Promoting African Development through Science and Diplomacy
Michael Chukwudi FASLN and Olagunju Abdulrahman FASLN
Monday, 24 August 2020
Africa has a long history of science and technology used by her ancestors to create tools such as stone tools found in the eastern region of the continent. However, in recent times, despite many renowned scientists and technology experts of African origin presently storming the world with their exceptional academic qualifications, technology in the region can still not be compared to other parts of the world.
As a result of lack of robust, efficient, and lasting scientific and technological capability required for economic and social progress in Africa, only 2.3 percent of the world research community comes from Africa, and the continent contributes only 2 percent of the global scientific publications (UNESCO, 2015). This situation is unlikely to improve unless the uneven support to science, technology and innovation is comprehensively and systematically addressed with the practice of good governance and diplomacy.
Affirming the slow progression of science diplomacy in Nigeria, the Minister of State for science and technology, Bar. Abdullahi Mohammed, in an interview with African Science Literacy Network (ASLN), said that the concept is gaining momentum gradually due to different challenges of present days. Using the COVID-19 pandemic as an example, the Minister of State stated that it is imperative for Africa to begin to collaborate and leverage on individual strength to support research and development in order to proffer solution. Bar. Abdullahi further acknowledged that COVID-19 has geared-up synergy within African nations which wasn't so pronounced earlier before the pandemic. This has really underscored the state of science and diplomacy in Africa and a proactive measure should be taken to develop research & development to ensure early warning surveillance system and laboratory capacity, health care system and supply readiness, and establishment of rapid response team with better education and preventive procedure.
Science diplomacy, being a vast concept can be deployed in addressing a common goal through the process of tapping into the various African strengths as seen in the development of infrastructural sector by South-Africa, labour and manpower in Nigeria as well as the financial stability in Egypt or Côte d'Ivoire. By doing so, each country leverages on their relative advantage and then synergizes to focus on research and development on a particular subject. This, he advised, should be done regularly in order for the continent to progress.
Why Science Diplomacy Is Important to Africa Development.
A key means of transforming Africa for the future is through science and technology. The further development of science and technology in Africa would help in managing global threats and the continent's biggest infectious disease burdens such as the incidence of Ebola virus epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is of utmost importance for Africa to begin to fully explore the interface between science and diplomacy, which goes well beyond the building of bilateral or multilateral scientific relationships, and speaks to broader foreign policy objectives, for effective application of science in and science for diplomacy because of its uncoordinated political and economic fragmentation and much other vulnerability (Toure, 2018). The current COVID-19 outbreak has confronted scientists with a huge challenge that demands sharing of information in order to mitigate its trans-boundary transmission. Science diplomacy will assist Africa in the area of data sharing, which will help nations use available facts and minimize wastage of time and resources.
Challenges and Opportunities
In this present era, it is widely believed that science and technology are very critical in determining the development of a country. While some western countries have made great strides in using science and technology to develop many sectors of their economies, Africa, for the most part is faced with several challenges to put the mechanism on track. Apparently, technological advancement is one of the secrets of the industrialized world, which has led to some inventions.
Science is a very powerful tool for diplomacy. Science cooperation, even in instances of strained political ties, can play an important role in establishing trust and common purpose. Africa can use science diplomacy to foster her development through the following; inter-academy partnership, national science funding organizations, tapping the potential of the African diaspora, and supporting this movement is the African Academy of Sciences (AAS)
Since the early 20th century, diplomacy has become increasingly professionalized, powered by accredited career diplomats supported by staff and diplomatic infrastructure. However, science diplomacy should also consist of scientific and technical experts to promote professional knowledge at the foreign policy table.
So far, most regional partnerships in science have been driven by scientists and academia either from university or research institution from the continent and their international development partners with a focus mostly on development, adoption and deployment of technologies as well as innovation to address specific developmental issues with little emphasis on technology transfer and diffusion.
However, the continent at the moment needs to harness the big opportunities presented at international fora in the form of aids or grants from developed nations, to equip and expand its physical and human capacity in order to be capable of addressing its inherent challenges. Finally, the continent needs to strengthen scientific cooperation through encouragement and implementation of inter-academy partnership, national science funding organizations, tapping the potential of the African diaspora and supporting the movement of the African Academy of Sciences in other to foster her development and maximize the potential of science diplomacy.
1. Towards 2030, UNESCO Science Report (Paris: UNESCO, 2015), http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0023/002354/235406e.pdf.
2. MoctarToure, (2018). "Integrating Africa: Prospects and Promise for Science Diplomacy". AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy.Avalaible at http://www.sciencediplomacy.org/perspective/2018/integrating-africa-prospects-and-promise-for-science-diplomacy