ISLAMIC WORLD: Nations continue focus on Africa

The 36 resolutions passed by the Organisation of Islamic Conference meeting in Islamabad last week stressed the critical and catalytic role of science, technology and higher education for development in OIC states in general and African member countries in particular.

During the three-day meeting delegates said the required level of funding for implementing science and education projects across the OIC region was not available.

A new fund was proposed under the recently-established Science, Technology and Innovation Organisation (STIO) of COMSTECH, the OIC ministerial-level Standing Committee on Science and Technological Cooperation.

The STIO, which held its first meeting in May 2010 in Saudi Arabia, was endorsed at last week's meeting. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria each pledged US$500,000 to the fund, which will also provide advisory support to recommend projects to be funded.

Last week's high-profile meeting of science and higher education leaders also recommended that science and higher education research projects from African member countries should focus on poverty alleviation.

Sudan's Mohammed HA Hassan, Secretary General of the Jordan-based Islamic World Academy of Sciences and President of the African Academy of Sciences, told University World News: "We hope decisions taken during the general assembly of COMSTECH would transform research and higher education in member countries and particularly in the Africa region as Africa now has attracted more attention from different OIC organs."

OIC bodies, including COMSTECH, recently put Sub-Saharan Africa on their priority list as it has a large membership from this region.

"There are two types of OIC member countries, if we categorise them on the basis of resources. Some are extremely rich which are mostly located in the Middle East and others are extremely poor which are mostly located in Sub-Saharan Africa.

"The spirit of development should be based on a noble philosophy that the rich countries should be helping the poor ones," said the OIC document Vision 1441, which provides a roadmap for rapid development in member countries, focusing particularly on countries from the Sub-Saharan Africa.

Development of Sub-Saharan Africa now tops the agenda of the OIC itself and its other organs such as the Islamic Council of Foreign Ministers (ICFM), Islamic-World Academy of Sciences (IAS), and Islamic Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO).

Of 20 OIC member countries categorised as 'least developed', 16 are in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Faiq Billal, ISESCO's Science Director, told University World News: "We share the agenda with COMSTECH and on special recommendation by the Islamic Council of Foreign Ministers and directions by the OIC General Secretariat, we are diverting larger share of our resources for promotion of higher education and research in African member states."

Elios Baydoun, Professor of Biology at the American University of Beirut, echoed the need for richer OIC nations to invest in science, technology and education in the poorer member states.

"Without bringing Sub-Saharan countries on the road to progress, the OIC vision and philosophy for setting up a large number of subordinate bodies remains unfulfilled," Baydoun told University World News.

Osman Kane, Executive Director of the Senegal-based African Regional Centre for Technology, told University World News: "The day when richer countries of the OIC system would come forward to invest in poor countries of the region, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, would be the day when we could say the vision behind setting up all OIC organs has been achieved and then we can leap forward to excel in all fields of life like the developed world."

COMSTECH has initiated a number of ongoing projects for member countries, including scholarships and research grants.

It has funded research in 20 countries of the African region with 18 from Sub-Saharan Africa, where a large number of research projects have been fully-funded.

COMSTECH is also behind a fully-funded masters scholarship programme for outstanding students from this region funded by the Islamic Development Bank and offered in the fields of science, engineering, technology, medical sciences, statistics, demography, econometrics, and operational research, Atta-ur-Rahman, Pakistan's former science minister and current Coordinator General of COMSTECH, told University World News.

African countries benefitting from the scholarship programme include Djibouti, Mali, Sierra Leone, Benin, the Gambia, Mauritania, Somalia, Burkina, Faso, Guinea, Mozambique, Togo, Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Uganda and Comoros.

COMSTECH is the highest OIC body on science and technology and is mandated to consolidate the individual and collective capacity of the OIC member states in the fields of science and technology by promoting mutual cooperation, collaboration and networking of resources aiming at rapid industrialisation and socio-economic development.

Its activities are funded by grants from member countries with Pakistan being on top of the list contributing US$1 million biennially, which it plans to increase to US$4 million. Saudi Arabia comes second with its contribution of US$200,000 which it has announced will increase to US$500,000.