Building African research capacities

After the departure of colonial scientific teams between 1962 and 1964, the shortage of scientific staff could not be addressed by appointing competent African scientific personnel.144 The lack of capacity and low numbers of African researchers implied that the first decade of independence coincided with the lowest level of scientific productivity in East Africa.14’ The solution was to approach international donor agencies to drive the research agenda; but as already mentioned, their perspectives were often based on experiences in institutions in the donor countries.

In 1960, the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel invited leaders and scientists from newly independent (and soon-to-be-independent) African countries to the first conference on the role of science in the advancement of the new nations. About 40 countries attended, with 35 representing Africa. The eagerness of African countries was obvious, considering that they intended to forge new directions, at least politically.146 The pace of change for the newly independent African states needed to be decisive, with demonstrable progress in accordance with their political aspirations; but this implied that research and development activities needed to progress at the same pace. Regrettably, in the early years after independence, the weak local economies did not permit funding on the same scale as had been available during the colonial years. Therefore, despite the aspirations on developing African research capacity, reliance on grants and international aid was not enough to accelerate research, contrary to anticipation.147 These views were clearly expressed by Thomas Odhiambo,148 who identified three major weaknesses in the administration of research work in East Africa. The first weakness was the lack of a central body to determine research priorities; the second weakness was limited budgets to support research projects; and the third was the lack of field controls to standardize content of research activities for application in local areas.

In 1964, a symposium on science policy and research administration in Africa was organized by UNESCO in Nairobi—recognizing that research is a multi-disciplinary issue.149 This was followed in 1965 by the establishment in Nairobi of a UN Regional Centre for Science and Technology in Africa, with two goals: the first was to increase training opportunities for the continent’s scientists, and the second was to increase cooperation between research groups across states, using standardized scientific methods and experimental protocols.10 (More details on this are given in Chapter 10.)

By 1967, independent African states were preparing to establish new economic and political directions. The three East Africa countries had begun to pursue different strategies in their development policies.151 For example, under the Arusha Declaration of 1967, Tanzanian socialist policy (under President Julius Nyerere) aimed to expand agricultural development to create self-reliance in food production through peasant farming, thereby breaking with the past. This approach was adopted in spite of the fact that a socialist policy attracted limited international funding from western countries, thus forcing Tanzania to lean towards socialist countries for technical and financial backing.12 Kenya, on the other hand, remained allied to the West and benefited most from multilateral agencies.15 In Uganda political instability undermined progress in research.154 In the end, the imperial science research infrastructure did not adequately address why and how the African environmental crisis influenced development policy. Chapter 4 delves into the origin of the hypothesis of the African environmental crisis and presents some practical experiences from development initiatives in the latter part of the twentieth century. In Chapter 10, we will briefly outline the trajectory of the scientific research for development during the latter periods (1970-1990s) of post-independence.

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