More science for Africa, says World Bank official

December 20, 2004

Brussels, 17 Dec 2004

The international community should aim to strengthen scientific and technological capacity in Africa and the developing world in general, urges the World Bank's vice-president for Africa.

According to Gobind Nankani, the issue is 'extremely urgent'. Rich countries must increase their support in order to accelerate the economic growth of less developed countries and boost their capacity to develop 'home-grown' solutions to their problems, reports the science and development network, SciDev.Net.

In an interview with SciDev.Net, Mr Nankani explained that development assistance to poor countries adds up to around 43 billion euro a year, of which 15 billion euro goes towards technical assistance. 'If a large chunk of this could go to scholarships, it would make a tremendous contribution to capacity building and, thus, a formidable expert base,' Mr Nankani said.

Increased research capacity in the universities of developing countries could play a role in strengthening health systems, improving agriculture and tackling diseases, he added, insisting that poor nations need to identify areas in which the international community could get involved to encourage their scientific and technological activities.

The Commission for Africa is extremely important for the scientific and technological advancement of the continent, believes Mr Nankani. The Commission for Africa is an international body set up in February 2004 by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair to look at economic issues, education, conflict resolution, health, the environment, HIV/Aids and governance.

At the time of the launch, Mr Blair stated that the commission would 'take a fresh look at Africa's past, present and future', and conduct a 'comprehensive assessment' of the situation in Africa, looking at what had worked and what had not in the past in order to identify ways for development aid to best meet Africa's needs.

Mr Blair has also vowed to use the opportunity of the UK's twin presidencies of the EU and G8 in 2005 to put the continent at the top of the agenda.

In developing science and technology in Africa, Mr Nankani told SciDev.Net, it is important to recognise the need for a regional approach, as high-quality research centres are expensive to develop.

The World Bank, is taking that approach by working with the African Union to help design and mobilise funds for the Mandela Institute of Science and Technology, he explained. This will be set up at institutions in four areas in the continent: southern, central, eastern and western Africa.

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