Science and Africa's Salvation

Africa is a rich continent -- rich in bio-diversity, rich in mineral resources, rich in precious stones. It is also rich in traditional knowledge, especially knowledge associated with indigenous and medicinal plants.

But Africa is also a poor continent. With roughly 13% of the world's population, it enjoys only 1% of the world's wealth. An estimated 50% of Africa's population lives in poverty and 40% suffer from malnutrition and hunger. Two-thirds of Africa's land is degraded and more than half of its population lives without safe drinking water. Malaria threatens many regions and HIV/AIDS has devastated the youth of many African nations, including Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, where an estimated 25% of adults are afflicted with this deadly disease.

Stark disparities exist not only between Africa and the rest of the world, but between Africa and the rest of the developing world. What accounts for this? There are many political, socioeconomic and environmental factors. Centuries of foreign colonialism followed by decades of homegrown authoritarian governments. A chronic lack of transparency in economic transactions often accompanied by corruption. Unsustainable use of natural resources. Marginal participation in the global economy.

But another, less visible or dramatic factor, is also at work: Africa's woeful shortcomings in science and technology. By almost any measure, African science and technology is in a dismal state: in terms of the miniscule numbers and inadequate skills of its research and technical personnel; the poor and neglected quality of the infrastructure; the low level of instruction in primary and secondary schools; the miserly investments in universities and research institutes.