By Paul Adepoju

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - Supportive policies and funding for research and development in Africa, with a focus on impactful, collaborative approaches, are essential to ensure fair benefits for all in scientific progress, African researchers say.

The African researchers, members of the Science Granting Council Initiative (SGCI), made this known in a working paper titled “Research Funding Flows in and for Africa” and discussed the topic in December 2023, at a delegate meeting held at Future Africa, University of Pretoria, during the Science Forum South Africa, in collaboration with the International Science Council (ISC).

Future Africa is the University of Pretoria’s collaborative platform for research that works across the sciences and with society to address Africa’s biggest challenges.

The researchers said there were many challenges within the system, including overreliance on foreign funding, paying out-of their own-pocket , and inadequate local support for research.

One of the implications of these challenges is that research conducted in several African countries may be unable to address local problems effectively, they say.

The paper also identified issues like fragmentation, competition, and duplication of efforts, which impede effective collaboration and the optimal utilization of resources.

They said that reframing African science value proposition is crucial for the continent to determine its scientific priorities, in order to show governments why they should allocate more resources to support research.

The paper proposed a new forum, the African Science, Technology, and Innovation Forum, as a collective platform for stakeholders to address these challenges and set priorities. Aiming to unite stakeholders and policymakers, the proposed forum aims to foster a unified African voice to empower the continent’s research ecosystem.

Farai Kapfudzaruwa, research and strategic partnerships manager at Future Africa, University of Pretoria, and speaking on behalf of the authors, described the recommendations as a reflection of the overarching themes of collaboration, policy advocacy, and establishment of a unified approach to strengthen the African science ecosystem.

“What’s very important is to allow the various initiatives and platforms to reflect what exactly is the value proposition of African science to aid the African science voice when it comes to developing approaches, which are important to strengthening and building African capacity for the science ecosystem,” he said.

Closing science-policy gap

To counter Africa’s low research funding, Kapfudzaruwa underlined the need to develop a robust science policy, acknowledging the challenges posed by competing national priorities.

“In addition to getting African countries to prioritise improving funding for science, an African science policy would also enable external funders to be aware of the continent’s priorities and be guided on how to effectively contribute,” Kapfudzaruwa said.

He called for ongoing discussions with African governments to address the disconnect between scientific knowledge and government policies in the continent and believes that partnering with trusted African scientific bodies could be crucial

Raji Tajudeen, head of public health institutes and research for Africa Centres for Disease Control, told SciDev.Net that integrating implementation science (improving how research findings are applied in real-world settings) into current initiatives is a major way to strengthen Africa’s research ecosystem.

“The integration of implementation science into the project has strengthened capacity for public health research in several African countries.”

“Research for us is a cross-cutting enabler for our strategic priorities,” he told SciDev.Net.
Clear steps to take

For 2024, Kapfudzaruwa expects progress to be made in consulting key stakeholders in science in Africa and compiling recommendations on the ways forward.

“The most important thing we want to do this year is to ensure that all the voices within the science ecosystem are heard and we are able to produce a very coherent strategy and approach which is led by the needs and the desires of everyone in the system,” he said.

Tajudeen agrees with Kapfudzaruwa on the need for inclusion and representation in the consultations to achieve what he described as a continental agenda for science.

The goal is getting African scientists to be fully engaged and have definite central roles in research, Tajudeen said.

“People flying in from the global North with their proposal and methodology, with the way they want to do things, coming to do research in Africa, and there is no clear-cut role for local researchers – I think that needs to change, that needs to stop,” he said.

“We need our own people to be fully engaged as far as that space is concerned.”

This article was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa desk.