Land of opportunity: the promise of African research

Daniel Nyanganyura, of International Science Council (left), and Quarraisha Abdool-Karim, from University of Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa (right) gave insights about excellent science produced in Africa during the opening plenary of the YASE meeting

The first conference dedicated to young African scientists working in Europe brought together 200 attendants in Toulouse on 6th July 2018. 

« When you think about Africa, do you see it as a burden or an opportunity? »

This question, posed by Alice Matimba of the Wellcome Genome Campus, United-Kingdom, was at the core of the recent Young African Scientists in Europe (YASE) conference, held in Toulouse, France on the sidelines of the EuroScience Open Forum 2018. About 200 young researchers from Africa, most now completing PhDs or post-docs at a European university, gathered to discuss the challenges and opportunities of a research career in Africa.

Keynote speaker Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, of University of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, who spent some time studying in the USA before returning to South Africa to become a world leader in HIV/AIDS research, said that African researchers have a responsibility to use their global training for good.

« Training outside Africa is a privilege, she told the audience. What we do with it matters; we have to be world leaders in researching African issues like HIV. »

Throughout the day’s events, the conference heard from policy-makers, researchers and people working at institutions supporting African research in various ways. The young researchers were exposed to opportunities from academic networks and had many opportunities to meet each other and compare their experiences.

Luc Allemand of Afriscitech.com, who organised the YASE conference, said he hoped that this would be an opportunity for young researcher to make connections with each other and with people who could provide opportunities for further work in Africa.

« This meeting is about getting young Africans doing research in Europe into the same room, discussing their shared challenges and sharing opportunities. We are building a community of researchers excited to return to Africa one day », says Allemand.

Mamadou Kaba Traore of Clermont-Auvergne University told young researchers that they have to build trust and personal relationships with fellow scientists, administrators, and politicians in order to grow their careers and build the infrastructure they need.

Many speakers referred to the importance and value of people in turning Africa into a research powerhouse. There was some discussion of setting up systems and infrastructure, but almost every speaker insisted on the power that researchers from Europe have in shaping African research through their knowledge, their connections and their skills.

« What can you do as a African scientist with European experience?, asks Matimba in considering the opportunities for African scientists to make a difference. Give of your time, and your intellectual capacity. Bring your knowledge of working global research systems and apply it to your understanding of local problems. »

She also stressed the importance of building networks everywhere you can, and giving back as a seasoned researcher. « Mentorship is so important to African research. Be a research champion for Africa and help build sustainable structures. »

Another theme of the day’s discussions was the need to make science work for Africa. Vice-Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research for University Affairs in Egypt, Amr Adly, reminded the audience of the need for research policy to be guided by economic and industry priorities. Similarly, Marie-Monique Rasoazananera, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Madagascar, said that technology is a tool that needs to be properly used for development. « Technology doesn’t belong to anyone, it is a tool, she says. It is always useful, we just need to use it to solve our own problems. »

Ultimately, the day was about the people, the young scientists and the opportunities they have to make a difference in African research. As one panellist put it: « It’s not about the science, it’s about the scientists. They are our greatest resource. »

Paul Kennedy, Science Link for Afriscitech.com


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