SASA’s Vision of the Role of Science in
African Socio-Economic Development

SASA’s vision is to advance science, improve health, and economic and social development on the African continent. SASA seeks to support and advance the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and raise the levels of development across African countries and communities as measured in the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI).

There is generally agreement around the “What” and the “Why” of economic development, around achieving the SDGs, and around improved rankings in the HDI.. Difficulties arise around the “How” to pursue those objectives. The African focus on economic development has its beginnings in the end of colonial rule. National governments, East/West Cold War strategies, the transition of the European focused International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) into the World Bank, and the emergence of regional development banks such as the African Development Bank (ADB) institutionalized the pursuit of economic development.

Over the past half century, policies in pursuit of economic development have both changed and been refined. They reflected big power bipolar Cold War struggles, shifts between public and private sector strategies, and the power of neo-liberal foreign and corporate strategies. The goals have matured from a narrow economic growth perspective to a more inclusive sustainable socio-economic development perspective. This has been accompanied by a slow build for greater stakeholder engagement in discussions and at the decision table.

In the face of climate change and episodic events such as the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic there are increased calls for evidence-based policy, evidence-influenced behavior, and greater global and regional collaboration. Science has a double role to play here. It is through science that we understand the dynamics and internal workings of global and local ecosystems and come to understand the impacts of our behavior on those systems. Economic development, as a key driver of socio-economic development, depends on evidence-based decision making, and on research from both natural and social processes.

However, it is not enough for science to produce evidence for policy making, for programs, and for rules and regulations. Socio-economic development also depends on evidence-influenced behavior that weaves a common social fabric and encourages social buy in. It must also promote social inclusion, and oppose and reduce the precarity, marginality and exclusion of social groupings as defined by ethnic, religious, gender or other properties. Socio-economic development without inclusion is unjust, exploitative, at cross purposes with the SDGs, and ultimately unsustainable.

Science has a role to play in economic development through raising society’s level of science awareness and science understanding. Science awareness is essential for both good policy and good behavior. It is also the proper antidote for false science, and for campaigns of misinformation (e.g. antivaxxers). Raising science awareness is about more than just explaining the evidence. Raising science awareness is about cultivating an understanding of the roles that science plays in evidence-based policy and in evidence-influenced behavior, and the role of society’s stakeholder engagement in deliberations around policies and behaviors to achieve the desired outcomes. The participation of SASA in this process is essential.


-contributed by Prof. Sam Lanfranco