Thursday, May 10, 2007

Research and Technology Use in Africa and the Blame Game

why has the use of technology and research and development in general so limited (in terms of funding, use, and advancement) Africa? Well to answer this question is a presentation from the Minister for Communication, Sciences and Technology, Botswana, Ms Pelomoni Venson-Moitoi. In her presentation at the IST-Africa Conference, she said that in the political and economic scenes in Africa, research plays a minor role, and to the politicians, sometimes (if not all the times) research is seen as a "waste of time". Most of the research policy that has been employed in Africa is based on demographic studies, and always aimed at pleasing the electorate, or at least for the politicians or administrators to advance their own interests. This in most cases has lead to the oversupply of some developments with very short-term effects, and to the neglect of the most important projects that would have long-term and far reaching results.
What this means is that, most research that has been done in Africa, is not documented in Africa, but elsewhere. And the little that is in Africa, is too complex for the average politician to understand as "most of the time the we [politicians] do not know what you [scientists and researchers] are talking about, yet we are embarrassed to admit".
As a remedy, the politicians and the scientists need to talk freely, and without the "arrogance" or the jargon (that is seen as arrogance by either sides) to ensure development for Africa, and the governments in Africa start implementing development programmes informed by research and at the same time funding research. To illustrate this, she said that the problem is no longer one sided or belonging to the political class alone as "the trap is no longer for the mice" (refering to an infamous joke of a farmer trapping a mouse, chicken, pig and cow):
A mouse looked through the crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package. What food might this contain?" The mouse wondered - he was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap.

Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning. There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, "Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it."

The mouse turned to the pig and told him, "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The pig sympathized, but said, "I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Beassured you are in my prayers."

The mouse turned to the cow and said "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The cow said, "Wow, Mr. Mouse. I'm sorry for you, but it's no skin off my nose."

So, the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer’s mousetrap alone.

That very night a sound was heard throughout the house - like the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey. The farmer's wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught. The snake bit the farmer's wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital, and she returned home with a fever.

Everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup's main ingredient.

But his wife's sickness continued, so friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig. The farmer's wife did not get well; she died. So many people came for her
funeral; the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them.

The mouse looked upon it all from his crack in the wall with great sadness.
She further said that what is now needed to move forward the development agenda for Africa forward is a sense of urgency(speed) and commitment and that the legislation in Africa should be developed towards research and development based on research. Core to this is collaboration and sharing in research and research findings. She said, the way science and research is treated in Africa is like witchcraft in the African mythology (which should remain top secret, and should never be document but passed on through word of mouth to selected and trusted few).

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