Call for a fund dedicated to research in Africa
1- The international context
Meeting the challenges of the 21st century on a planetary scale and at the level of each country and each continent requires an increased mobilization of all humanity in all its diversity. This will rely on the contribution of the wealth (material, intellectual/immaterial…) of each population and each society. To this end, cooperation and solidarity must prevail over competition and national egoism, which have become acutely apparent in this period of the COVID 19 pandemic. In this perspective, international trade and financial relations must be put on a new footing and the organization of scientific and technological research and innovation must be profoundly modified.
In the current context of globalization, it is difficult for countries to integrate into the world economy and compete without a sufficiently qualified population and high-level scientific research. More generally, whatever the context, education, higher education and scientific research are major vectors for poverty reduction and economic development. They make an indispensable contribution to the expertise and skills needed in the essential sectors of health, education, good governance and the environment.…
All countries, without exception, therefore have compelling reasons to continue to significantly increase the average level of education of their populations, and to increase the volume, relevance and effectiveness of their scientific research.
2- The state of Research in Africa
According to the African Capacity Report 2017, published by The African Capacity Building Foundation, Africa as a whole is increasing its science, technology and innovation capacity. However, the situation is far from satisfactory. Indeed, the lagging in terms of infrastructure, scientific equipment and valorisation of research products are real and serious. Added to this is the need to recruit a sufficient number of researchers with the required academic qualifications and to make the position of researcher sufficiently attractive to “attract” the best specialists to the profession, limit the brain drain and motivate young people to pursue scientific careers.
In fact, Africa, which today represents nearly 15% of the world’s population, has only 1% of the world’s research capacity. There are two main reasons for this – apart from institutional and political reasons – insufficient human resources and a strong deficit in financial resources.
2-1: The human resource gap
In the middle of the last decade, it was estimated that Africa had only about 80 scientists and engineers per million inhabitants, while this number reached nearly 150 in Brazil, 2,500 in Europe, and 4,000 in the United States of America.
To contribute to the scientific research efforts of the relevant institutions they already have, African countries train only a “small” number of potential researchers. In addition, there is a brain drain. In this sense, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimated in 2011 that one in nine scientists trained in Africa worked in an OECD country, particularly in North America and Europe. And this number is increasing in parallel with the general increase in migration flows from the continent. Thus, the number of African tertiary-educated migrants who migrated abroad between 2011 and 2016 would be almost equal to 450,000, a flow equal to 90,000 per year.
2-2: The financing gap
One of the reasons for this enormous loss of vital forces in African scientific research is to be linked – in addition to political, institutional or related to low living standards and insecurity reasons – to the lack of financial resources available for academic and research activities. This is illustrated in the table in Appendix on the share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) devoted to Research and Development (R&D) in a sample of 25 African countries. According to the data in this table, R&D expenditure as a proportion of GDP ranges from 0.01 percent in one of the poorest countries on the continent, Mauritania, to 0.71 percent in Morocco, 0.72 percent in Egypt, 0.79 percent in Kenya, 0.83 percent in South Africa. We note also 0.03 percent in Angola, and 0.13 percent in Nigeria, two of the richest oil-producing countries in the world.
These low rates are now contributing to the increasing development gaps between the African continent and the rest of the world. This should be put into perspective with, for example, what was projected by the European Union at the beginning of this century, in the framework of what was called the “Lisbon Strategy”, which stated, among other things, that: “If the gap between the European Union and its main competitors is to be narrowed, the overall R&D and innovation effort in the European Union must be strongly stimulated, with a particular emphasis on cutting-edge technologies. Accordingly, the European Council considers that overall R&D and innovation expenditure in the Union must increase, to approach 3% of GDP by 2010. Two thirds of this new investment should come from the private sector”. The WFSW does not make this strategy a model, but combats it, as it contributes to a global system dominated by economic and financial competition and the exorbitant power of multinational companies. However, the figures here speak for themselves, although the EU’s target of 3% has not been reached. In 2014, the EU’s R&D amounted to 2%, caught up by China from 1.3% in 2005 to 2.05% in 2014, while the US were at 2.7% and Japan at 3.6%.
3- A fund for research in Africa
If we really want to take into account the main challenges facing African countries, which are the population “explosion”, food and health security, climate change, the employability of graduates and, more broadly, the economic, social and democratic development of the continent, it is important to seek new mechanisms for funding research in Africa and, beyond that, to raise concretely the issue of financial and human resources and the mechanisms to be put in place.
Aware of these challenges and also of the new and old ones, the WFSW proposes the implementation of an innovative mode of financing dedicated to research in Africa. This proposal is not only necessary, but urgent for the development of high level, really relevant and effective research in this continent. Indeed, this is one of the major and necessary conditions for meeting the needs of Africans and, beyond, of all humanity: knowledge needs, social, health and environmental needs and the needs of democracy. To achieve this, it is important that African academics and researchers be strongly involved in policies for the development of higher education and research in Africa, through regional, sub-regional, national and local organizations. In this perspective, we are promoting and debating the idea of the creation of a fund dedicated to research in Africa, linked to the African Union (AU).
The objective of this fund is to finance all basic research projects and development research projects that the public finances of African countries – due in particular to the great poverty of most of them – do not currently support. The objective will also be to finance the improvement of the relevance of scientific and university structures, which will require, in some cases, substantial resources that should not be neglected.
This fund would be articulated around five major sub-regions and/or sub-regional organizations (North Africa, East African Community, CEMAC, ECOWAS and the Southern African Development Community). It should be designed, set up and governed by exclusively African bodies and financed primarily by African countries and their development partners, without political or economic counterparts (at the antipodes of the structural adjustment plans imposed by the IMF and the World Bank).
4- The contributions of such a fund
The primary interest of such a fund lies in its exclusively African sovereignty, which would allow Africa to pose the real research issues for its own development and for its contribution to international development, through African researchers established on the continent, and in collaboration with those in the diaspora and more broadly with international research.
The second positive aspect of such a fund would be the pooling of human, material, logistical and technological resources through the institution or expansion of major regional research and higher education centres in the form of connected platforms with specific orientations/targets (protection of fishery resources, forest protection, water conservation, combating desertification, combating epidemics, etc.).
The third positive aspect would be the setting up of truly attractive material, institutional and scientific conditions favouring the return (permanent or periodic) of African researchers to Africa, attracting researchers from other continents and, more broadly, increasing the attractiveness of scientific careers on the African continent.
Overall, such a fund would contribute to the deployment of a virtuous circle (positive feedback loop) between scientific and technical development and economic, social and environmental development.
5- The operational strategy to finance this Fund
Pegging this Fund to the AU should compel individual African countries to adopt genuine research policies for the continent. Thus, each country should progressively increase its research funding with the objective of allocating at least 2% (figure under debate) of its GDP, of which 1% (figure under debate) would constitute its contribution to the Fund. It is not out of the question that development partners and the ADB could participate in this financing, but without any binding counterpart. This Fund, which in turn should benefit R&D and the population of each African country, should be distributed among the five sub regions and sub regional organizations already mentioned, each with its own adapted operating, monitoring and control mechanisms.
Research policy in Africa should have a pyramidal coherence reflected in the laws guiding scientific research defined by each country as well as in the strategic research plans developed by each higher education and research institution.
In order to increase public financial capacities in Africa, which are indispensable for the development of economic, social, educational, research policies, etc., special taxes, such as the Tobin tax, must be put in place. They could relate to extractive industries (especially mining products exported in their raw state), telephone companies, the operation of airports and ports, international flights, timber exports, fishing products exported in their raw state, financial transfers from Africa, transfer of dividends to foreign companies delegated to provide public services, etc.
6- A new global framework
The full success of such a project dedicated to the promotion and strengthening of scientific research in Africa requires significant changes in research strategies and objectives at the global level, including:
– The generalization of policies in favour of open science;
– The guarantee of the right to international mobility for all researchers and the breaking of the current international context marked by increasingly restrictive policies for the movement of African scientists;
– The privileged orientation of research policies towards, in addition to basic research, the major problems/questions facing humanity today such as global warming, the fight against pandemics, poverty reduction, the development of renewable resources, the digitalization of economies, etc. ;
– The establishment of a Global Research Fund, one of the objectives of which would be to support continental/regional funds, such as the one discussed in this call, with the aim of sustainable economic and social development.
The International Secretariat of the World Federation of Scientific Workers
Government Expenditures on Research and Development as a % of GDP
 See : Recherche et innovation en France : surmonter nos handicaps au service de la croissance. https://www.senat.fr/rap/r07-392/r07-3923.html