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Browse through almost any collection of publications on African foresight and you're certain to come across titles suggesting that the continent's future development is assured, its economic prospects are great, and if not this one then the next century will  be known as the African Century.

 

Rousing stuff, but what and who will drive Africa's future growth and development?

In July, Foresight For Development turns the spotlight on African foresight and science, technology and innovation.

 

 

Science, technology and innovation are drivers of human development and economic growth and investing in scientific and technological research and development makes sense especially for poor countries. Easier said than done.

If science and technology contribute to growth and development, although some would question that, and if many African futurists argue that African futures are bright and prosperous, then surely a noteworthy amount of African foresight output will be focused on discussing systems of innovation, research and development in Africa?

Based on the set of publications available in Foresight For Development's digital collection, and acknowledging that it is limited, the answer is no.

What, then, of other sources beyond the Foresight For Development digital collection?

A scientometric assessment of the state of science and technology in Africa, by Anastassios Pouris and Anthipi Pouris, offers sobering data about the recent state of science in Africa:

 

CountryNo. of research publications (% of world share), 2000-2004

European Union

USA

China

Latin America

India

Africa

Other

World total

1,461,813 (38.8%)

1,267,203 (33.6%)

175,522 (4.7%)

130,569 (3.5%)

89,976 (2.4%)

68,945 (1.8%)

574,406 (15.2%)

3,768,434 (100.0%)

Table 1: Number and share of world research publications (selected regions), 2000-2004 (Source: Pouris and Pouris, 2009)

 

 

For the period 2000-2004, Africa's share of global research publications was less than 2%. (Compare this to Worldometers' stats showing the real-time world population at 6,975,000,000 and growing, with Africans making up 15% of that total.)

Yet more sobering data from the United Nations - this time on engineers.

According to UNESCO, the African average is 83 engineers per 1 million people compared to 1,000 engineers per 1 million people in the developed world.

MDGWhy should the scarcity of engineers be of concern? In a report by UNESCO on engineering and development, Dr Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director, writes in the introduction that the lack of engineers is stifling development:

"It is estimated that some 2.5 million engineers and technicians will be needed in Sub-Saharan Africa alone if the region is to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of improved access to clean water and sanitation."

That's a lot of engineers and technicians. China, for example, brings its own engineers to its projects in Africa, knowing that local engineering skills are scarce.

Are there efforts to produce more African engineers? Yes, there are. For example: Engenius, an initiative coordinated by the Engineering Council of South Africa, aims to have 30,000 more engineers integrated into the South African economy by 2014.

Are efforts, such as the Engenius Initiative, able to meet the demand described by Dr Bokova? Absolutely not.

 

 

And here's why not: African countries feature prominently in the list of states spending more on arms than they do on primary education. Look at the adjacent graphic (or click on the link to get to the raw data set provided by IBM) and you'll spot the names of the usual suspects, as well as some unexpected ones, from the continent.

Conflict remains the biggest threat to educational attainment in Africa, and the long-term consequences of buying more AK47s than textbooks are devastating.

It's not just primary education that's losing out on weapons spending. Expenditure on arms relative to scientific research and development (R&D) is predictably skewed in favour of guns, grenades and bullets.

African science and technology remains underdeveloped, despite the continent having produced some medical firsts and award-winning women scientists, such as Senegal's Professor Wade, Algeria's Dr Maouri, and Professor Barro from Burkina Faso.

From the '2010 State Of The Future' report:

In 2010 State Of The Future, the Millennium Project authors write this about the significance of science:

"Challenge 14 will have been addressed seriously when the funding of R&D for societal needs reaches parity with funding for weapons and when an international science and technology organisation is established that routinely connects world S&T knowledge for use in R&D priority setting and legislation."

 

Challenge 14 - accelerating scientific and technological breakthroughs for improving the human condition - is one of 15 global challenges identified by the Millennium Project (see image adjacent).

Some thought-provoking numbers on S&T and R&D globally from the 2010 State Of The Future report are:

  • 35% of global R&D takes place in the USA.
  • Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile account for almost 90% of university science undertaken in Latin America.
  • Half of 500 higher education institutes in Latin America produce no scientific research.
  • China's R&D investments will surpass Japan's in 2011.
  • Asian Tiger economies with double digit growth have double digit increases in R&D expenditure.
  • The European Union has maintained its target of investing 3% of GDP in R&D.

If African R&D is to be expanded beyond current levels, is there money available to do so? In Swaziland's case, definitely not.

No surprise, then, that the Commission for Africa has recommended that foreign donors commit US$5 billion over the next decade to African universities' science and technology (S&T) capacity so that African scientists and technologists can contribute to the continent's sustainable economic growth.

Are African scientists and technologists likely to get this much-needed support from donors?

Given the debt crisis in Greece and the looming repercussions of this for Europe, as well as a deeply indebted United States, it's anyone's guess if traditional donor countries will be able to honour any commitments made to support African scientific and technological R&D.

The question asked at the head of this piece is worth asking again: who and what exactly do African futurists think will drive the continent's future development and transformation if current S&T trends and R&D investment decisions (or lack thereof) continue? Those answers may be the most accurate measure of all of the state of African foresight and futures studies.

 

From our library:

Here are the publications, available in our library, on foresight and science, technology and innovation in and for Africa:

 

Africa and scientific innovation (with a pinch of foresight)

Agricultural science, technology and innovation

Biotechnology, nanotechnology, medical technology

Energy technologies and automation

Mobile and information technologies

Do also look at:

 

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