data and transform them into what we can use for policy formulation,” Estherine Lisinge Fotabong, environment advisor at the New Partnership for Africa’s Development’s Planning and Coordinating Agency – which runs the ASTII initiative, told SciDev.Net.

“The survey is very significant to the socio-economic transformation of Africa. It is a significant step in our quest to develop.”

The report has six chapters, dealing with economic and human development challenges for ST&I; research and development (R&D) activities; innovation; bibliometric analysis of scientific output; and recommendations to address the challenges identified in it.

Hezron Njoroge/Nation

A newly-developed microscope, complete with ready-to-use malaria test slides, on display at an international malaria conference in Nairobi.
It says that Africa’s share of global science continues to decrease, and for it to be become more competitive it “will require greater investment in human capital development, the strengthening of scientific institutions and equipment, as well as significantly higher funding for science”.

The sector is dominated by academics from major universities and, since the 1990s, there has been a shift in research focus from agricultural science to medicine.

The survey also found that innovation is pervasive in companies but, instead of coming from the ideas of public research institutions and universities, it is driven by clients’ and customers’ ideas and collaboration, as well as the acquisition of new machinery and equipment. The main barriers to innovation were costs, domination by established enterprises, lack of information on technologies and markets, and lack of qualified staff.

Only three surveyed countries – Malawi, Uganda and South Africa – spent above one per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on R&D, a target endorsed by the African Union (AU) in 2006. The other ten countries surveyed on R&D activities spent below 0.5 per cent of GDP.

The participation of women in R&D is high in several countries, for example in Tanzania and South Africa it is over 40 per cent, followed by Mozambique and Uganda.

“The information will be useful for socio-economic development – it will make reliable statistical data readily available and hopefully also serve as a wake-up call,” said Razak Sanusi, of Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics.

But Watu Wamae from RAND Europe, in the United Kingdom, a non-profit research institute for policymaking, warned that statistics alone will not move ST&I forward.

“Innovation policy in Africa will need to address gaps such as accessibility. If it [innovation] is difficult to access, it is as bad as not having it.”

The ASTII initiative includes 19 countries: Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. The report was funded by the Swedish International Development and Cooperation Agency.

The ASTII data will be stored by the African Observatory for Science, Technology and Innovation, in Equatorial Guinea.

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