Challenges and opportunities for science, technology and innovation in six African countries

Representatives of Congo, Ghana, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Zimbabwe reflected on their experiences from implementing and monitoring the 2017 UNESCO Recommendation on Science and Scientific Researchers (RS|SR) at the fourth edition of the Africa Regional Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, in Kigali, Rwanda, on 1 March 2022.
African engineer man windmills wearing white hard hat and using tablet with wind turbine on silhouette sunset

The representatives noted several concepts that are important to the implementation of the RS|SR, such as the need to have an inclusive, participatory consultative process to draft a national report. They also highlighted national areas of focus that were identified through the reports, such as the science-society interface (key area 2 of the Recommendation), gender equality (key area 5), human capital (key area 9) and the enabling environment (key area 10).

The session was organized under the auspices of UNESCO’s Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme of which the Recommendation is an intergovernmental pillar. The six pilot countries have entered the second year of programming under the project ‘Strengthening STI Systems for Sustainable Development in Africa’, an initiative funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

The RS|SR provides the normative basis for scientific ecosystems to be based on human rights, such as the right to science. It identifies the need to connect science with decision-making so that it can have an impact.
Gabriela Ramos Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences at UNESCO

The panel shone a spotlight on several key areas of the Recommendation in each of the six pilot countries. For example, Hon. Mr Raymore Machingura (see short bio below) drew attention to critical workforce gaps but also to open access in science through innovation parks and industrial hubs established across Zimbabwe that facilitate knowledge transfer between universities, industry and government. In Sierra Leone, Professor Alpha Tejan Wurie indicated that the impact of STI was becoming increasingly visible in areas that benefit the population, as diverse as civil registration and biotechnology capacity.

Among other key areas, Dr Maryse Nkoua mentioned the enabling environment with reforms to educational curricula implemented in the Republic of Congo to raise the employability of youth, while in Ghana the Research Fund Act of 2020 which, according to Mr Cephas Adjei Mensah , is enabling more effective funding of research and facilitating international partnerships. Hon. Mr Simai Mohammed stated that there had been significant efforts in Tanzania to promote women and girls in science and to build capacity in STI, in some cases utilizing the UNESCO GO-SPIN platform. In Namibia, the project had contributed to developing policies and national research programmes that align with the RS|SR, according to Dr Lisho Mundia.

The breadth of topics covered by the panellists reflects the methodology of the project: eschewing the one-size-fits-all approach, each pilot country is critically examining its own STI system against the norms and standards of the RS|SR and identifying priorities, gaps and opportunities.

Six panelists participated in the panel:

  • Tanzania: Hon. Simai Mohammed Said, Minister of Education and Vocational Training (MoEVT) – Zanzibar;
  • Sierra Leone: Hon. Professor Alpha Tejan Wurie, Minister of Technical and Higher Education (MTHE);
  • Zimbabwe: Hon. Mr Raymore Machingura, Deputy Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development (MHTESTD);
  • Congo: Dr Maryse Nkoua, Scientific research and technological innovation advisor, Ministère de l'Enseignement Supérieur, de la Recherche Scientifique et de l'Innovation Technologique (MESRSIT);
  • Ghana: Mr Cephas Adjei Mensah, Deputy Director, Science, Technology and Innovation at the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI); and
  • Namibia: Dr Lisho Mundia, Director of Research and Innovation at the Ministry of Higher Education, Technology and Innovation (MHETI).