Jul 12 2011

Is there a brighter future for science in Africa?

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 4:52 PM

The most significant scientific journal in the world, Nature, has asked this important question. Intellectual life in Africa remains virtually ignored around the globe, and almost no attention is given to scientists in Africa. The noun, African Science, would strike many as an oxymoron. How might science get done at all amid the disaster, disease and mayhem?

To be sure, since 2000, when I first visited the African continent, and in my 30 visits since, I have always paid attention to the scientific and engineering research that was happening in my midst. Because I brought to my African encounters a personal history of engagement with computing, electronics and the politics of science, I paid special attention to these areas, though I could not possibly completely ignore medicine and social sciences either. From the very start, I found brave and vital scientific efforts happening in the sub-Saharan.

The question the journal Nature asks in its important survey is how much of the science in Africa is world class? How much is merely a creature of donor funding? And how much might be actually benefit large numbers of needy Africans? And finallty, to what extent does scientific training, especially at universities in Africa, simply breed a new generation of talented people who depart the African continent — and never return to live and work?

The Nature package doesn’t fully answer any of these questions, but the editors and writers make a brave attempt and they frame their effort with wisdom and sensitivity. “It is easy to be fatalistic about science in sub-Saharan Africa,” Nature writes in the introduction to the package. “Researchers there face so many systemic problems — poor facili- ties, lack of funding, corruption and government instability — that it seems impossible for any single willing scientist in the developed world to make a difference for their African counterparts. But as the stories and commentaries in this issue make clear, success can emerge from individual efforts, both from researchers in Africa and from those on other continents.”

These successes can only multiple in the decades, and even centuries, ahead. Science in Africa — as distinct from science by Africans living elsewhere in the world — is of vital importance, not only to Africans but to everyone on the planet.

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