International Cooperation in Science and Technology for African Development


At least 99% of new technology and scientific and technical knowledge is produced outside of Africa (99.5% of the 2 million scientific articles, 99.5% of the 100,000 patents, etc.). These figures illustrate very well that many African countries have been too weak to design, construct and run viable science and technology systems.  But they now recognize the need and opportunities that may arise from international and regional approaches.  In many areas of science and technology (S&T), national and regional professional associations have been formed but have generally remained weak.  Still, they offer a basis for developing possible regional collaborative programs. 


There is much to be gained by liaising, networking, partnering and collaborating with industrialized, industrializing and developing countries.  In this regard, African countries are making notable efforts through proactive interactions with a number of international organizations, including the G8, so as to significantly raise the profile of Africa on international agendas.  Official Development Aid (ODA) and technical assistance should be geared towards strengthening science and technology capacities in African countries. This is an area where progress is called for. 


As all policymakers know, one of the most stubborn issues in science and technology development is the low level of national resources, which are far too insufficient to create critical masses of national expertise in a given area.  Here, international and regional cooperation and integration are essential since much is to be gained by sharing markets and scientific and technological assets, including in the areas of training, research and demonstration, which cannot be always viable at national levels. Indeed, most African countries have signed cooperation agreements with industrialized and industrializing countries containing provisions for cooperation in the area of science and technology. These usually cover the exchange of information, contacts of scientific personnel and the twinning of institutions as well as the development of partnerships, joint ventures and technical assistance.


In the area of regional cooperation and integration, African countries support the NEPAD Science and Technology Plan of Action adopted in November 2003 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The plan contains a priority set of flagship programs spanning biotechnology, ICT, energy, materials, manufacturing, space, water, food technology and desertification.  It also has a robust governance structure and management ethos, steered by a Ministerial Council (AMCOST) that reports to NEPAD Heads of States.


The UN Science and Technology cluster for NEPAD, including the agreement that focus on technological entrepreneurship in higher education institutions (such as engineering), African Green Revolution, UN Biotech Africa, and Centers of Excellence mapping, is another mechanism to promote international and regional cooperation, collaboration and integration in science and technology in the African Region.


NEPAD, together with the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), are also promoting the African Science Foundation (ASF) – a proposed high-level, content-wide organ of science, technology and innovation policy, review, advice and grant-giving foundation which is similar to the US National Science Foundation (NSF). The UN Science and Technology Cluster would help formulate ASF together with the African Academy of Science (AAS) and the Third World Academy of Science (TWAS).


Accordingly, science and technology policies should:


  • be concerned with coordination and harmonization of the regional efforts in science and technology.  For instance, such coordination and harmonization are needed when countries compete for the acquisition of a technology through FDI or to avoid duplication of effort when engaged in the adaptation and development of a new technology.  They are also needed when formulating common positions at international negotiations.


  • deal with the sharing of science and technology resources and assets (higher education facilities, laboratories, scientific equipments, etc.), since no single country can afford to have the full spectrum of facilities it needs for its development.  Resources can also be shared for carrying out studies, such as sub-regional needs assessment and science and technology indicators.


  • be concerned with the implementation of regional or sub-regional protocols, conventions and resolutions in science and technology, such as those adopted by the OAU (now the African Union), the ECA and regional economic communities (RECs).  Hence, these policies should not be silent on these instruments and commitments.


  • be explicit on the participation and involvement of African countries in regional or sub-regional organizations, institutions and associations in science and technology, such as the ARCT, ARCEDEM, OAPI, ARIPO, ARSO, AAU, AAS, MAGTECH, AFRISTECH, etc.  This is needed, for instance, for budgeting purposes when participation involves a cost.  Too often, African countries have committed themselves to the setting up and management of regional institutions only to fail to live up to their financial commitments.



In addition, these policies should also deal with the implementation of international agreements that have scientific or technological dimensions.  These include:


  • the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS);
  • the Cartagena Protocol On Biosafety;
  • the Convention On Biological Diversity (1992);
  • the Convention to Combat Desertification in Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification;
  • the Kyoto Protocol (1992);
  • the Agenda 21 (1992);
  • the Convention on Protection of the Ozone Layer (1985);
  • the Basel Convention on the control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and its Disposal (1992);
  • the FAO International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources (1983);
  • the Energy Charter Treaty (1994); the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982);
  • the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) (1994);
  • the Agreement for the Establishment of the IEA Energy Technology Data Exchange;
  • the Ministerial Declaration on Trade in Information Technology Products.