Date: Sun, 14 Feb 1999 14:39:54 -0600 (CST)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: AFRICA: Best and Brightest Head West
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Best and Brightest Head West
By Thalif Deen, IPS, 10 February 1999
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 10 (IPS) - Africa was suffering a continuing "brain drain" of scientists, engineers and technologists while battling poverty, civil trife and endemic diseases - lamented U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan at a meeting here.
"The brain drain of Africa's best and brightest to the industrialised world has increased," he told a panel Tuesday during discussions on the development of science and technology in Africa. "Africa as a whole counts only 20,000 scientists, or 0.36 percent of the world total."
Africa's share in the world's scientific output fell, from 0.5 percent to 0.3 percent, between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s, Annan said..
In Japan, the United States and Europe, there were between two and five scientists and engineers per 1000 population but in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, there was only one scientist or engineer for every 10,000 population, Annan said.
"The evidence is clear: 80 percent of scientific research is concentrated in a handful of industrialised countries," he said.
The meeting Tuesday was organised by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) under the chairmanship of its Director-General Federico Mayor of Spain.
As the world increasingly adapted to the information age, the Secretary-General said, it was clear that science and technology would become ever more important to every country's growth and prosperity. "From the communications industry to the bio- technology field, scientific innovation is the driving force of growth and development," Annan said.
"If Africa is to take part in this progress, nothing less than a transformation in priorities and policies is needed," Annan declared.
According to UNESCO, as many as 30,000 Africans holding Ph.D degrees are living outside the continent. Students able to find overseas employment were leaving Africa for greener pastures, while some of those trained abroad refused to return home.
Meanwhile, poor salaries and bleaker prospects in African universities have forced trained scientists and engineers to move on to civil service jobs or to business and commerce.
"One of the most serious challenges for the science and technology community in Africa is obsolescence," UNESCO said. "Training curricula and science facilities lag far behind those in other parts of the world."
In a report titled "Science and Technology in Africa" released here, UNESCO also said that it was now common in Africa to see science classes with students taking turns to use a handful of microscopes and other instruments, if they even were available. In some cases, students had to pay for essential materials themselves.
Overall government support for research and development in Africa is one of the lowest in the world accounting for about 0.2 percent of gross national product (GNP). Only South Africa and Seychelles spend one percent or more of GNP on research and development. In most industrial nations, investments in science and technology was closer to three percent of GNP, according to UNESCO.
Currently, the Paris-based UN agency is working closely with member states to strengthen existing science and technology capacity in areas that were both appropriate and sustainable.
"And this includes nurturing tools for thought through training in basic and applied science, since Africa's main resource to carry it through the next millennium will be the creativity of its people," UNESCO said.
Annan pointed out that the continent of Africa is blessed with vast mineral wealth, great agricultural capacity, and a rich diversity of animals and plants.
"Yet, as the market value of these commodities declines, the need to add value through scientific and technological refinements will only grow," he said.
Annan argued that by helping Africa develop the necessary knowledge and experise, "we can ensure that Africa itself will reap the benefits of its vast wealth."
Annan also said that if Africa is to redress its shortfall in human resources and scientific progress, it must begin by affording the education of girls and women complete and comprehensive equality.
In a report on Africa released last year, the Secretary-General called on African nations to end their conflicts so that cooperation among them could flourish. "Without peace and stability," he said, "no amount of aid or assistance can make the difference between poverty and prosperity."
UNESCO said that war and armed conflicts have undermined the long-term stability, peace and prosperity of much of the African region. In 1996 alone, it said, 14 of the 53 African countries were afflicted by armed conflicts.
The UNESCO report said that Africa was one of the world's richest regions in terms of natural resources, yet it had seen little of the profits from their exploitation. Of the world's 48 least developed countries (LDCs) - designated the poorest of the poor - 33 were in sub-Saharan Africa. (END/IPS/td/mk)
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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