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Science & Technology

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: L’Afrique veut garder sa matière grise

by Anna Musso

Africa Seeks to Keep its Brain Power

Translated Wednesday 16 March 2016, by Henry Crapo

9 March, 2016

In a meeting that began yesteday, more than 700 persons, researchers, decision-makers, industrialists and heads of state, are tracing a future path for science in Africa, at the Next Einstein Formum, in Dakar, Senegal.

Brain drain, invisible publications, inexistant media coverage, ... in Africa, scientists and their discoveries remain unknown. Nevertheless, their work is very important, and the authors are talented. "African scientists keep too many discoveries in their desk drawers", regrets Rosa Gana Fomban Leke, professor of immunology and parasitology at the University of Yaoundé-1, Cameroun: "One of our obstacles, we don’t have scientific journals of quality in which to publish our important results. And to publish in the international journals is not easy for an unknown African reseearcher who works in a little corner of Africa, unless he has an international collaboration." Not forgetting that the universities don’t have the financial means and structures adequate to support their researchers. There are, however, numerous discoveries. For example, many medicinal African plants have been studied, and used in medical treatment. But they remain unknown on an international scale. Even between neighboring countries, the information does not circulate. This waste of talent is shared by African researchers of high level: "Today there are more African engineers and scientists in the United States than there are on the African continent. 11 milion young sub-Saharian Africans enter the labor market every year, and do not find employment in Africa. It is urgent to change this," denounces Thierry Zomahoun, head of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences. (AIMS).

Thierry Zomahoun, head of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, and of the Next Einstein Forum. — Photo NEF

The first of a series of meetings at the summit

So many reasons for which the director of this great scientific institute, which has trained and launched in their careers students among the most brilliant in Africa, for more than 10 years already, has decided to act on a larger scale by creating the Next Einstein Forum, the first international scientific conference in Africa, which opened yesterday. For three days, more than 500 scientists of international stature, some heads of state, and a half-dozen ministers of research, meet in Dakar, Senegal, in order finally to develop a scientific future for Africa. The event presents 15 laureats of African science, carefully selected, of age 42 or less, and working in all domains, from fundamental biology to mathematics, passing through the revalorisation of trash. From Cameroun, Axel Ngonga, who today directs the Agile Knowledge Engineering and Scientific Web, at the Magistrale? University of Leipzig, in Germany, is one of those selected. Active in research on "Big Data", his future work concerns the creation of intelligent software for organising and using the mass of numerical data produced by enterprises and individuals. Due to a lack of posts on the continent he was obliged to go into exile. But nevertheless, "the semantic web is the future in Africa also", he states. "At this event, I hope to meet people with whom I can discuss the position of present-day Africa in this domain. And with whom we can decide on concrete projects to develop in Africa, where there is a strong potential."

The Next Einstein Forum is announced as the first in a series of summit meetings. The event will take place every two years, with the precise aim of reinforcing teaching and scientific research across the continent, to give prominence to the best young African scientists and to aid development spearheaded by science. The urgent task being, it is clear, to identify the key questions requiring political intervention and investment ... so that Africans may at last find their rightful place in the sciences.

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