In its bid to leverage the Information and Communication Technology, (ICT) in the continent, the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) has established networks of centres of excellence in science and technology. This brought about the launching of three science-related initiatives, recently, namely the African Institute of Space Science (AISS), Bioscience facility for Eastern and Central Africa, and the African Laser Centre (ALC).
General Manager, Communications and Outreach at NEPAD secretariat, Ms. Thaninga Shope-Linney, said in a press statement that the nodes of establishing these centres was to facilitate the continent to be regionally positioned and networked across the continent. She quoted NEPAD adviser on science and technology, Dr John Mugabe, as saying that "NEPAD recognises science and technology as engines of Africa's economic transformation and sustainable development".
He pointed out that on the NEPAD platform, African countries have two interrelated goals. The first goal is focused on building the capacity of African countries to collectively harness and apply science and technology for sustainable development. The second goal is to enhance their contribution to the global pool of science and technological development, and by establishing networks of centres of excellence in specific fields of science and technology.
African Institute of Space Science, Dr. Mugabe said it is aimed at grouping existing space science activities and facilities into a network that focuses on frontier science for Africa's development. The idea of AISS, according to him, emerged from a workshop of astronomers and space scientists who were discussing the future of astronomy and space science in South Africa in the year 2002.
One of the emerging themes of the workshop, she said, was that greater collaboration within Africa and other South-South collaboration would strengthen the continent's scientific and technological capacity in space science.
A regional initiative has now emerged to harness space science for the development of Africa without crippling investments for any individual country and NEPAD, she said. This effort, the statement, noted would enable Africa to exploit a wide range of potential applications of space in addition to the usual satellite applications such as meteorology and remote sensing.
"Satellite navigation systems would also benefit economic development and tourism in many African countries," Mugabe said. He stressed that to maximise the comparative advantages of various African countries, the AISS was being organised as a network of operational centres based on existing facilities with nodes across the continent.
Bioscience Facility for Eastern and Central Africa.
The NEPAD Bioscience Centres of Excellence, according to her, is a new initiative to support African countries in developing and applying bioscience research expertise to produce technologies that will help poor farmers to improve agricultural productivity. This is a logical development: the NEPAD Secretariat has been instrumental in mobilising resources to upgrade laboratories on the African continent.
The first cluster of networked world-class laboratories, she explained was being established for East and Central Africa.
NEPAD, the advisor said, has secured C$30 million from the Canada Africa Fund to establish state-of-the-art research laboratories for the biosciences, including genomics and proteomic and containment facilities for safe genetic manipulation of plants, such as the development of improved varieties, and micro-organisms for vaccine development, as well as the safe handling of pathogens used in the research programmes.
The NEPAD Biosciences Facility for East and Central Africa is part of refurbished laboratories at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya. Dr. Mugabe, said this, would greatly reduce the need to invest in new buildings and infrastructure. African scientists are being encouraged to design projects for implementation at the NEPAD facility. Protocols are being developed to attract African scientists based in Europe and the United States (US) to return and conduct research in the facility.
On the African Laser Centre, he said, is a network of relatively large facilities dedicated to research and training in laser technologies. It includes the National Laser Centre (Pretoria, South Africa), University of Cheikh Anta Diop (Dakar, Senegal), Laser and Fibre Optics Centre (Cape Coast, Ghana), National Institute of Laser Enhanced Science (Cairo, Egypt), Tunis el Manar University (Tunis, Tunisia), and Advanced Technologies Development Centre (Algiers, Algeria). These facilities specialise in materials processing, atomic and molecular physics, agricultural and environmental sciences, medical applications of lasers, and manufacturing.
The NEPAD Secretariat is designing protocols to facilitate the exchange of information and scientists across the facilities. It is also mobilising resources to upgrade the facilities and design continental programmes to be implemented by the network. NEPAD is also actively promoting collaboration among laser researchers throughout Africa and between African laser institutions and their international counterparts.
Through the African Laser Centre major efforts will be made to reverse the brain drain of researchers from the African continent to the more scientifically and technologically advanced regions of the world by providing a competitive knowledge base and attractive research and development facilities.
Flagship programmes have been defined and a regional process has been initiated to translate these into concrete projects.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and not do necessarily reflect the views of the AfricaFiles' editors and network members. They are included in our material as a reflection of a diversity of views and a variety of issues. Material written specifically for AfricaFiles may be edited for length, clarity or inaccuracies.