Sunday, November 28, 2010

3rd Africa-EU Summit: Africa, EU Linking up Scientific Research Networks

Scientific research and technology have become the defining transformational forces of this century.

However, the scientific and digital chasm between Africa and the rest of the world is hindering Africa's full participation in today's globalized knowledge society.

The Africa-EU partnership hopes to bridge the divide through research funding, training and strengthening institutional capacity.

There are a number of activities in this partnership which focus on this issue, including a high level political dialogue and consultation on common positions in international conferences.

There is also a large project component, including:
• A €15 million pan-African scheme for research grants from the 10th EDF Intra-ACP Indicative Programme. This project will build the African Union Commission HRST (Human Resources in Science and Technology) capacity to launch, implement and monitor calls for proposals at the African continent level. This should contribute to strengthening Africa's research base. The first call is expected before the November 2010 Joint Summit, Global Arab Network reports according to a press statement.
• The Africa Call initiative (with a budget of €63 million) under the EU's Research and Development (R&D) Framework Programme. The call covers scientific research in the areas of health, environment, biotechnologies, agriculture, and food security.
• Africa Connect, which will link up all African National Research networks to the European GEANT (GEANT is the pan-European data network connecting the research and education community across 40 countries.) R&D network.
• GMES & Africa, which will provide state-of-the-art earth observation applications so that African policy makers can take informed decisions on phenomena such as desertification, deforestation and climate change.

Who will benefit from the partnership and how?
Many different categories of African citizens will benefit from the partnership. Examples include:
• Internet access will be boosted because broadband communication prices will drop drastically
• New applications specifically dedicated to Africa will emerge
• Employment will be created in the research, ICT and space sectors
• R&D will provide crops that are insect- and bacteria resistant so that fewer insecticides need to be used
• African indigenous plants will be increasingly used in the pharmaceutical sector
• European citizens will also benefit since medicines developed from African raw materials can and will be used in the North

Who are the main actors involved?
Actors involved include the African and European Unions and their Commissions, governments and civil society, including the private sector.

What has been achieved so far?
The partnership has led to a number of outcomes, including:
• The African Research Grants scheme
• The Kwame Nkrumah Science Awards
• The Framework Programme 7 (FP7) special Africa Call by the European Commission's Research and Development department
• Connect Africa, the African Internet Exchange project
• The GMES (African Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) & Africa process, setting-up an overall framework in Africa for earth observation applications
• The HIPSSA project (Support for Harmonization of ICT Policies in Sub-Sahara Africa) with 43 beneficiary countries. It should contribute to a level-playing field for the private sector to enter the telecom market, to lead to better service and lower costs
• The extension of the AVICENNA project of which the final objective is to create an online African virtual campus network for Science and Technology (S&T) education

What are the challenges for the future?
Any investment in S&T will see results only in 10–15 years' time, and there is also a fear to invest in the unknown. International organizations such as the African Union can help their governments with making good investment choices in S&T.

Whilst Europe is close to investing 3 % of its GDP in S&T, numbers for Africa are currently still much lower. So every year the scientific divide between the two continents widens. Intensifying the cooperation to narrow this gap is of mutual interest: in terms of security, safety, economic and social development and environmental sustainability.

Africa must step up to the plate. My worry is that national policy and vision statements do not reflect an appreciation of the pivotal role for S&T. They are all about trade, minerals, infrastructure and agriculture. It is not surprising that national science and technology budgets are shamefully low.

Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone from Zain Kenya

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