Africa short of 6m engineers, scientists

By Lloyd Gumbo

HARARE – The African continent is short of more than four million engineers and about 1, 6 million agricultural scientists and researchers, something that has slowed down the continent’s development, an African think-tank, African Capacity Building Foundation, has revealed.

To further complicate matters for the continent, the majority of its experts in various fields principally in science, technology and engineering are taking up employment outside Africa.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki is on record labelling Africa’s brain drain “frightening” amid indications that the continent had lost about 20 000 academics and 10 percent of its highly skilled information technology and finance professionals.

A research carried out by the African Capacity Building Foundation under the banner of the African Capacity Report 2017 revealed that while the majority of African countries had policy frameworks in place for the promotion of Science, Technology and Innovation, the implementation capacity of such policies was very low.

ACBF director for Knowledge and Learning, Dr Thomas Munthali, revealed this during the launch of the ACR 2017 report in Harare, Zimbabwe, last week.

The report themed “Building Capacity in Science, Technology and Innovation for Africa’s Transformation” is hinged on the Sustainable Development Goals, Africa’s Agenda 2063 and the Science, Technology, and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024 (STISA-2024).

“While countries have strategies, further efforts are needed to improve the implementation of STI strategies and capacity development in all African countries,” said Dr Munthali.

“Serious gaps in critical technical skills to implement the Science, Technology, and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024 (STISA-2024).

“In 2015, Africa had around 55 000 engineers but short of 4.3 million engineers; had 82 000 agricultural scientists but short of 1.6 million agricultural scientists and researchers

“Of 44 African countries, 77 percent considered investment in STI capacity as a High or Very High priority capacity need.”

Dr Munthali said Africa’ Science, Technology and Innovation capacity on the global scale was still low with only 12 African countries out of 141 that were surveyed being among the world’s 100 innovation achievers.

Of the 31 Sub Saharan Africa countries surveyed, 30 were in the bottom half of the Networked Readiness Index rankings comprising 141 countries while only five African universities were in the world’s top 500 universities.

Dr Munthali said brain drain had been a major setback for the continent.

For that reason, he said it was important that African specialists who are in the diaspora be allowed to periodically come back to their countries and offer their expertise.

Zimbabwe Economic Policy Analysis and Research Unit (ZEPARU) executive director Dr Gibson Chigumira concurred with Dr Munthali saying just like a number of African countries, Zimbabwe’s institutions of higher learning did not match technological requirements in the industry.

He said lack of resources to promote the sector was one of the major constraints stalling innovation.

“When you look at the national budget, which was earmarked for science and technology including higher and education, it has remained in the range of below eight percent of the total annual budget,” said Dr Chigumira.

“From 2000 to about 2014, it has been hovering within the range of about eight percent of the total budget, which means there was a gap in terms of funding of Science, Technology and Innovation from the public resources.”

Dr Chigumira said to prove that the country was lagging behind in terms of Science, Technology and Innovation, less than 220 scientific articles had been published by Zimbabweans between 2000 and 2013 compared to other countries, such as South Africa that had more than 5 000 published scientific articles over the same                                                                         period.

Zimbabwe’s Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development permanent secretary, Dr Machivenyika Mapuranga hailed the ACBF for coming up with solutions to some of the continent’s challenges.

“The results of the study of the ACBF in building capacity from Science, Technology and Innovation for Africa’s transformation will, if implemented, provide tangible results which shall contribute to better ways and means for sustainable and increased development at country, at regional and continental levels in Africa.

“This will no doubt uplift the livelihoods of beneficiaries by expanding or strengthening the income base and hence contributing to the region’s economies.

“In Africa, implementation of the research findings will go a long way in enhancing governments’ efforts towards the realisation of the African vision,” said Dr Mapuranga.

He said if implemented, Science, Technology and Innovation had the capacity to help African countries combat disasters that have hit most of                                                                         them.

April 2017
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