AFRICA: Nineteen countries pledge to promote science

The 19 member countries of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa have come up with a raft of resolutions to boost science and technology, including the creation of a central fund to promote the sector.

At a summit held in Swaziland from 31 August to 1 September, under the theme "Harnessing Science and Technology for Development", heads of Comesa governments resolved that each nation should dedicate at least 1% of Gross Domestic Product to research and development, in line with the target set within the framework of the African Union.

Comesa countries have a population of 430 million people and cover a geographical area of 12 million square kilometers. They are Burundi, Comores, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

According to a summit communiqué, Comesa member states agreed to pool resources and combine efforts where possible to establish science and technology parks and promote the commercialisation of research and development.

In addition, they will put in place initiatives aimed at improving, standardising and commercialising traditional products.

They proposed the creation of a central fund that concentrates on making financial resources available for ICT training and skills development, and the development of databases to identify individuals able to assist in implementing Comesa science and technology initiatives.

Efforts will be made to harmonise and coordinate a science policy framework at the Comesa level, and to adopt master plans and blueprints for leveraging technological knowledge, harnessing science and technology capacity, and mobilising resources.

Member states were also urged to consider establishing science and technology committees and an advisory office at the highest level of government, while the Comesa secretariat was tasked with establishing a science and technology advisory office.

Interviewed after the summit, Zimbabwe's Science Minister Professor Heneri Dzinotyiwei said the reason for establishing high-level advisory bodies and academies was to provide the regional bloc with smoother coordination of and make it easier to relate on science issues.

Other proposals were to consider using biotechnology to assist in increasing outputs in the cropping sector, working with bodies such as the New Partnership for Africa's Development and "taking into account the enormous biodiversity in the region"; and to look at initiatives to promote and use nanotechnology, "given its application in key areas such as medical treatment resulting from much higher levels of precision".

Member states also were urged to establish an annual innovation award to recognise outstanding accomplishment in science, technology and innovation.