Nothing for Us, Without Us: Africa’s youth pledge to adopt a proactive approach to Science, Technology and Innovation policy dialogue and practice
About 50 percent of Africa’s population is below the age of 18, and 15.9 percent of it is between the ages of 18 and 24. Considering these statistics, it is evident that Africa’s youth have the potential to drive its economic and social prosperity in future decades if they assert their influence over key policies and strategies. It is time for Africa’s youth to recognize their demographic advantage and harnesses this vast pool of talent, energies and creativity to realize their full potential.
This is the message that came out of the 5th African Youth Forum for Science and Technology (AYFST) Steering Committee Meeting held from August 9 – 11, 2010 in Ghana. The Ghana National Chapter of the African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS) hosted the three-day meeting in Accra, which is also the symbolic birthplace of AYFST. The meeting attracted members from Benin, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia. The meeting was a follow-up to the 4th AYFST Steering Committee Meeting that was held from July 13 – 16, 2009 in Mombasa, Kenya.
The AYFST Steering Committee members who were present underscored the need for young men and women to take decisive action at local level and engage actively in science and technology discourse. They also pledged to increase the number of research proposals, and participation in innovation competitions from their respective countries in order to drive Africa forward. Speaking during the opening ceremony, Dr. Kevin Urama, Executive Director of ATPS called upon the youth to refrain from being mere critics and instead become constructive analysts with a greater interest in finding solutions and the way forward for Africa’s growth.
Taking the initiative
The Chair of AYFST, Mr. Tennyson Magombo, from Malawi, added his voice to the debate saying “It is time for us, as Africa’s youth to take the initiative over decisions that affect us. We must ask ourselves hard questions such as: What are we doing to shape the future growth of Africa through Science, Technology and Innovation? What is our role in waking this sleeping giant? Are we slowly becoming a generation of sceptics or can we muster the confidence and determination needed to lead Africa out of poverty?”
The Coordinator of AYFST Mr. Marsden Momanyi during his opening remarks called upon the youth to look beyond the limited opportunities that the formal job market offers and to take collective action in pursuing mentorship, training, business incubation and other capacity building activities as well as funding avenues for their ideas. He added that AYFST offers the ideal vehicle for accessing these and other benefits for the youth globally.
He urged them to take the initiative as opposed to waiting with outstretched palms for recognition and ‘power’ to be handed down to them. “As the old African saying goes; the hand that receives is always beneath the hand that gives. This means that young people must perceive themselves as equal partners with something valuable to offer,” he said. He challenged them to be more proactive, show more interest and nurture their ideas and contributions if they have any chance of overturning the status quo and leading the continent out of poverty.
AYFST is amongst the priority programmes of the ATPS Phase VI Strategic Plan (2008 – 2012). In 2009, the Youth Innovation Challenge (Y I CAN) initiative was launched as a flagship programme of AYFST under the Strategic Plan. The Y I CAN programme is designed to build a culture of innovation amongst the youth in Africa through targeted partnerships with researchers, policy makers, private sector and civil society, and through entrepreneurship incubation initiatives. (For more information about the Y I CAN initiative, please refer to:
Members of the AYFST Steering Committee last met on November 27, 2009 in Abuja, Nigeria, to plan for the inaugural award scheme under the newly launched Y I CAN programme. The outcome of that meeting was the 2010 Youth Climate Change Innovation Award. (For more information about the call for concept notes, please refer to:
The aim of this competition is to build the capacity of Africa’s youth in climate change adaptation, mitigation and resilience through science, technology and innovation.
It was noted during discussions that young brilliant and accomplished scientists and innovators seldom receive much recognition in their home countries. It is often only when they receive prestigious international awards, and are celebrated in the West that they are appreciated at home. The 5th AYFST Steering Committee Meeting in Accra acknowledged there is a need to identify, document and celebrate young African Scientists, researchers, innovators, inventors, farmers and entrepreneurs who have made significant achievements in their respective fields of specialization.
The ATPS Phase VI Strategic Plan recognizes Africa’s youth as key stakeholders in its implementation. Therefore one of the main objectives of the meeting was to take stock of progress made by ATPS, two and a half years into the implementation of its Strategic Plan. A collective and objective mid-term review process was undertaken during the meeting and various recommendations made. These recommendations, which are carried in a communiqué that was adopted by the AYFST Steering Committee after the meeting, will go towards revising the priorities and inform various strategies for implementation during the remaining period.
Members lauded the participatory approach that the Network has adopted in prioritizing and evaluating its programmes to continually improve their impact and influence on Africa’s growth. They also welcomed the approach by ATPS to partner with regional bodies such as the AU, AAS , SADC, COMESA, ECOWAS and the ICSU-Africa . They all agreed that collaboration with these institutions would provide opportunities for AYFST to influence high-level policy decisions and inform African leaders on the value that young scientists, innovators, inventors farmers and entrepreneurs can add to Africa’s development.
Members also welcomed the move by ATPS to revive its proposal tournaments for regional and small grants, stating that these grants offer more opportunities for the youth to engage in funded research and innovation projects and activities.
One of the main challenges highlighted during the meeting was in retaining members and sustaining active participation in AYFST activities at the National level. This can be attributed to the transient nature of the youth demographic. As a result, there has been an increase in the rate at which AYFST members are leaving their home countries in search for greener pastures abroad; with some members proceeding for further studies and in search of better jobs, and business opportunities.
The problem of brain drain is typical of many African countries and has been identified as a serious obstacle to Africa’s development. Statistics show that Africa, which has 25 percent of the world’s disease burden, claims only 3 percent of the global health workforce. In Ghana for instance, over 70 percent of the doctors produced from its publicly funded medical schools in 2008 emigrated. However the members chose to view this as an opportunity waiting to be exploited and came up with various strategies aimed at tapping into the human resource base presented by young Africans in Diaspora. According to the members, young Africans living abroad can bring in fresh ideas, knowledge, innovations and entrepreneurial skills gained, and they can share their global perspectives and experiences with their counterparts at home.
Members therefore resolved to open up AYFST membership to young Africans in Diaspora. It was also decided that they should have adequate representation in the AYFST Steering Committee. Members also welcomed the significant improvements made to the ATPS website and gave their commitment to fully utilize the available social media and multimedia facilities to raise global awareness and reach out to their counterparts in Diaspora.
Mr. Symon Mandala from Malawi’s National Commission for Science and Technology praised the strategic move by ATPS to anchor its National Chapters in relevant State Institutions. He said that such a move would not only ensure the long-term sustainability of the Network, but also provide the ownership at local level and the stability needed for a vibrant youth movement for Science, Technology and Innovation to thrive.
During discussions it was noted that Africa plays host to a number of organizations, programmes and initiatives targeting the youth, all of which profess to be acting in their best interest. However, very few of them actively engage the youth in critical decision making processes. Speaking on behalf of the members of the AYFST Steering Committee, Mr. Magombo lauded the decision by ATPS management to actively engage the youth in its mid‐term review process.
He said that this decision was timely and critical in ensuring their stake in shaping the future of science, technology and innovation for Africa’s development was protected. Mr. Magombo thanked ATPS for prioritizing the youth as part of its Strategic Plan and for the subsequent efforts made by the Network over the years, aimed at realizing their potential to be the change agents Africa needs.