Maths and sciences key to unlocking Africa potential, African leaders say

Leaders say the number of higher education students enrolled in science and engineering is too low.

Thursday March 10 2016

Paul Kagame addresses an audience of Africa’s top scientists, policymakers and start-ups at the Next Einstein Forum (NEF) global gathering in Dakar, Senegal on March 9, 2016. PHOTO | DOROTHY OTIENO | NATION MEDIA GROUP.

Paul Kagame addresses an audience of Africa’s top scientists, policymakers and start-ups at the Next Einstein Forum (NEF) global gathering in Dakar, Senegal, on March 9, 2016. PHOTO | DOROTHY OTIENO | NATION MEDIA GROUP. 

ByDOROTHY OTIENO
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Africa will not develop unless it invests more in science and technology, Rwanda President Paul Kagame said to an audience of Africa’s top scientists, policymakers and start-ups at a historic conference in Dakar, Senegal.

President Kagame said the pressure is on Africa to catch up and keep pace with the rest of the world so that it is not left behind once again in the wake of technological progress.

He said investment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is the undeniable engine for economic growth and social inclusion.

“This starts with a change in our mind-set. We really cannot be satisfied with just ending extreme poverty.

“Our aim is shared and sustainable prosperity. And the key to that is science and innovation, bound by research,” he said, at the first-ever Next Einstein Forum (NEF) global gathering.

At the forum, held from March 8-10, African and world leaders from over 100 countries issued a joint call to action for increased investment and support for science, technology, engineering and mathematics in Africa (STEM).

Currently, less than one-third of investment in research and development on the continent goes to STEM.

LOW INVESTMENT

“Africa does not invest enough in research and development and the share of higher education students enrolled in science and engineering is too low,” said President Kagame.

“Women comprise less than one third of researchers and even fewer scientists and engineers, which means we are not using our human resources to the full,” he added.

The forum spotlighted the work of the inaugural class of NEF Fellows selected from nine African countries, including Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, for their groundbreaking contribution to science. Notably, women make up 40 per cent of the 15 fellows.

"The NEF global gathering is providing a platform to nurture African talent so the continent can return to its roots as the cradle of innovation," said Senegal's President Macky Sall.

Scientists at the forum said lack of investment in research and development as well as in STEM fields is stunting Africa's growth as the continent contributes just one per cent of global research output while losing 35 per cent of aid – that is, $4 billion each year to STEM-related expatriate jobs.

Echoing the sentiments of the two heads of state, South Africa’s Minister for Science and Technology Naledi Pandor said not much innovation will come from Africa if the continent continues investing less than 0.6 per cent of its GDP in research and development.

The establishment of the fellowship programme for Africa's top young scientists will be followed by collaboration between the African Union and the African Institute of Mathematical Studies (AIMS) to strengthen science and research across the continent, showcase Africa's top scientists and leverage science-led development by African governments.

Founded 12 years ago, AIMS is a pan-African network of centres of excellence for postgraduate training in research and public engagement in mathematical sciences.

CENTRES OF EXCELLENCE

It has centres of excellence in South Africa, Senegal, Ghana, Cameroon and Tanzania. Kagame announced that the Rwanda chapter of Aims will open in August.

The NEF forum is also working to build a targeted team of 54 young ambassadors, one from each African country, to champion African science, technology, engineering and mathematics globally and become part of the growing NEF community.

Most speakers during the first two days of the conference agreed that collaboration among scientists on the continent and around the globe as well as an enabling environment are a must if Africa is to improve in the area of science and innovation.

“There are more African engineers working in the United States than in Africa," said organiser Thierry Zomahoun, CEO of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences.

President Kagame said this reality had led his country to develop a policy that is attracting scientists from the continent and the globe to Rwandan universities and research institutions.

“This will lead to more innovation that will create more jobs in the country,” he said.

Rwanda will establish the global headquarters for both AIMS and the Next Einstein Forum in Kigali, where the next forum will also be held in 2018.

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