Africa should prioritize investment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education to build and retain science skills on the continent, Niger’s Minister for Secondary and Higher Education, Research and Technology, Habi Mahamadou, said on February 28 at the closing of the fifth African Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Forum 2023 held in Niamey, Niger. “We need to accelerate science and technology that is inclusive. We are unanimous that science, technology and innovation have a fundamental role in technology development and in the protection of the planet,” said Mahamadou. “Research can create and promote the adoption of innovative technology which is the main pillar of sustainable and inclusive development.” Mahamadou noted that recent studies have shown that a few African countries have effective strategies to develop and support STI which means they are unable to harness the critical science skills. ALSO READ: Govt invests heavily in STEM education in Rwandan schools “We have brain drain of people so well trained by developed countries. We do not have enough scientists who come back home and that deprives us of the scientific capacity we need,” Mahamadou said, suggesting that African countries should reform their higher education curricula to promote STI. Arguing that African Heads of State must prioritize the development and teaching of STEM skills, Mahamadou cited that in Niger students were introduced to science skills in their first baccalaureate which had promoted interest in science subjects. However, he lamented that the interest has waned over time, prompting the country to relook at how to intensify STEM through entrepreneurship. In suggesting solutions to promoting STI, Mahamadou said there was a need for African countries to promote the development of human capital through competency-based training and mitigating brain drain. “We need to improve our research capacity and invest in infrastructure for training to find solutions for STI,” he said, adding that cooperation in all scientific fields must be promoted as well as the sharing of research results. Presenting conclusions and recommendations from High Level panels of the STI Forum, the Director of UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa, Lidia Brito, noted that African countries needed to create strong STI ecosystems that effectively supported innovation. Besides, the importance of investing in scientific infrastructure and investment in human capital was needed for STI in Africa to impact development. ALSO READ: Girls in STEM: Celebrating gains and tackling challenges In 2006, African Heads of State committed to allocating at least one percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of national budgets into Research and Development (R&D) spending by 2010. None of the countries have achieved this target. The High-level Policy Panel on STI policy formulation called for stronger STI partnerships, linking policy to action and societal benefits; it also called for deepening the engagements with the private sector to enhance the outcomes of the continent’s aspirations on STI. The high-level policy dialogue on development and application of emerging technologies for water and sanitation underlined the importance of ground water, which remained an untapped resource. The session noted that innovations can be applied in water value chains. South Africa presented an example of emerging technologies used for water treatment and recycling from sanitation. In addition, there is a need to develop an entrepreneurial culture in universities and to strengthen quality STEM approaches in Education to attract more young people, especially girls into STEM areas. “If Africa is going to realize its Green Transformation, it will be through a significant increase of the number and quality of Scientists, researchers and engineers who will drive the required innovation and creativity on the continent,” Brito said in presenting recommendations from the session on ‘Universities as engines of regional and national transformation: Alliance of Entrepreneurial Universities in Africa.’ A Panel session on Open Science reiterated that Open science is a powerful tool, crucial to address fundamental issues that human society will continue to face. The panel noted that by encouraging science to be more connected to societal needs and by promoting equal opportunities for all, Open Science can be a true game-changer in pressing planetary and socio-economic challenges. African young people presented inspiring examples of how African youth use digital technologies and AI to provide concrete solutions to local problems such as illiteracy, waste management or online disinformation.