In recent times, the pressing need for a sustainable approach to global development has been a regular subject of discussion at national, regional and international levels, following the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on 25th of September 2015, where the world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These goals which include a set of seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are geared towards putting an end to poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030. Inspired by the SDGs, several African nations are presently mobilizing resources to achieve these goals by the year 2030. However, progress has been limited by available donor funding and the absence of satisfactory levels of research and development that focus on African development. Consequently, if we consider what Africa needs in terms of the SDGs, it is likely that Africa could achieve some of these goals by 2030 if proper governance and policies are put in place to develop short- and long-term solutions to the development of science and technology in Africa. While there are several important parameters that can play a pivotal role in the sustainability of Africa, science & technology remains an indispensable requirement for a strong economy and security needs of Africa.
Science & technology proffers solutions to African challenges which also turn out to be global challenges. It offers an integrated interdisciplinary approach that can practically confront important African problems and propel inclusive and sustainable development. One could thus argue that the most powerful and well-advanced nations are those who have consistently paid attention to science and technology over the years while the countries living with poverty are those lagging behind in science and technology, as with the case of most countries in African. As such, many African countries find themselves within the scenario of the typical African hunter who kills an animal in the forest and sells the raw meat to the women at the canteen and then goes back at sunset to buy a small portion of the same meat in its processed form, for almost the price he sold it.
So, why not Africa? And even more important – How?
Although Africa is endowed with natural and mineral resources, we presently depend heavily on the importation of goods and huge technology services from advanced countries with a technical base. Yet, the basic needs of most African people in health, housing, clean water, food and energy cannot be essentially met via the importation of finished products. Besides, these goods and technologies are produced largely by value added to many of the raw materials that are available in Africa. This can be traceable to the numerous mineral resources that are extracted and exported without adequately engaging the people of Africa in the processing activities that could lead to value addition to these readily available resources.
Aside from the available natural and minerals resources in Africa, we also have a huge human capacity (about 16 per cent of the world’s population) that can advance the continent if properly managed. Experiences from China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia has shown that a well-developed human capacity in the field of science and technology can obviously facilitate sustainable development in Africa. However, unlike in the Americas, Europe, and Asia, Africa has only recently recognized the vital role of science & technology as the key engine for sustainable development. This is yet to be supported by funding from most African governments, with the exception of South Africa, Algeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Morocco that all spend about 1% of their GDP/GNP on science & technology.
Furthermore, recent statistics show that for a country to drive development, such nation needs a thousand scientists per million people and in sub-Saharan Africa, we only have about 85 scientists per a million people compared to 1,000 per million people in developed countries. Finland has 4,000 scientists per million people, while China has a million scientists per billion people. So, it is clear that we do not have the critical mass to drive sustainable development as a continent. There is, therefore, a need to heighten the rate of progress towards the development of African human capacity and innovations that can address African needs within this context. The question here is: how can we use science and technology to promote sustainable development in the African context?
As we delve deeper into this subject matter, it is important to note that it is not just about the idea of Africa surviving in science & technology, we want to be at the leading edge of science driven by interdisciplinary and innovative activities that can help build a sustainable Africa by 2030. To attain this feat, here are three vital areas that Africa needs to explore:
First, the need to create more Centres of Excellence:
In an effort to achieve the level of the scientific workforce that can really drive sustainable development in Africa, the World Bank Group flagged off the Africa Centres of Excellence program in 2015 in the West Africa region and subsequently in the Eastern African region. This program is geared towards strengthening science, technology, and engineering education at all levels in Africa. In spite of the efforts made so far by the World Bank, the impact of the programs is presently minimal and more of these centres would have to be created to address African needs in energy, water, health, food and environment. This will also require the support of the African governments to integrate research and education to build critical mass in science and technology. Furthermore, there is a need for integrated efforts to bring together at some of these centres, teams of science & technology experts, particularly, African scientists in the diaspora to train a critical mass of African youths (we have half of the world’s young people on this continent) to engage in materials processing that adds value to our raw materials. African must, therefore, take advantage of such investments to explore and develop its own models and skills from the research outcomes at these centres and identify entrepreneurial and techno-preneurial solutions for its socio-economic problems.
Second, the need for the development of efficient research and innovation policies:
Until recently, science & technology has not been at the centre stage of Africa’s decision-making process. However, for science & technology to become a driving force for sustainable development, African regions and countries need to develop, execute and regularly monitor science & technology policies at both regional and national levels. These are factors that can facilitate the production, circulation, and application of knowledge alongside the development and widespread technologies that would stimulate innovation at all levels. Nevertheless, to ensure that issues of capacity building are broadly addressed, the underlying mechanisms of future development of evidence-based policy for science and technology as well as innovation in the realization of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda need to be explored in the African context. This implies that singular attention has to be given to the development of African human capacity and to governance that can largely promote the participation of the youths, women, and other minority groups in decision-making within this framework. This could guide the future development of proficient structures for administration and transparent selection at the centres of excellence.
Third, the need to establish partnerships frameworks that can build networks of excellence between the scientific community, government, local industry and the general public:
By developing our local industry via partnerships and access to knowledge, we can easily move from ideas to communities and markets within a science & technology driven interdisciplinary framework. Within this context, our universities need to build a partnership with business industry, development partners, governments and policymakers. Perhaps, African universities need to build networks of excellence that ensures that they start producing graduates with critical-thinking, problem-solving, innovative and creative skills that will help promote sustainable development of Africa. There must thus be a connection between knowledge-technology and real-world solutions to African problems. However, the African scientific advisory council also has a significant role to play in identifying sustainable solutions to the present developmental challenges in Africa. They need to regularly update policymaker and specialists in science & technology with new insights that could guide the future formulation of evidence-based policy in the realization of most of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 in Africa.
In conclusion, the most vital lesson in all of these is that sustainable solutions must use science and technology to empower African people to use science as the engine of their development. However, the key to strengthening the African human capacity towards a sustainable future does not just lie in the individual solutions to African challenges but rather, a comprehensive/collaborative scientific practice must be engaged by ratifying evidence-based policies that are embedded in the society. This will, therefore, demand a certain level of boldness from African leaders to find ways to develop their own models in the context of African developmental challenges.