Abidjan Calling – Sustain Science Locally!

On the 29. and 30. November the African Union and the European Union met in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire for their regular summit. This year the African leaders where also confronted with science policy. A large group of scientists has issued the ‘Abidjan Appel’ in Abidjan on the 29. November, calling on their leaders to finally support science more effectively and sustainably. The open letter was signed by over 60 eminent scientists. (First news coverage here and here)

Beside the funding researchers receive from outside of Africa, the investment by national governments still lags behind their own set goal of at least 1% of the national GDP. And this goal is as old as the Lagos Plan of Action, drafted as an alternative development strategy for Africa in 1980. According to the authors African public leaders invest about 0,5% on average in research in their countries. Certainly, this number can be subject of debate and some may say that some governments have other priorities than building and maintaining large scale research facilities (slavery in Lybia and job creation for youth being dominant themes at this summit). However, the scientists have underlined that science is an important development driver as is to be seen in the histories of emerging and industrialized countries.

What are the scientist demanding?

In their Appeal (French version only to my knowledge), the scientists identify the insufficient or lacking funds for research, the weak impact of scientific productions on public life and the above mentioned ill perception of science’s contribution to development in Africa. To get out of this situation the scientists have developed ten demands, which I will translate and summarize here quickly:

  • Create a body modelled after the European Research Council to support excellent individual and collective research. In fact (this body is part of the African Union’s Science Technology Innovation Strategy for Africa, STISA 2024);
  • Favor the establishment of new research teams to increase creativity and knowledge production on the continent;
  • Define an “African vision” starting from concerted research network activities;
  • Assure with help of adequate financing the enforcement of research capacities in all areas;
  • Improve the research environment with regard to infrastructures and functioning equipment;
  • Encourage research teams to put their expertise into the service of change on national and international levels;
  • Stimulate scientific collaborations in Africa between the regions;
  • Make universities and research centers more attractive and competitive through more research dynamic;
  • Favor exchange and networks of research institutions at the pan African and international level;
  • Broaden and reinforce financial structures for the promotion of science and consequently of economic, social and cultural development.

These 10 claims reflect a broad range of challenges researchers face in African science environments. While many initiatives have been started with international donors to support either individual researchers, organizations or the scientific environment, many wait for the decisive budget decision of their governments. The authors expect nothing else than to become the drivers of their own research development, a claim responding to the widely shared analyses of scientific dependencies, which I have summarized here recently.

I will follow up on this as soon as I have laid hands on the final communiqué of the summit to see whether the call was heard.