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.

News and Links #9/2017

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Lecture ‘Funding Science in Africa’, WZB Berlin, 16.11.2017, 5pm

Funding Science in Africa: Knowledge, Global Challenges, and Initiatives for Health Research

Lecture by Tumani Corrah

Time and address: 16.11.2017, 5pm, WZB Berlin Social Science Center, Reichpietschufer 50, 10875 Berlin

How to best stimulate, foster and sustain science environments in Africa has become crucial for both research funding organisations and individual researchers across all disciplines. Public and private funders have experimented with new formats to enhance research capacities of African scientists, ranging from individual fellowships over institutional capacity-building and new collaborative programs to policy dialogues. Numerous global challenges and policy agendas such as the Sustainable Development Goals underline the urgency of these efforts.

In his lecture, Tumani Corrah presents the approach of the newly founded African Research Excellence Fund for the strengthening of health research capacities in Africa. He starts from the observation that the support of African researchers is the best way to strengthen their contributions to their home countries due to their acquired medical expertise, their linguistic knowledge and their profound understanding of the local contexts. What are the challenges ahead and how to best cope with them?


About the speaker:

Tumani Corrah is the Director of the Africa Research Excellence Fund (established by the UK Medical Research Foundation) and the first Emeritus Director of the Medical Research Council Unit (MRC), the Gambia. He has 19 years of active research experience on tropical and infectious diseases. Tumani Corrah is an Honorary Fellow of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and is a member of over 20 scientific board and committee groups worldwide.

The lecture is organised by Stefan Skupien, research fellow of the president’s project group. He manages a research project to compare science-funding programmes of West European countries for African-European research cooperation.


Please register by 13.11.2017 with a short email to stefan.skupien@wzb.eu

News and Links #8/2017



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“Scientific dependence” and “de-institutionalized research”

Indicators and factors that influence the daily scientific work in African research institutions

As soon as you enter the field of research collaborations with African and European participants, you will need a heuristic list or model of the factors that influence the scientific environments and opportunities of collaboration. The deeply entrenched history of Africa and Europe also in regard to science still influences any partnership model. While I will turn to European science systems and their links to African science systems later, in this blog entry I will give an overview of the factors that need to be considered when analyzing African systems of scientific research.

There are several causes that account for the current state of research possibilities in African countries today. The Beninoise philosopher Paulin Hountondji and the South African sociologist of science Johann Mouton are two researchers among others who have drafted lists with important factors.

Paulin Hountondji is mostly known for his critique of an Ethnophilosophy, a style of inquiry that attributes systematic thoughts and philosophies to collectives (1974). Hountondji has from early on defended an individual based model of science, in which he calls for the philosophers to take responsibility for their arguments in free and rigorous research and discourses instead of hiding behind “smokescreens of traditions”. For such form of research one not only needs the freedom of opinion and press but also the opportunities to pursue research on a high level. Therefore, Hountondji has listed the following factors in his article “Scientific Dependence in Africa Today” (1990). In this article he identified 13 factors that account for new dependencies. In many regards, the article is still a valid description of present conditions:

  1. All technical equipment comes from the North.
  2. The publishing houses and libraries lag, which deepens dependencies on Foreign documentation.
  3. African scholars, therefore, need to be “scientific tourists” to the North to participate in high quality research environments more than their travelling Western colleagues.
  4. Notorious brain drain remains an issue and a characteristic of the global science system.
  5. Although research institutes were established with external assistance, they remain foreign to their host societies by not responding to local objectives and needs.
  6. Research facilities are rather used for applied than for basic research. The pragmatic or utilitarian ideas behind it have been inherited and internalized from the colonizer.
  7. African authors tend to address interests of Western audiences in their publications.
  8. Research remains bound to the local context instead of participating in universal debates.
  9. Scientific research serves the economic exploitation of African resources.
  10. The focus on ethnoscience or “indigenous knowledge” is no favor to development because its objectification leaves it behind as disconnected and static bodies.
  11. African scientists remain bound to foreign languages to have access to global research. This doesn’t help to acquire universal knowledge and prevents scientists from cooperating with their own populations.
  12. There is a lack of communication between the scholars of the South.
  13. Mediocrity at African research institutions and universities and less rigorously applied standards by Western colleagues are preventing the scholars from developing excellence.

These indices were observed and spelled out by Hountondji before the background of a severe economic and social crisis in many African countries. Also in his position as a minister for culture and education in the early 1990s, Hountondji himself had to find solutions and strategies to overcome such obstacles. One major incentive of Hountondji is to free spaces for basic research and especially for original theory building that can direct research directions. This aligns with many current initiatives by African states to set national priority agendas that are not only ideals but are supposed to also bind foreign researchers in their quests.

Johann Mouton from the University of Stellenbosch is currently involved in a project analyzing exactly many of the above-mentioned indices among “Young scientists in Africa”. The midterm report starts with a similar systematic overview that is titled the “de-institutionalized science” and dates back to an overview by Mouton in 2008. Mouton identifies five characteristics of African research environments:

  1. Research institutions remain weak, including only fragile research centers, an irregular number of scientific journals, weak academies of sciences and similar institutions that are present in institutionalized settings to support science.
  2. A continuous and high reliance on external funding.
  3. Research is primarily based on individuals rather than on institutions.
  4. Declining numbers of doctoral programs leading to less scientific and academic workforce.
  5. A weak connection of science with their social environments.

Mouton and his colleagues identified a minimum of six factors that contribute to the current state, most of them connecting the African science systems to European and other actors: Firstly, colonial science and its legacy are still present. Secondly, political crisis and wars are preventing the continuous development of scientific systems. Thirdly, World Bank education politics of the 1990s and 2000s had a fatal effect for the maintenance of research universities and centers. Fourthly, international agencies are still shaping African science programs and priorities, among them international funders and research agencies. Their role is, however, somewhat ambivalent, as they also provide continuity in cases of crisis. Swiss and French research institutions are examples of such continuity. Fifthly, African governments are not investing enough into their national science systems. Finally, the leaving of many trained researchers still poses a threat to the establishment of research communities in African countries.

It is obvious that these factors are interdependent. The challenge remains to explain under which circumstances which factor weights in most and where interventions should take place. My current research focuses on the role of funders and international organizations that support programs to the benefit of research opportunities. At the same time, in my interviews with researchers from Africa and Europe I get to know different experiences with such dependencies and opportunities of external funding. It is also in such conversations that initiatives by individual African countries become more obvious. The Côte d’Ivoire, for example, has started a small grant program for national researchers in 2017 and thus steps up its commitment to its research environment. Burkina Faso, on the other hand, has drafted a national research strategy to define its priorities already in 2011. I will come back to these national initiatives African countries.



News and Links #7/2017


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News and Links #5/2017



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Panel at the ECAS on 30.6.2017: Global scientific encounters. The quest for sustainable research cooperation

In January I organized a panel at the upcoming European Conference on African Studies in Basel. The panel will take place on 30. June at 2pm in room BS004. Together with Claudia Zingerli (SNF), Thomas Laly (University of Zurich), Hikabasa Halwiindi (University of Zambia), and Martin Skrydstrup (University of Copenhagen) as discussant we will elaborate on the extent and depth of global research partnerships from various angles. To give you an idea of our approaches, I have copied our short abstracts below. Don’t hesitate to contact me for further questions.

Transformative partnerships: Funders’ perspectives on research collaborations for sustainable development

Author: Claudia Zingerli (Swiss National Science Foundation)

This paper focuses on research collaborations in the early era of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by drawing on conceptual considerations and practical experiences at the interface of science and development policy.

Making African research visible – museum partnerships and networks as driving forces.

Author: Thomas Laely ( University of Zürich)

Museums are important engines of research and knowledge production, all above university museums. They can contribute to making research from Africa more visible and accessible. How is the potential of museums in sub-Saharan Africa and of transcontinental networks to be assessed in this respect?

Sustaining gains through evolution: the case of the EFINTD fellowship

Author: Hikabasa Halwiindi (University of Zambia)

This presentation is a case study on how a post-doctoral research fellowship program resulted into the creation of a research network in order to sustain the achievements. The mutual responsibilities of the north and south partners are highlighted.

Fair and equal: Trying North-South research partnerships

Author: Stefan Skupien (WZB Berlin Social Science Center)

This paper discusses examples of establishing criteria for equal and fair research partnerships. Starting from the Swiss Commission for Research with Developing Countries (1998), it develops a framework to understand the efforts to counter negative effects in asymmetric relationships.