By Daniel Otunge

African Scientific Research and Innovation Council (ASRIC) held its second conference in Abuja, Nigeria, from November 20-23, 2019. About 200 participants from over 27 countries attended the congress to deliberate on how to free Africa from poverty, hunger and disease. However, there is more to ASRIC.

If Africa is to practically acquire scientific, technical and industrial capacity to curb dependency on developed nations, more support- meaning appropriate funding and related resources- should then be availed to ASRIC. The Council is the platform created to mobilize African research excellence and innovation.

In other words, ASRIC is well placed to be an effective voice of the continent’s increasing pool of highly skilled scientific community in addressing Africa’s socio-economic development challenges.

ASRIC is at the center in the implementation of African Union’s development policies particularly the Science Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024), Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) and Accelerated Industrial Development in Africa (AIDA).

All these are driven by science, research, technology and innovation and are part of the long-term, people-centered Agenda 2063 fostering home-grown social transformation and economic competitiveness, through human capital development, innovation, value addition, industrialization and entrepreneurship among others.

Countries represented at the congress were Burundi, Cameroun, Cote d’Ivoire, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Participants who attended ASRIC congress in Abuja, Nigeria.

The four-day congress was officially opened by the African Union Commission (AUC)’s Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology, H.E Prof. Sarah Anyang Agbor. The Ceremony was also addressed by other dignitaries including the chairperson of ASRIC, Prof Ratemo W. Michieka, the Executive Director of the AU Scientific Technical Research Commission (STRC) and ASRIC, Dr Eng. Ahmed Hamdy, and Ambassador of Burundi to Nigeria, H.E. Emmanuel Mpfayokurera.

Prof. Agbor said the Congress was special as it dealt with a very pertinent subject of freeing Africa from poverty, hunger and diseases which are the main enemies of the continent. The congress also tackled four sub-themes of Health Sciences; Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; Water, Energy and Environment; and Governance, Sociology, Business and Economics.

She recalled the vision of the African Union of “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.  To actualize this vision, the overarching continental framework, Agenda 2063, was developed to address developmental challenges in Africa. And to catalyze rapid achievement of the framework’s sectoral strategies and policies such as the Science Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024 (STISA 2024), among development initiatives, have been initiated by the Union.

The STISA 2024 was adopted by the AU Assembly in 2014 as an incremental continental framework for accelerating Africa’s transition to an innovation-led, knowledge-based economy within the overall framework of the AU Agenda 2063.  

Four pillars define STISA 2024 in fulfilling its mission.  The pillars include building research infrastructure, enhancing technical and professional competencies, innovation and entrepreneurship and providing an enabling environment for Science Technology and Innovation (ST&I) development in Africa.

To achieve its mission of “Accelerating Africa’s transition to an innovation-led and Knowledge-based Economy”, prerequisite pillars and priority areas have been defined by ASRIC. Among the pillars are: physical infrastructure development; technical competency; innovation and entrepreneurship; and enabling environment which is the domain of law, regulations, policy and communications.

Launching and operationalizing of the ASRIC are among some of the intermediate achievements of STISA 2024. The Council has a broad mandate to promote research and innovation to address developmental challenges on the continent.

According to the ASRIC’s Statute, the main objects are to mobilize African research excellence; build and sustain continental research-policy nexus; and mobilize resources for research programs.

The Constituting Act further mandates the Council to promote dialogue and boosts the voice of the scientific community; advocate for knowledge and technology creation and acquisition; and link the scientific community with the economy’s productive sector.

ASRIC is therefore instrumental in supporting and strengthening national and regional councils’ STI capacities by striving to bridge the gap between research and policy, and boost intra-Africa and international collaboration in research and innovation.

The ASRIC has assembled top African Scientists and technologists to address the scourge of problems that was envisioned by its leaders and captured in continental overarching framework and the STISA 2024.

 ASRIC has abroad mandate to promote research and innovation to address Africa’s socio-economic development challenges. In order to execute the mandate, it is important for the Scientific and Innovation Committee to identify and mobilize African research excellence.

This requires an aggressive awareness program aimed at bringing scientists to the same level of knowledge of the tools and opportunities available to them through the AU’s scientific research and technology agenda. This will be achieved by strategic assessment of knowledge and needs in the countries that are science under resourced.

The ASRIC should devote more resources in such areas compared scientifically resourced countries on the continent. Program activities that will be developed will strategically be linked to the objective on creating collaboration among key stakeholders in scientific, innovation and technological sector. The involvement of industry players will result in more structured linkages between the African scientific communities with the productive sector economy.

 Mobilization of African research excellence should result in collaboration and strengthening of national and regional STI research councils and scientific academies. Therefore, cardinal to achieving collaboration is the need for scientists and other key players meet and know each other or to know about opportunities and programs that are available to them.

During one of the thematic meetings on communication, advocacy and outreach, it became clear from interactions with different key players and stakeholders that not many are conversant with ASRIC’s mandate and functions. Under such a scenario, it is difficult for ASRIC to deliver the council’s object of mobilizing Africa’s scientific human and financial capital to tackle the challenges.

This calls for speedy development of a communication, advocacy and outreach campaign programmes aimed at increasing ASRIC’s visibility. Therefore, the communications committee, chaired by Prof. Driss Ouazar, has its work cut out for it and the team must move with speed. The committee whose membership was expanded during the congress to include among others, Science Africa’s Deputy Executive Director, Daniel Otunge, who joined the advocacy sub-committee.

The congress identified several priority areas from which ASRIC flagship projects will be fashioned in the near future. The thematic areas include climate change, agriculture, health, environment, communication, economy and governance. To accelerate implementation of ASRIC priorities, the African Union Network of Sciences (AUNS) has been set up in collaboration with African Union Scientific and Research Commission (AU-STRC).

AUNS is a virtual platform where African scholars, scientists, engineers, technology developers, innovators and inventors within Africa and in the diaspora, will be able to interact, cooperate, exchange information/knowledge and complement one another in research and development and entrepreneurship. It is hoped that the AUNS will lead to better coordination and management of scarce resources to avoid wastage.

Success will require aggressive awareness program aimed at bringing the scientists to the same level of knowledge of the tools and opportunities available to them through the AU’s scientific research and innovation agenda. It is one thing to create a network and it is another thing to make it work effectively and efficiently.

The Writer is the Deputy Executive Director, Science Africa who attended the congress in Abuja, Nigeria.