Research, knowledge brokering key to Africa’s science revolution

Since 2000,Africa has experienced strong growth over the years despite a decline in economic performances and political instability in some African countries. Nonetheless, five of the fastest growing economies are in Africa.

This has fueled belief in the narrative of an “Africa Rising”. Africa is also increasingly becoming not just a consumer of technology or scientific research but a generator of knowledge, innovation, and producer of technology.

Despite the progress being made by the continent in terms of scientific research and innovation, Africa still lags woefully behind the rest of the world in generating new scientific knowledge.

Africa, despite being home to almost 16 per cent of the world’s population, produces less than 1 per cent of the world’s research output. The continent currently has only 198 researchers per million people, the lowest in the world.

Some have attributed this to bad policy and management decisions by governments. In 2006, members of the African Union supported a target for every nation to pay 1 per cent of its GDP on research and development.

As it stands in 2018, only three countries have fulfilled this.

Current practices in governance on the continent indicate that many policy and management decisions on the continent are being made without variable levels of relevance on scientific knowledge.

Though funding organisations continue to provide incentives for knowledge exchange at the interfaces between science and policy or practice, it continues to remain an exception rather than the rule within the government.

Key impediments to effective knowledge exchange include accessibility, relevance, and timeliness of research.

Policymakers in Africa bemoan that research outputs are published online in scientific journals. These literature are often times not written in a way accessible to policymakers. Research outputs also fail to provide useful information that is needed for policy and management decisions.

Hence, are regarded as not relevant in decision making. Others have also expressed that even relevant and accessible research outputs may sometimes not be available when they are needed as input in policy formulation or decision making.

African governments must prioritise knowledge implementation taking into account indigenous knowledge vis-a-vis investments in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics through its budgetary allocations as a first step.

By providing funding, infrastructure for research and creating an ecosystem that supports scientist, African countries can retain talents. However, for Africa to be a knowledge-led economy and to facilitate Africa’s scientific revolution, research and knowledge brokering is needed in the knowledge exchange between government, academia, and all relevant stakeholders.

African-led initiatives such as the Next Einstein Forum, provide a knowledge brokering platform through its NEF roundtables and bi-annual global gathering which brings policymakers and academia together to engage in an iterative and bidirectional process of gaining insight into the relevance of scientific research at first hand and its contribution to sustainable development.

Scientists must engage policymakers more through knowledge exchanges and simplified policy papers that provide evidence-based recommendations to governments and relevant stakeholders.

The author is a knowledge broker, communications and management specialist. He also is a member of IDIN. International Development Innovation Network is a Global network of innovators led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s D-Lab funded by United States Agency for International Development and Global Development Lab.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.