Heads of state adopt continental science strategy

Heads of state adopted the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa – 2024 at an African Union assembly in Equatorial Guinea late last month. The continental framework is aimed at accelerating transition to innovation-led, knowledge-based economies.

It “calls for political will and financial commitment from member states that goes beyond the Khartoum declaration of 1% of gross domestic product spending on research and development”, said the African Union Commission in a statement afterwards.

STISA-2024, as it is known, was among several initiatives approved by the 23rd Ordinary Session of the Summit of the African Union held in Malabo from 26-27 June under the theme “2014 Year of Agriculture and Food Security”.

The new strategy is the result of a review of Africa's Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action or CPA, which found that it had failed to link with other pan-African policies such as continent-wide agriculture and environmental protection projects with research of their own. It also fell short of raising the funds needed for full implementation.

The development of STISA-2024 was led by a high-level panel co-chaired by professors Calestous Juma and Ismail Serageldin, and prepared in an inclusive process involving policy-makers, scientists and researchers in Africa and the diaspora, and institutions and organisations including the African Union Commission and the AU implementation agency, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development or NEPAD.

The strategy

Besides increasing Africa’s science and technology capacity and high-level skills through training, STISA-2024 aims to encourage collaborative innovation and entrepreneurship, and dissemination of a scientific culture.

It plans to set up a research and innovation council that will bring together academies and funders to coordinate national activities. The African Observatory of Science, Technology and Innovation will play a key role in developing programmes, and monitoring and evaluating progress through use of indicators.

The strategy outlines six priority areas where science, technology and innovation – STI – can contribute to addressing African development challenges:
  • • Eradicate hunger and achieve food and nutrition security: support agricultural programmes and research in agronomy, biosciences, water, soil and climate change mitigation.
  • • Prevention and control of diseases, and ensuring well-being: effective medicines, diagnostic tools, vector control tools and vaccines, innovation in traditional medicine, strengthening health systems and tackling HIV-Aids and malaria.
  • • Communication – physical and intellectual: road, rail and water transport, building knowledge production systems around major physical and digital infrastructure, and energy and renewable energy.
  • • Protect our space: natural resources and land and water management, desertification, biodiversity and protection of ecosystems; environment, pollution and waste management; climate change and early warning systems; and building Earth observation capability.
  • • Create wealth: boost manufacturing, engineering and Africa’s industrial base, SME and research and development output, incubation and technology parks, new frontier technologies, knowledge transfer and adaptation, strengthening intellectual property and regulatory systems and harnessing the demographic dividend by supporting innovation among youth.
  • • Live together – build the community: governance, social sciences and the humanities; building a science culture and popularising science; awards and recognition of excellence in STI; promoting green technologies, and biosafety.
“These priorities cut across the African Union sectoral strategic frameworks and provide ample opportunity for synergies and complementarities that would be capitalised on during implementation, underscoring the role of STI as a multi-functional tool for Africa’s development,” said the African Union Commission.

STISA-2024, it added, takes cognisance of “the need to revamp STI infrastructure in Africa, enhance technical and professional competencies, and also provide the enabling environment for STI" as prerequisites to achieve its mission.

The AU Commission, NEPAD and their partners pledged to continue to advocate for and create awareness of STI and the strategy, mobilise institutional, human and financial resources and track, monitor and evaluate implementation of STISA-2024.

Mixed response

The strategy has met with mixed views, with some experts criticising and others welcoming it.

Reporting on the matter for Nature, Linda Nordling wrote: “Critics fear that the strategy’s top-heavy administrative structure and lack of firm pledges may render it ineffective. They also think that its aims may be beyond the continent’s limited resources, especially given that it contains few financial commitments.”

But Juma Shabani, former director of development, coordination and monitoring of UNESCO programmes with a special focus on Africa, welcomed the strategy and described its adoption as a “major political commitment towards the use of STI in development in Africa”.

Shabani told University World News: “This commitment implies that African universities are encouraged to align their training and research programmes to the priority areas of the strategy in order to contribute to human capacity building and production of the knowledge needed to ensure effective implementation of the strategy.”

To ensure the strategy’s success, Shabani said, ministries responsible for STI should hold national consultations with stakeholders in order to build national ownership of the strategy and develop action plans and programmes required for its implementation.

“The main elements of the strategy should be integrated into national poverty reduction and growth strategic frameworks and universities’ training and research programmes. Appropriate mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation of the strategy should be established at national, regional and continental levels.”