Scientists in Africa meet more or less the same challenges as their colleagues in other parts of the world.
As with publishing, many of the obstacles to establishing a strong, self-sustaining scientific enterprise in Africa parallel those elsewhere in the world:
- Inequities within and among populations and between genders result in much potential talent being lost to science productivity in general — home-based scientific productivity in particular.
- Continued exploitation by commercial enterprises that regard the African continent as a source of large populations for clinical trials to develop innovative preventions and treatments that will serve more prosperous populations elsewhere in the world, with weaker policy and human protections such as informed consent and intellectual property.
- Funding. While AESA and other programs have benefited greatly from the longtime and consistent support and guidance from generous partners in the Global North, until more African science is predominantly performed in Africa, by Africans, and for Africans, the full potential of this work will never be realized. The nations of the African Union have all pledged to dedicate 1% of their respective GDPs to R&D, but this remains aspirational as these nations grapple with many competing priorities, including education, food and nutrition, access to utilities, and a multitude of other pressing needs.
- Complicating funding challenges is the imbalance within the portfolio of science funding. Basic research is almost never attractive to commercial funders, and African governments often do not have the resources or the political time horizon to fill this void. Western funders tend to focus on health and medical research, worthy to be sure, but it leaves the physical, mathematical, and chemical sciences as underfunded orphans. Big innovations are built on the foundation of basic discovery—African scientists must enjoy the opportunity to contribute to that foundation alongside their peers in countries where public investment in basic science has been provided for decades.
African science matters not only because African people matter but also because people everywhere in the world will thrive only if science is driven by the best possible talent and initiative of all the Peoples of the world.
This article was first published by ACS Omega (CC-BY)