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Political will key in strengthening STI

By Brenda Zulu

Strengthening Science Technology and Innovation (STI) issues in Africa will require strong political leadership and a better integration of cross-cutting STI policies with overall development policies, including economic, financial, budgetary, fiscal, labour, agricultural, industrial and micro-enterprise development.

Addressing the launch of the African Inter-Parliamentary Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation, a pre-event at the Second Session of the Committee on Development Information, Science and Technology (CODIST- II) currently underway in Addis Ababa, Mrs Lidia Brito, UNESCO Director Division of Science Policy and Sustainable Development, said in the last decade there was a large consensus at national, regional and continental level that supporting STI was essential for Africa to achieve sustainable social and economic growth and alleviate poverty.

“African countries have begun to recognize that, without investment in STI, the continent will stay on the periphery of the global knowledge economy. In this context, a number of African countries have been progressively enhancing their S&T capacity as a strategy for extricating themselves from the grips of poverty, hunger and disease, and as a means of achieving industrial development and social transformation. Strong action has been taken by many African governments to developing/revising their national STI policies and programmes,” said Mrs Brito.

Brito explained that building the future through Science, Technology and Innovation represents a major challenge for all African countries.

“In fact, over the past two decades, inadequate human and institutional capacity in Science, Technology and Innovation has been identified as one of the recurring factors preventing Africa from reaching economic growth and sustainable development. Poverty reduction, environmental sustainability, improved access to safe water supply and sanitation services, the reduction of child mortality and the improvement of maternal health: are all major goals for the African people and their achievement depends upon the continent’s capacity in Science, Technology and Innovation, both at national and regional levels,” explained Brito.

“According to the UNESCO Science Report 2010 “Africa, as a continent, today represents a sizeable contributor to the global Research and Development effort. The Research and Development intensity of these economies or their human capital might still be low but their contribution to the stock of world knowledge is actually rising rapidly,” she said.

Brito observed that among the African institutions involved in promoting and consolidating new forms of governance, Parliaments have a central role to play such as recognised by the Africa’s Science and Technology CPA, that recommends Parliamentarians’ annual conferences in science and innovation in order “to provide Member of the AU-Pan-African Parliaments opportunities to reflect on the role and implications of scientific and technological development, and devise ways of improving the quality of legislation in support of Science, Technology and Innovation activities.

She added that African parliaments were exerting greater influence on how their countries are governed.

“They are more effective at shaping legislation, monitoring and challenging the executive, and representing citizens’ views. However, huge challenges remain. Problems of institutional capacity, in terms of the available resources, expertise and facilities are still challenges to be faced,” said Brito.
“Engaging with national Parliaments is vital for the success of UNESCO’s mandate in science. Responsible dialogue and debate lie at the heart of all aspects of democracy, including in science and technology. Parliaments play a vital role in fostering the pluralism that is necessary for informed exchanges and sharper national science policies. This is all the more important as we seek to respond together to the core challenges that we all face today,” she said.

She called on Scientists to engage more closely with policy makers while retaining their independence in order to maintain credibility.

“At the same time, policy makers must actively seek a fuller dialogue with scientists, in order to communicate their information needs and to support the interaction between policy and research, as well as among scientists of relevant disciplines. This interaction can provide the basis for defining research programmes that are policy relevant and for ensuring more informed policy decisions,” she said.

She added that civil society had a role to play in this process especially of being more inclusive in the participation, development and monitoring of science and technology policies is a source of energy, mobilization and expertise.

Brito said the communication of science must be strengthened.
“The communication of science that is undertaken by science journalists, science centres and writers plays a key role in developing wider science literacy. National and international organizations must recognize this and make the most of it. The speed and complexity of scientific development is increasing the stakes,” explained Brito.

CODIST II, organised by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in collaboration with the African Union Commission is being held under the theme, Innovation for Africa’s industrial development. The first CODIST session was held in May 2009, also in Addis Ababa.

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