The business case for science race in Africa

As an Angolan himself Dr Alvaro Sobrinho knows what the challenges are for enabling the future.

The challenge

Some of the World’s fastest growing economies are in Africa. Like others, it wants this growth to continue. If governments are to see growth and not be held back, they need to invest in science and research. This is not a new idea, but something that was accepted by the African Union heads of state summit back in 2006.

Member states agreed that they should raise their science and technology budgets to 1 per cent of their GDP. While several governments pledged to do this, little has been seen in the way of action.

This may be because of the challenges and competing priorities that African governments face. For them, it is about being able to prevent the outbreak of diseases like Ebola, combat climate change and at the same time look to provide its people with education and proper sanitation.

Science can provide the answer to such challenges. The problem is that science and policy have never been looked at together as a way of providing the answer.

Investing in the future

Where countries have invested in education, science and technology they have been shown to have broken the cycle of poverty.

The UK spends 1.7 per cent of its GDP on scientific research; the USA spends 3 per cent. African governments are falling behind because of the lack of investment. The result is that research priorities are being set outside of Africa without any thought to what it needs.

To continue its growth, Africa needs to apply local solutions to local problems. This is particularly true with healthcare and education. African countries will only see their economies grow if they have the people behind them.

Enabling the future

While science and technology can provide a way of addressing the competing challenges that Africa faces, a lack of investment has resulted in a brain drain to the west.
Stopping the brain drain and even reversing it needs an environment that supports Africa’s scientific talent. For those who decide to stay things can be tough. They always have to fight to obtain the funding they need to take their ideas forward and undertake research. Stopping the brain drain is high on government agendas. To achieve this, they need to enact policies and providing incentives for scientists wanting to stay.

Stopping the brain drain is high on government agendas. To achieve this, they need to enact policies and providing incentives for scientists wanting to stay.

African research needs to be a combination of both local government funding and funding from international partners and agencies. In this way, research will better meet Africa’s needs. It will allow research to continue if international funding dries up.

For scientists, they will have the support to progress their careers and make it easier to access funding for the research that enables Africa to grow.

If Africa is to win the science race, there is a need not just for investment in science and research but also governments showing that they can lead by example. Together they provide a platform for local research solving local problems.

Dr Alvaro Sobrinho says: “As a continent Africa has everything we need to lead the world in the 21st century. Our greatest blessing of all is our human capital – to be blessed with a young and vibrant population who, with the right investment and training, can shape the innovations and new discoveries of the future”