According to a report by the World Bank, African universities will need to produce a million researchers or more if the continent is to drive development over the next decade. Otherwise, a lack of experts will continue to hinder development.
The World Bank survey on which the report is based, highlights the key challenges facing Africa, including a lack of employment opportunities for the rapidly increasing youth population, climate change, disease, food insecurity and political instability.
African Population & Health Research Centre
The report from the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC), a research think tank based in Nairobi, suggests that Sub-Saharan Africa contributes only one percent of global scientific products such as patents and peer-reviewed articles.
Speaking at a forum hosted by the APHRC, the organisations Executive Director Catherine Kyobutungi said, “Despite Africa being a significant source of research its global contribution is still low. This is because of low investment in research, which results in Africa’s limited representation in the global knowledge economy.”
Dr Kyobutungi called on African countries to increase investment in scientific research to advance knowledge in order to meet the continent’s economic and social development needs.
Achieving Economic and Social Empowerment in Africa
“We are telling our politicians”, said Dr Kyobutungi, “that Africa will not achieve its dream of economic and social empowerment by continuing to rely on international technical expertise.”
“We need to develop our own scientists from home-grown talent who will develop evidence based local solutions that can cascade to the local level and change people’s lives.”
Kenya Spending on R&D
Kenya is in fact Africa’s second biggest spender on research and development at 0.8 per cent of GDP, second only to South Africa who spends 0.85 per cent.
Gross domestic spending on R&D is defined as the total expenditure on R&D carried undertaken by all resident companies, research institutes, university and government laboratories in a country and funded from abroad.
The global research and development expenditure, as a percentage of GDP across 67 countries, was 2.3 per cent in 2020, compared the average in Africa of 0.3 per cent.
Dr Kyobutungi noted however, that most of the research and development funds in Kenya come from foreign donors. For example, the Kenya Medical Research Institute runs a budget of Sh7 billion per year but only Sh1 billion comes from the Treasury, the rest from foreign donors.
Who’s Priorities, Africa’s or Donors?
An additional concern is that that such research is often more aligned to the needs of the donor countries, according to Dr Kyobutungi.
“For instance,” Dr Kyobutngi said, “the priority for donor may be climate change while Kenya is more interested in infectious diseases.”
“Unless African governments step up, we will keep fitting into boxes that have been put up by foreign donors”, said Dr Kyobutungi.
However, also speaking at the APHRC’s 25th anniversary celebrations in Nairobi, Professor Tom Kariuki, head of the Science for Africa Foundation, praised the government.
“For me, the complaints about research being donor-funded,” said Prof Kariuki, “is old fashioned because no one puts a gun on your head to force you to accept donor funds.”
The former head of the APHRC, Professor Alex Ezeh, stated that the economic future of Africa is not in natural resources but in human capital.
“Many times the cost of not dong research is higher than the cost of research,” Prof Ezeh said.
The above comments coming out of the APHRC indicate a need to develop a research and development sector here in Kenya. However, recent moves, from companies such as Google and Visa, suggest that Kenya is already becoming more of a hub for forward-looking products.
Consider reading: ‘Google Opens Product Development Center in Kenya‘ if you are interested.