Why Africa must invest more in science research

IN ORDER to achieve an African of their dreams, countries of the continent need to invest more in and prioritise research and development in science, according to a leading think tank Women in Science without Borders (WISWB).

In a special report, WISWB was critical of the contribution that the 54 countries make towards  the global investment in research and development. WISWB noted that the continent contributed a lowly 1.3% of the global investment in research and development.

The think tank has called for the African Union (AU) to work towards the establishment of  a central portal of data, which would be useful for African scientists and other major players in the science and technology ecosystem. Science, technology and innovation form the pillars of the AU’s  Agenda 2063, a blueprint on how an African of the future should be built.

The data portal would house centralised online information related to trans-disciplinary research for both South Africa and the rest of Africa, and would capture both technical expertise along with demographic details of researchers operating within Africa.

 WISWB has encouraged the AU to kick start the process by setting up a taskforce to coordinate the collection of detailed research profiles of researchers and research outputs. “This initiative will assist in meaningful consolidation of research and development data to understand the status quo, and to identify locations for interventions as appropriate, to provide tangible inputs to help make the African Renaissance a reality,” the report said.

The AU’s agenda 2063 calls for action by all segments of society to work together and build a prosperous and united Africa based on shared values and a common destiny.

Agenda 2063 also demands that Africa must invest in skills, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics so that Africans can drive the continent’s development. 

One of the pillars of Agenda 2063 is the need to invest in the peoples of Africa as its most precious resource. According to Agenda 2063, these resources include their nutrition and health, their access to shelter, water and sanitation, expanding quality education and strengthening science, technology, innovation and research.

WISWB strongly believes that a central data portal will be an important foundational step towards the realisation of this objective. 

“In order to achieve the targets of Agenda 2063, it is essential that information about trans-disciplinary research, including information about the researchers, be continuously captured and updated. To implement any of the objectives of Africa’s Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action, it is vital to measure what needs to be managed. A rapid desktop search on research and development expenditure in Africa found only a few online references that provide government expenditure in the research and development in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, medicine and innovation . Even for South Africa, there is no single portal that provides details of headcount and full-time equivalents by gender, age, qualification or specialisation, let alone over time. No central location was found where similar data are archived on a regular basis for reference purposes,” the report stated.

The organisation wants the portal, once in place, to continuously evolve to be more representative and relevant. 

“It goes without saying that analysing obsolete data for impactful planning in research and development is a futile exercise. African countries should also adopt the practice of maintaining and sharing records on research and development expenditure on an annual basis regarding all aspects of data and make the data accessible for monitoring and evaluation purposes.”

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