Mauritania unveils research and innovation strategy

The West African nation of Mauritania has unveiled its first five-year strategy (2022-26) to use research and innovation as a lever for promoting national development in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

The strategy was prepared by the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States and funded by the European Union. It was unveiled and launched in Nouakchott and online on 16 December 2021.

The strategy aims at making research and innovation a lever for socio-economic transformation, employability for university graduates and achieving SDGs along with implementing the objectives of the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa, 2024 STISA 2024 and the African Union’s (AU) Agenda 2063, ‘The Africa We Want’.

To achieve this, the strategy calls for strengthening private-sector participation, promoting open science and open innovation along with building bridges between research, industry, society and higher education as well as fostering the mobility of researchers within the research and innovation ecosystem and reducing the gender gap, especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM subjects.

The strategy also includes the strengthening of the research and innovation governance system, support for the incubation and emergence of start-ups, facilitating the set-up of university-industry alliances and promoting international cooperation to support the reform of the national research and innovation system.

In addition, the strategy calls for increasing the budget allocated to research and innovation to between 0.3% and 0.6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2026, compared to approximately 0.1% currently. The AU target is 1% of GDP.

Besides enhancing investment in human capital to mobilise the necessary skills and knowledge in terms of research and innovation priorities, the strategy will also focus on creating a “Mauritanian research space”, the mobilisation of the diaspora, the valorisation of the researcher’s profession, and masters and doctorate training associated with clusters and sectoral centres of excellence, among others.

The budget for implementing the research and innovation strategy is about €45 million (about US$51 million).

Weak scientific performance

Al-Khalil Ould Mohamed Al-Hafiz, a former secretary-general of the General Union of Mauritanian Students, welcomed the strategy, saying to University World News: “It will help in improving Mauritania’s weak scientific and technological performance through developing employable university graduates and skilful scientific workforces needed for promoting a knowledge-based economy.”

Mauritania is a weak performer in terms of its knowledge infrastructure. It ranks 147th out of 154 countries in the 2021 Global Knowledge Index (GKI), which measures the knowledge performance of countries worldwide using seven main sectorial indices, including higher education as well as research, development and innovation.

In the higher education sector, Mauritania ranked last out of 145 positions and in research, development and innovation, 141st.

Professor Ahmedou Haouba, former president of the University of Nouakchott Al Aasriya, told University World News: “This research and innovation strategy will allow Mauritania to develop programmes based on knowledge, innovation, science and emerging technologies in order to achieve a certain level of sustainable economic and social development.”

Haouba said that, despite having some resources and assets, Mauritania still faces major constraints. These include budgetary constraints on research and innovation, the compartmentalisation of researchers and a lack of commitment of experts and experienced researchers in research and innovation management.

Haouba led the international panel of experts who participated in preparing the research and innovation strategy.

Haouba’s views are echoed by Dr George Bonas, the founder and managing director of the Centre for Regional and International Science, Technology and Innovation Studies and Support in Athens, Greece.

Bonas told University World News: “What is needed now is lasting political and societal commitment that will support the gradual budget increase, as well as the necessary regulatory changes for the implementation of the research and innovation strategy and the optimisation of the use and impact of the allocated funds on projects of scientific merit resulting from ... international standards evaluation procedures.”

Bonas is also a member of the international panel of experts who participated in preparing the strategy.