Président de la Commission de l’Union Africaine (depuis le 1er. février 2008)
Among the audience at the Royal Society - one of the world’s greatest scientific institutions — were Lord Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, Sir David King, Chief Scientific Advisor to the British government, and Prof. Neil Turok, Chair of Mathematical Physics, Cambridge University.
In his address President Kagame said : My thesis today is a simple one : We in Africa must either begin to build our scientific and technological training capabilities or remain an impoverished appendage to the global economy. We all know that the application of science and technology is fundamental, and indeed, indispensable in the social and economic transformation of our countries. Productive capacities in modern economies are not based merely on capital, land and labour. They are also dependent on scientific knowledge and sustained technological advances.
In Africa it is readily evident that we are currently lagging behind. A few highlights may illustrate the depth of the challenge we face. First, due to various factors, among them a non-holistic approach to education in the past decades, tertiary educational and training institutions on the continent have declined. The selective approach to education based on the false notation that primary and secondary schools are more important to socio-economic development than tertiary education has been disastrous for the African continent.
This philosophy, it should be emphasised, was shared by African governments and the international development community alike. The World Bank in February 2006 acknowledged this fact, and indicated that from 1985 to 1989, 17 percent of its world-wide education sector spending was on higher education, in sharp contrast to 7 percent between1995 to 1999. The decline of tertiary education is especially evident at the African university which continues to experience a large scale brain drain.
Brain drain of academic professionals
African scientists and technologists in the continental knowledge institutions have “voted with their feet” so to speak, resulting in an estimated 23,000 academic professionals leaving Africa each year. It has been suggested that there are more African scientists in the United States alone than in Africa. Besides, there is now no single African university in the top 200 in the world. In the Webometrics ranking of world universities, only two African universities, both from South Africa, appear in the list of the top 1,000.
The reality is that we have to quickly build African knowledge institutions. We have to build domestic and regional capacities to produce a mix and a critical mass of knowledge if we are to render science and technology tools of socio-economic and cultural transformation. There are simply no shortcuts, neither are there alternatives.
Second, in terms of research and development, sub-Saharan Africa lags way behind the rest of the world, with South Africa leading with just 300 researchers in research and development per one million people, while other countries barely manage double digits. By comparison, Japan leads the way with over 5,000 researchers in research and development per one million people, closely followed by the USA ; countries such as Korea and the UK have 2,500 researchers per one million people.
The South Korean development strategy since the early 1960’s included the following :
Investments at all levels of education with emphasis on science and technology ;
Investments in universities and other educational and training institutions to create a highly skilled workforce (the percentage of graduates of science and technology in the South Korean labour force is on a par with the UK, Germany and France) ;
Funding research and development to the extent that 3% of the Korean national budget is allocated to this function.
As a result, in a single lifetime, South Korea has joined the ranks of the most prosperous nations by any social and economic indicators.
The question before us is this : If this is where we are in Africa today, where are we headed, and what needs to be done to give science and technology their due weight in our development processes ?
We must first recognise, at both continental and national levels, the fact that we are not where we should be with regard to science and technology, whether in terms of education and training, or in terms of incorporating science and technology in building our productive capacities through research and development.
At the continent level, we have a vision, one that is in fact being complemented by our development partners.
Africa’s Consolidated Plan of Action
Devised from continental consultations by the African Union and NEPAD, Africa’s Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action calls for commitment by member states “to bridge the technological divide between Africa and the rest of the world”.
The Consolidated Plan of Action looks towards an Africa that is “free of poverty and well integrated into the global knowledge economy”.
The Commission for Africa report, initiated by the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair and his government, calls for multi-sector partnerships from such countries as India and Brazil, the World Bank and national and regional stakeholders to work in partnership to develop science and technology capacity.
The report contains a number of recommendations on ways of unlocking Africa’s potential for generating and applying the science and related technological innovations needed to reduce poverty, accelerate economic growth, and enter the global economy.
The recommendations include the strengthening of existing centres of excellence in science and technology and building new ones, as well as reinforcing Africa’s higher educational institutions.
In the Gleneagles Summit of 2005, the G8 group of industrialised countries explicitly pointed to the focal role that centres of excellence could play in “helping develop skilled professionals for Africa’s private and public sectors”. They specifically encouraged the establishment of networks of excellence between African and other countries’ institutions of higher education, and centres of excellence in science and technology institutions.
Action on the ground will make the difference
It is not as if we do not know what it takes to bridge the science and technology gaps between Africa and the developed world. In fact, a number of regional Africa initiatives are already underway in building scientific and technological capacities on the continent.
I fully recognise that there is a catalogue of good intentions both at continental and national levels. But intentions are not enough to enable science and technology to become a developmental resource. It is action on the ground that will make the difference.
It is important, therefore, to focus on the achievable plans that clearly assign responsibilities so that Africa, together with our partners, can achieve our vision of science and technology-based knowledge economies.
I am also aware that to date only a small fraction of what needs to be done to effectively harness the power of science and technology in Africa has been done. But we have made a modest start. There is no reason to believe that Africa cannot achieve what others have achieved in these fields.
Source : nepad news, september 29, 2006