Young Scientists

Axel Ngonga: "There are opportunities to work with Africa"

Who are you?

My name is Axel Ngonga. I am a professor of computer science at the University of Paderborn in Germany.

Why do you attend the YASE meeting?

First of all, I am an African scientist working in Europe. One of my basic questions is "how can I collaborate with Africa while being in Europe?" There was a discussion about collaboration between the diaspora and Africa. And I wanted to know what the methods and means are to collaborate with Africa. But another question was: "Who are the scientists in Europe who are interested in what I do, and who are of African origin?" This networking and collaboration aspect is very important to me.

Do you have any particular motivation to return working in Africa?

Of course, Africa has many talents, many hidden geniuses and it would be very interesting to work with them. The current problem is resources. Without resources there is no way in. For the research I do, in Big Data and in artificial intelligence, we need many computers to be able to calculate with all the data we use. It is not possible, if you don't have the resources, to go back to Africa.

What do you take from this conference?

There are real opportunities to collaborate with Africa. It seems that there are African organisations and networks, run by Africans, that are trying to make collaboration between Europe and Africa possible. Everyone has realized that we need to change a lot of things in Africa, that we need to change the way we do research in Africa, the type of research we do in Africa, to attract back scholars from the diaspora. These are rather colossal challenges, and we have to get to work on creating these tracks to be able to get back in.

Do you feel that African countries have the will to create the conditions for your return?

That's a very difficult question, because it's really difficult to know what the wishes are. From a subjective point of view, I think there are countries that really want people to come home. But the problem is also to create an environment in which you can do your research, an environment in which you can be competitive internationally. The will is there in some countries, but the means do not seem to be there. Or the will to transform this will into something concrete. And without a concrete plan, without concrete resources, to do the work you want to do, it's rather difficult to get back. But it looks like the will is starting to come and I hope it will really turn into something practical.

Is it a dream to work in Africa?

My dream is to see Africa working. That's right. Do I dream to work in Africa? As a scientist I believe I can work anywhere. I want to work with Africans anyway, I try to. But my dream is really to see Africa transforming itself into a research hub.

What is required for that to happen?

It can be quantified quite well: Africa needs to transform about 5% of its GDRP into a research asset. Right now we're at 0.2%, if I'm not mistaken. It's pretty simple.

Interview by Jean-Bruno Tagne

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