Jackie Olang is the Programme Director for the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC). The Royal Society has been working closely with NASAC over recent years, on an number of activities with science academies across Africa
On 29th October 2012, the African Academies delegates arrived in London for a three-day workshop at the Royal Society, UK in London. The delegates were top officials of the Science Academies in Africa, who are also members of the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC), the umbrella organization and affiliate member of the IAP-the regional network of science academies.
The workshop coincided with three other major events in London:
i) the launch of a Royal Academy of Engineering publication on research engineering capacity in sub-Saharan Africa on 29th October 2012
ii) the Pfizer Award Ceremony on 31st October 2012
iii) the launch of Royal Society-DFID Africa Capacity Building Initiative (see http://royalsociety.org/grants/schemes/africa-capacity-building/ for further information).
The visit in London for the African Academies officials kicked off with the Engineering Academy’s publication launch (http://www.raeng.org.uk/international/ ). It was notable to learn that most African Governance systems were actually taking scientific qualifications very seriously in the 21st Century up to a point that within the continent 1% of the Presidents were actually Engineers by training. Unfortunately, the other bottle-necks of a budding democracy and other governance challenges hindered the policy-reforms that would deliver development (mostly through structural engineering) sooner.
Then came the actual purpose for which the Academies were assembled in London, the Royal Society Pfizer workshop. This year, the focus for the event was mainly on the science policy process, election of fellows, young scientists, then finally, fundraising and funding, press and media communications. These were pertinent topic for the academies, especially since the programme aims to provide a platform for the UK Academy and the African Academies to learn from each other. The workshop participants had varied views on new ideas/ways for learning from each other to overcome the challenges being faced more efficiently and expediently.
Key needs identified for the future were for the Academies to:
• Work more in partnership
• Engage in debate on global development frameworks
• Start with small steps in science policy work – meetings, letters etc, and build trust
• NASAC/AAS have a more central role to play in electing Fellows
• Engage younger scientists in academy business
Since the workshop last year, it was notable that participants had new perspectives on how to leap-frog and overcome different challenges. It was also heartening to see a genuine interest to learn by all parties.
The Pfizer Award Ceremony and Seminar, embedded into the programme was equally an exhilarating event. The African medics honoured by the Awards were both meriting and deserving for their work in Africa. The two Dr Samuel Kariuki from the Kenyan Medical Research Institute for his research into invasive non-typhoidal Salmonella (NTS) infections in Kenya (Watch a video about Dr Kariuki’s research), while the Royal Society Pfizer Exceptional Merit Award was awarded to Dr Martin Ota from the Medical Research Council Unit in the Gambia for his research into the relationship of pneumococcal protein antibody levels to nasopharyngeal carriage of pneumococci in early infancy (Watch a video about Dr Ota’s research).
On the social front, the dinner at the Ethiopian Embassy in London on 30th October left a mouth-watering sensation of the intricate Ethiopian delicacies. It was indeed a taste of African hospitality in London with a very cordial Ambassador and embassy staff to make the guests feel right at home.
Overall, the event in totality was a resounding success.