Science is the key to Africa's destiny
Africa is developing global trade and investment at a rate far exceeding anything previously experienced; with China, India and South America rapidly increasing their dealings with the continent. Where it is falling behind is the rate of internal trade between its own countries. A lack of infrastructure is a major barrier, but so too are un-coordinated agricultural policies and the effects of fluctuating import and export tariffs. This is compounding the issues of environmental protection, water management, renewable energy, and food security.
This outward looking development schedule is mainly due to the lack of a home grown scientific community. Despite having 14% of the World’s population, Africa is home to only 1% of the scientists. There is a common acknowledgement of this deficit and in 2005 a Consolidated Plan of Action was introduced, followed by the African Year of Science in 2007. A target was set of one per cent of GDP being invested in science; though so far only Malawi, South Africa and Uganda have achieved this.
With a coordinated approach to developing science and technology that includes governments, the private sector, NGOs and the civil society, the rewards for Africa could be huge. Internal trade is currently only 12%, half of what it was 15 years ago. A report by Ecobank found that Nairobi traders were exporting goods to Dubai as the easiest route to other African nations; the result of a focus on international exports rather than internal links. The continent now holds 50% of the World’s uncultivated agricultural land and a young and energetic population with a median age of just 20 years. Focusing on scientific investment will enable the continent to break free from international control of industries and trade, enabling a more self sufficient approach. Working together will also address some of the issues that threaten to destabilise parts of the continent, such as the availability of food and water.
The ultimate goal would be to have scientific independence for Africa, where it can make full use of its own natural resources, retaining the wealth internally. This would enable the countries of Africa to build the knowledge and resources to solve the needs of a rapidly developing population. With the world heading towards challenging times as the population continues to grow over the next few decades, African minds are needed to help provide the scientific resolve required to stabilise the planet.