African Science Centres of Excellence on the way
The African Union (AU), its New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and UNESCO are overseeing a programme for developing up to 30 regional centres of excellence on the African continent over the next ten years. The programme is to be implemented through the AU's) at a projected cost of US$3 billion.
The African Union has placed the development of a regional network of centres of excellence at the heart of Africa's Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action adopted by the Second African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology in Dakar (Senegal) on 30 September 2005.
The concept was also a focus of a Commission for Africa report published in March 2005, Our Common Interest, which specifically recommended that AU/NEPAD and UNESCO set up a high-level working group to complete a detailed programme on centres of excellence. The report further recommended that the programme build on the NEPAD mapping of S&T capacity over the past two years.
The report's recommendations were subsequently endorsed by the G8 group of industrialized countries at their July 2005 summit in Gleneagles (UK). The G8 committed a total of US$8 billion in funding over the next ten year's to Africa's development: US$3 billion for a programme to develop a regional network of centres of excellence; and US$5 billion for a programme to revitalize the continent's institutions of higher education.
The Second African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology decided that the NEPAD Secretariat would establish an AU/NEPAD/UNESCO high-level working group to prepare a comprehensive programme for establishing and funding centres of excellence, in accordance with the Commission for Africa's recommendations.
The Conference also approved the creation of an African Science and Innovation Facility to provide the pan-African mechanism necessary to sustain the networks of excellence and promote technology-based entrepreneurship. Among other tasks, the Facility will mobilize technical expertise and funding for project development and implementation.
The composition of the working group is yet to be decided but the group is expected to identify existing centres of excellence, like the African Biosciences Facilities for Central and Eastern Africa hosted by Kenya, and propose new ones in the environmental, physical, medical and social sciences. Developing institutes of technology will be a core part of the programme.
The regional centres of excellence will not only foster endogenous development but also combat the continent's 'brain haemorrhage'. The cost for Africa of recruiting 100 000 skilled expatriates to replace those who leave each year has been estimated at US$4 billion annually.
Centres of excellence will be encouraged to set up the public-private partnerships or innovation hubs that are critical to fostering innovation, entrepreneurship and technology diffusion. They will also be urged to engage with local communities, the government, the diaspora and international partners to ensure that science extends beyond the laboratory into everyday life.
Africa's Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action states that 'one of NEPAD's overall objectives is to bridge the technological divide between Africa and the rest of the world'. The Plan lays out a number of specific targets, such as that of doubling 'teledensity' to two lines per 100 people by 2005.
The Plan identifies four programme clusters: biodiversity, biotechnology and indigenous knowledge; energy, water and desertification; material sciences, manufacturing, laser and post-harvest technologies; and ; ICTs and space science and technologies. Within each of these programme clusters, an African network of centres of excellence will be developed. In biosciences, for example, this network will provide overall institutional leadership on cereal related genomics and proteomics research.
The Outcome of the First Ministerial Conference on S&T in 2003
UNESCO's Contribution to Africa's plan for science and technology to 2010
Source: A World of Science, October 2005