Attributed to Yacine Djibo, Founder and Executive Director of Speak Up Africa
The role of Science for Africa

The role of science in improving the state of African health and more broadly facilitating the continent’s broader development goals of promoting economic development cannot be underestimated. Science is a critical element of the African Union’s blueprint and master plan for transforming Africa into the global powerhouse of the future – Agenda 2063. Science plays a role in education and skills development as well as building a knowledge economy fit for taking on African and global challenges like tackling the COVID-19 pandemic but also ensuring inclusive growth and sustainable development.

African Voices in Science

Science learning, training and jobs create critical thinkers, improve science literacy, and bring about the next generation of innovators. Yet, despite nearly 17% of the world’s population calling Africa home, its capabilities and opportunities in science is lagging. Most scientific jobs are being performed by non-Africans or outsourced . This does not just affect the future of Africa; it affects the future of the world. Africa represents the youngest and fastest growing population in the world, meaning that there is already a significant need for it to be represented in the scientific community. Such a large proportion of the world must be accounted for in discussions, otherwise global solutions will not truly be global. Furthermore, Africa carries about 25% of the global disease burden[1], making it even more important for Africa to be accounted for during discussions and during research. Only Africans are able to understand the African context, and able to accurately represent it during discussions. Not doing this would create a clear developmental challenge for the continent, and would fail to harness the strong and diverse talent that already exists there.

This weakens the scientific agenda and therefore goes beyond the issue of fairness and equity. Failing to address this disparity means a failure to create scientific innovation that reflects and accounts for the interests and needs of the whole community. Ultimately, how can we ensure scientific developments are relevant if they do not take into consideration the needs of half the population?   

We Need to Act Now

Scientific research is a vital driver of economies. Currently, the African continent’s scientific output represents less than 2.6% of the world’s share[2]. Without investments in research, African economies will be at a continuous economic disadvantage. However, in order to ensure that these needs are met, we need to nurture future generations. An important way to do this, is through encouraging and inspiring young people. One way we try to do this is through the Africa Young Innovators for Health Award, which is an investment in Africa’s promising young entrepreneurs in healthcare. Through these awards, young people will be given funding and mentorship, which we hope will encourage innovation and passion for science.

Amplifying credible African scientific voices to share accurate information benefits us all, particularly in the wake of COVID-19. Misinformation can be rife, and by listening to exports we can shift the narrative on COVID-19 while also reinforcing the importance of investing in these sectors. That is why Speak Up Africa has recently launched the African Voices of Science initiative to promote access to reliable evidence and information, particularly in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. Through this platform, trusted African science leaders and health experts – including several female changemakers – will share reliable information with African populations. The program will address a wide range of topics, from COVID-19 vaccine trials to emerging new research about other infectious diseases prevalent in Africa, building trust and building credibility across populations.

Providing such a platform for Africa-led research and development is so important, on not only a local stage, but also on a regional and international scale. By amplifying credible voices who can speak up for research and development and shift the narrative on COVID-19 in Africa, we can reinforce the importance of increased investment in the R&D sector while building trust in health innovation.

The time is now for Governments, the private sector and academia to work together to provide opportunities and support for Africans to be visible in scientific discussions. Not taking this opportunity now means we stand to miss out on one of the biggest opportunities we have, developing strong, resilient knowledge-based economies and societies across Africa that can help overcome the many global and local challenges facing the continent. Through our platform, we hope to be able to do this, and to further champion Africa’s voice in this community.

[1] https://www.who.int/data/gho/data/themes/mortality-and-global-health-estimates

[2] https://en.unesco.org/unescosciencereport

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