A message from the African Academy of Sciences President: The future is the AAS

It has been six months since the Governing Council of the African Academy of Sciences was inaugurated. As President, it is crucial to provide an update of progress and lay out a vision for the future. I have six strategic goals that I would like the AAS to achieve during my tenure with your support, namely:

Sustaining the future of the AAS

In the past four years, we have witnessed an unprecedented growth of the AAS in funding, number of Fellows and introduction of new programmes. The number of Fellows has grown from 183 in 2011 to 364 in 40 African countries, 44 of whom are women. Through the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA), the AAS is investing close to $150 million in programmes to tackle climate change, improve the health of our people, promote innovation and expand into scientific frontiers, such as stem cell, genomics and precision public health. The Affiliates programme also allows us to recognise and mentor young scientists who are potentially future Fellows.

We will require more funding to ensure that the AAS is financially sound and can sustain its programmes. As you know, science in Africa is mostly funded by international partners. I would like to see leaders of African public, private, philanthropic sectors embracing ownership and increasing investment and will spearhead the creation of a funding committee comprising Fellows to mobilise funding from these sectors. This committee will work closely with the secretariat to eliminate duplication of efforts and to maximise impact.

These funds would also be dedicated to complementing infrastructure with the construction of state of the art regional facilities similar to the BecA-ILRI Hub, a shared agricultural research and biosciences platform that exists to increase access to affordable, world-class research facilities.

I also recognise and deeply appreciate the pioneering role of Nigeria, which contributed US$5 M to set up the AAS Endowment Fund.  We are keen to see more governments contributing to this fund, so I will be lobbying President Nana Akuffo Addo and the government of Ghana to support the AAS and programmes, such as the African Union Kwame Nkrumah Awards for Scientific Excellence. Furthermore, I will also encourage the governments of top ten performers of S&T and philanthropists to contribute to the fund.

Increased partnerships

In the recent past, we signed a memorandum of agreement to cement our relationship with the African Union. The partnership has grown over the years with us contributing to the development of the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024 (STISA 2024), Africa’s blueprint for science, and a continental health research strategy. Our partnership with the AU also led to the creation of AESA, which is an initiative of the AAS and the NEPAD Agency. These partnerships position us to influence African governments and are important to ensuring that the research undertaken through our programmes and by our Fellows informs policy. We need to bridge the gap between research and policy for evidenced based policymaking and for the AAS to set the research agenda in science, technology and innovation. A stronger partnership should enable us to have a defined role in efforts to achieve the Agenda 2063, the strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years, so I envision creating a joint Task Force of the AAS, the NEPAD Agency and the Human Resources, Science and Technology Division of the AU to enable this.

Our partnerships should also extend to African institutions and academies through which we can build a formidable voice to advocate for increased support for science and recruit more Fellows, particularly from under represented countries and women. I am committed to seeing more deserving scientists from countries where we have few or no Fellows being recruited into the AAS Fellowship. That way, we can increase the number of Fellows from Francophone and Lusophone countries and maintain regional and language balance.

Women in science

The number of women Fellows has increased from 8 to 44 but the ratio remains small compared to men. We need to promote gender balance. I am aware that the problem trickles from primary school and undergraduate level where women don’t opt to study science. With women only accounting for 22 percent of the scientists in sub-Saharan Africa, no wonder there are fewer of them to draw our Fellows from. I am committing to a women in science programme that recognises and seeks to resolve the roots of the problem to enable more women to become scientists. This is a crucial and significant part of our population, whose potential and talents needs to be exploited to guarantee our continent’s future.

Empowering Africa’s youth

Alongside women, the AAS should be captivating the spirit and imagination of our youth who can make Africa an innovative and self-sustaining continent for its citizens. Africa’s young people are its most precious resource. By 2034, the continent is forecast to be home to the world’s largest working age population of 1.1 billion. Through AESA programmes, we are investing in our young people’s education, training and health so that they can produce innovative solutions for health and socio-economic development. We must consolidate this. I am inviting Fellows to lend their support to fundraising for science projects, science galas, and national science awards in each African country that will raise the profile of science and make it more appealing to our young people.

Defining future research priorities

Our current strategic plan identifies six areas of research in Africa: health and wellbeing, climate change, food security and nutritional wellbeing, water and sanitation, sustainable energy and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). This has guided our programmes during the 2013-2018 planning period. We need to be reflecting on our future priorities.

Constitutional review

Our staff complement has grown to the current 44 with an increased number of our staff having PhDs. We have also recruited prolific individuals as senior advisors. These human resource changes require the AAS to re-align its governance to international standards and necessitate a review of the current AAS constitution. We are also under obligation to align and comply our constitution according to our host country’s Non-Governmental Organisation’s Board template.

Can I emphasise that our unity is crucial for the continued progression of the Academy and I commit to ensuring that this is central to how we operate during the next three years of my tenure.  This is important to enable us to further the vision of our founding fathers of building an internationally recognised continental body contributing to and harnessing science to develop the continent.

Last but not least, we are grateful to the secretariat for steering the vision of the Academy and are proud of this growth, which will require our collective efforts to sustain and advance it. We need all hands on deck and I call on all Fellows to contribute your time, knowledge and expertise to the work of the Academy.

I look forward to your support. If there is anything we can do to facilitate your involvement and make it easy for you to contribute to efforts to grow the Academy and science, please let us know.

We need you to consolidate building an internationally recognised continental body providing the evidence for knowledge-based economies and driving Africa’s scientific and technological development.

 

Prof Felix Dapare Dakora
President, African Academy of Sciences