AMASA meeting

AMASA meeting

I recently had the privilege of attending the 10th Annual Meeting of African Science Academies (AMASA) in Kampala, Uganda. The meeting focused on the highly important issue of ensuring country ownership of Africa’s development agenda. Hosted by the Uganda National Academy of Sciences and the African Science Academy Development Initiative, the meeting was incredibly refreshing for a development economist like myself. Instead of the jargon and elegant mathematical solutions seen in my world, this meeting saw academy members and other stakeholders take Africa’s development agenda head-on through engaging with some of the biggest development questions facing the continent.

An African model of Development

As highlighted by Dr Steve Kayizzi-Mugerwa of the African Development Bank, Professor Nelson Sewankambo of the Uganda National Academy of Sciences and Professor Mandivamba Rukuni of the Consensus Study Committee in Zimbabwe, a reading of economic history shows that all of today’s more developed countries, from the UK and USA, to the Asian Tigers, have made development their own. All of these countries mapped out well-thought out development plans detailing areas (usually manufacturing) where the country judged itself to be able to compete both nationally and globally. A long-term commitment was made in each of these areas and every effort was made to grow these areas. This involved going against what was the prevailing ‘development orthodoxy’ and adapting both technology and market mechanisms in ways almost unimaginable for the developing world today.

Seen in this light, there is absolutely no reason why Africa should not fully throw off the shackles of the Washington Consensus (development orthodoxy) and move forward with its own development model that makes full use of the existing policy space and tailors lessons learned from other countries to its own context. This is all the more so given the continent’s demographic dividend and abundant potential to become a global player in all three sectors: agriculture, manufacturing and services.

The Role of the Academies

The academies can play a key role in the development and implementation of an African model of development. Their relative neutrality and carefully considered, evidence-based approach to key issues suggests that the academies can work with the state, the private sector and communities to identify key areas for countries to focus on. Furthermore, the academies are arguably best placed to facilitate the implementation process by ensuring transparent dialogue between all stakeholders ensuring that development is inclusive.

The Scale of the Challenge

It is important to finish with a realistic appraisal of the scale of the development challenge that Africa faces. Given Africa’s dynamism and flair for entrepreneurial enterprise (as highlighted by Margaret Kakande of the Ugandan Ministry of Finance, Planning, and Economic Development), I believe that African development rests very much on the provision of collective (public) goods. These are goods that underpin individual economic activity. Perhaps the most straightforward example is achieving a high value-added agricultural industry. In order to achieve such an industry, a country would require research, extension service provision, infrastructure and logistics management, and access to finance among others. This is a significant investment that usually spans ministries and a variety of stakeholders. Furthermore, as payoff from these investments tends to be indirectly recouped over a relatively long time horizon, it has been the government that has historically tended to be the most efficient provider of collective goods.

It is clear that the majority of governments in Africa are unable to provide all the requisite collective goods required for development. A key challenge, therefore, is to work with the private sector and donors to provide these collective goods. I believe that this is definitely feasible if African governments step-up and reshape their relationship with the private sector and donors. African governments should not be afraid to make demands on the private sector and on donors to ensure that the requisite collective goods are provided. This approach is not without precedent, with numerous countries such as Japan having enforced strict restrictions on the private sector during their development to ensure that private sector resources were managed in such a way to benefit the nation’s development.

Despite the scale of the challenge, Africa very much has its destiny in its own hands. In particular, the demographic dividend and the resource potential to become a global player in all three sectors of the economy: agriculture, manufacturing and services have placed Africa in a very strong position. What remains now is an African model of development where science academies play a key facilitating role in development and where states, the private sector and donors work together to ensure the provision of the collective goods required to underpin the activities required for economic development.

The author is a Research Associate and Affiliated Lecturer at the Centre of Development Studies, University of Cambridge and a Project Researcher for the Smart Villages Initiative (