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Call to African Governments: Focus Areas that could Transform Research and Development in Africa

Tom Kariuki 

World-class research and dynamic innovation are part of an interconnected system; they depend on talented people and teams working in a supportive and diverse environment across multiple sectors, with access to the right funding, infrastructure, data and connections – locally, nationally, internationally.  

The Science for Africa Foundation (SFA Foundation) and AUDA NEPAD seeks to examine how this system works across governments, academia, universities, research institutes and technology organisations, businesses, charities, domestic and international investors, global networks and partners. 

The need to maximise Africa's innovations and solutions is growing, this presents an opportunity for collaboration among various sectors to streamline Africa’s research agenda, this will be achieved when African governments shift their focus to areas that could essentially transform the R&D space. These include:  

  • Increase investment in research, unlocking new discoveries and applying research to solving our most pressing problems in government, industry and across society - transformative research and innovation has a high chance of failure but can produce the greatest long-term rewards, especially when combined with support for applied research, development and implementation.Taking deliberate steps to position African institutions that could eventually become world-class at securing the economic and social benefits from R&D - strengthening the interactions between discovery research, applied research, innovation, policy, commercialisation and deployment to communities.  

  • Support entrepreneurs and start-ups and increasing the flow of capital into firms and institutions carrying out R&D thereby enabling them to scale up innovations – and ensure the best regulatory system to support and de-risk R&D investments to attract local and global partners that can provide models of funding (grants, ventures, equity, blended financing etc) 

  • Attract, retain and develop the talented, diverse people and teams that are essential to delivering a country-level vision thru R&D - attractiveness and sustainability of careers throughout the R&D workforce – not just for researchers, but also for technicians, innovators, entrepreneurs and practitioners.  

  • Take greater account of outcomes in how governments make decisions on R&D, ensuring that R&D systems make their fullest contribution to levelling up national agendas - fostering greater collaboration and networks between funders, researchers, practitioners and civic leaders to embed a system that delivers stronger local economic benefit and improved quality of life outcomes from R&D 

  • Provide long-term flexible investment into infrastructure and institutions, year-on-year allocated funding through annual budgets- this will develop and maintain cutting-edge research, development and innovation infrastructure, with agile and resilient institutions able to play their fullest role. Challenging governments to demonstrate long-term thinking and having long memory like the Africa elephants, and not suffering political amnesia when constructing annual budgets.  

  • Promote imaginative ways to ensure that science, research and innovation system is responsive to the needs and aspirations of  society – delivering better quality of life, economic growth and environmental improvements in the face of climate change and degradation of agricultural lands that cannot meet food security; ensure future generations are inspired to pursue careers in R&D to fix these challenges in health, climate and Agri priorities ....that young African youth can secure high value R&D jobs because science is for everyone.  

  • Demand and supply – if government demands innovations for savings lives, livelihoods, and for socio-economic development, R&D will supply the solutions but only if funding and conducive environments are available and continuously supported in Africa.  

  • Everyone should be advocates through science communication, citizen engagement, cross sourcing of knowledge, including from indigenous knowledge systems; meaning that R&D can drastically reduce solvable problems like health burdens, poverty etc thru R&D in Africa if these pathways are followed but only if African government make the right choices at the right time, for the right affected communities.    

  • SFA Foundation and AUDA-NEPAD commit to be partners of choice for R&D nations, as well as strengthening R&D partnerships with HICs and LIMCs. – will offer funding best ideas, for collaboration to further benefit from the opportunities of international scientific partnerships with African institutions