Basic and Applied Science

Quite a bit has been said and written about the dismal state of science and research in Africa. Africa lags behind all other continents in terms of indices of scientific activity as measured by the number of academic researchers per 1 million population, the number of masters, doctoral and postdoctoral output, the number of publication output, the number of Africans attending and presenting at major international scientific meetings, the number of African citizens who are scientists or engineers, and Africa’s contribution to global research and development (R&D). Despite the gloomy picture, over the past decade Africa has also been a continent with a heightened tempo of scientific activity; increasingly attracting major international funding for science and research projects. In addition Africa has also seen a huge surge in the number of institutions of higher learning, an increase in the number of major funding agencies and absolute money amounts dedicated to supporting science and research programs in Africa. Further, there has been a marked increase in the number of national academies of science and civil society scientific organizations. Not to be left out of the act in progress, African governments have also increased the tempo of national political awareness about the societal good of science, and some have made modest increases in funding science and research programs. Indeed the picture is not all gloomy; a 2014 World Bank report shows signs of improvement in certain aspects of scientific activity, notably an increase in the quantity and quality of research, and a modest increase in the number of scientific publications. While some progress is happening in continent wide science and research activity, Africa is still way back compared to the rest of the World. Even countries favoured by major international funding agencies have, as yet, not made the cut to attain World class status in science, research, innovation and certainly not in invention.

What stake holders in Africa Can Do – a catalogue.

It is important for policymakers to recognize that funding science is a public investment for societal good and thus policy makers should cultivate a societal awareness of science and firmly implant science’s place in society. It is important for African governments to skillfully tap Africa’s abundant natural resources and avail a significant proportion of the proceeds for funding and advancing science. It is especially important for African governments to collectively make major investments in large-, mid- and small scale instrumentation and research facilities which currently are lacking in Africa. Both “routine” research facilities such as research labs and large scale shareable core research facilities are essential in exploring and answering difficult scientific questions and societal health and socioeconomic problems specific to Africa. It is, therefore, critical for the public to understand that supporting scientific activity will lead to spin offs that improve the human condition and socioeconomic indices of African society as a whole. The benefits of science, especially basic science, are not always obvious. This creates hurdles for supporting and funding science. But, it is important for society to understand that new knowledge generated by scientific activities and discoveries can lead to innovations and technological advances that will benefit society as a whole.

It is imperative for academic institutions to foster a culture of excellence, original thinking, internationalism and healthy competition in science. It is important for Young African scientists to spiritedly and obsessively endeavor to publish at least 3 papers in peer reviewed journals during a 1to 3 year period. Young scientists should also attend and present at a major international conference and at least two regional conferences in Africa annually. Such conferences should be listed in the annual Global Events List. The budding scientists should endeavor to compete and win young scientist prizes during conference events, or for excellence in their research and/or published paper.

It is absolutely necessary for national academies to engage and educate the public about the good and relevance of science to society. It is crucial for national academies to identify priority areas of scientific inquiry in all dimensions including social, environmental, infrastructure, education, innovation and economic activities. It is critical for business/the private sector to recognize that supporting and funding scientific activity improves the work force in all dimensions and enhances the consumer base.

It is a paramount mission for civil society scientific and professional organizations to push the frontiers of science by promoting culture of science activities such as advocacy for science, science diplomacy, science education and setting standards and guidelines for practicing science. It is important for scientific organizations to foster science’s many interfaces with culture, society, government and academic institutions, viz; to provide technical, regulatory, deliberative, informal, and, crises and emergencies advise to government, to engage academic institutions in internationalizing science in Africa. and to support fellowships for young African scientists. In short to transform scientific activities to better serve society and to generally engage in activities that benefit’s the greater scientific enterprise.

It is crucial for all stakeholders to collaborate in developing continent wide effective multidisciplinary epidemics preparedness and response mechanisms to part supplement and part complement WHO’s Global Outbreak and Alert Response Network for epidemics.

What stake holders in Africa Can Do – breaking away

Africa is just breaking into Science, has some fine universities, excellent original thinking academics and professionals, who are internationally recognized, are relevant to Africa and do good for Africa. Such academics are best suited to promote a culture of science in Africa and to develop a truly African brand of culture of science that is taught to students in all academic programs including social, environmental and even political science programs, and reinforced through fellowship activities and conferences.

In essence, instead of depending solely on foreign training programs, fellowships and funding sources, Africa governments, business, academic institutions and civil society organizations should develop Africa based collaborative continental programs, fellowships and funding institutes foundations and trusts. Africa should develop its own Harvard, Oxford and U of T and Karolinska Institute. African governments, the private sector, academic institutions and civil society should create Africa’s own National institutes of Health, its own Wellcome trust, Grants Challenges, British Council, DAAD, Continental Medical Research Council, CDC,s and FDA’s. African philanthropists should collectively create a Bill and Melinda Gates foundation of Africa to fund specific advancement of science programs. African civil society scientific and professional organizations should create the AAAS’s of Africa. African governments should invest in critical infrastructure for science by Africa sourced funding. African scientists should cultivate and derive inspiration from within, academic institutions should foster bold and original thinking by academics in their research and a nurture competitive spirit in young scientists. Civil society scientific organizations should make it a mission to set the tempo and flavor of advancement of science in Africa.

Africa is just breaking into Science, has some fine universities, excellent original thinking academics and professionals, who are internationally recognized, are relevant to Africa and do good for Africa. Such academics and international academics with goodwill for advancement of science in Africa, are best suited to promote a culture of science in Africa and to develop a truly African brand of culture of science