By Tikum Mbah Azonga
This article is an adaptation of an earlier one published in the London-based WEST AFRICA magazine on the 6th of July 1987. I wrote the article after traveling to Congo Brazzaville from London, to attend the first ever International Congress on Science and Technology to be held in Africa.
The congress, held under the theme, `Mobilizing Africa for Development`, opened here in Brazzaville on June 23 with enthusiasm and hope. It brought together about 400 scientists, political and administrative representatives as well as participants from international organizations, under the joint sponsorship of the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as well as the Congolese government.
The one-week congress aimed at looking at how in a fast developing world, Africa can use science and technology to solve the problems threatening its development. Some of the tribulations have been identified as the economic crisis caused by a drop in the value of the dollar, the fall in the prices of export commodities, as well as an increasing foreign debt which appears to have made recourse to donors such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank more of a liability than an asset. Other setbacks recognized include the encroaching desert and the ever present menace of famine.
Congo’s Scientific Research and Environment Minister, Professor Christophe Bourame who chaired the opening ceremony, acquainted delegates with the decisions reached at the preparatory meeting of ministers. Professor Bourame told the audience that due consideration had been given to the UN Plan for the Economic Recovery of Africa, the plan of action regarding the debt situation, as well as the terms of the Monrovia Agreement where the attainment of national and collective food self-sufficiency was made an avowed priority. The professor revealed that it had been realized that the development of African countries depended very much on the countries themselves. The key to that development, he said, lay in the mastery of science and technology. Yet, despite the Lagos Plan of Action, in which the development objectives to be attained by the year 2000 were elaborated, not much had been accomplished yet.
OAU Secretary General Ide Oumarou said the scientific and technological option for tackling Africa’s problems was a “modernization approach” which would get Africa out of the stalemate. This impasse, he noted, was characterized by the meager per capita income of $366 per head in Africa, a figure which was the lowest among the world’s continents. Ide urged African countries to invest more in research and encourage the teaching of science at all levels of education in the various countries. He also challenged delegates to examine the current state of research on the continent, identify its inadequacies and make recommendations, “so that our resources, all our resources may be liberated.”
Ide Oumarou asked African scientists not to reinvent gunpowder, for example, but rather look at how farmers could use local products to improve production. He called on scientists to look at what vegetables and plants were best adapted to our soils, as well as how energy could be produced with available resources in our immediate environment. The OAU secretary general also noted that while Africa was exploding demographically, the food situation on the continent was worsening. Health was another domain he touched on, pointing out that two out of ten children born in Africa died early, while only six survived beyond the age of five. Ide Oumarou called on delegates to seek concrete solutions to the AIDS pandemic which he said had been termed “an African disease, as if an illness was a human being, so sectarian, and so racial.” He asked African scientists not to get drawn into the polemic but to seek solutions to it.
Ide Oumarou called for aid to be replaced by cooperation, although as he also put it, he did not mean that international aid should be excluded. He appealed to delegates to avoid academic debates and said the final resolutions arrived at during the congress must be implemented, otherwise, they might end up as only archive documents.
Unesco Director General Amadou Mahtar M`bow noted that Africa was greatly lagging behind in science and technology. This, he said, could be seen in the poor representation of the continent at the international level. He reaffirmed the support of UNESCO which he said encouraged scientific initiatives at the national and international levels. Mr. M`bow said that at the request of the OAU, UNESCO had prepared a plan of action which it hopes to present soon.
Congolese President and OUA Chairman Denis Sassou Nguesso, started by paying tribute to Cheikh Anta Diop whom he described as an “indefatigable researcher”. The solution to Africa`s problems, he said, depended on the ability of Africans to “transform their environment to their own advantage”, for, “no country has ever had an economic boost without a minimum scientific and technical base”. Fortunately, he said, some countries had realized the importance of science and set up appropriate ministerial departments in those countries. The president regretted that up to 50 per cent of the world’s research resources were devoted to arms acquisition, or as he put it: “to the science of war.” President Sassou Nguesso urged African scientists to share their knowledge, adapt know-how to the African situation and give the rural sector greater attention. Thereupon he declared the congress open and deliberations immediately began under the chairmanship of his Scientific Research and Environment Minister, Professor Christophe Bourame.