Science and technology helped Western nations achieve their current levels of development, but the same transforming effect is yet to happen in Africa. A key challenge for African countries is to work out how much to invest in science and then how to allocate these investments, says a new paper co-authored by PhD fellow Hugo Confraria.
Africa’s share of global scientific output has clearly improved in the last decade, up from 1.6% in 2004 to 2.6% in 2013. On the one hand, this shows the continent is slowly catching up with the rest of the world. However, progress is far from even, as South Africa and Egypt account for some 50% of scientific output during this period, while the top 10 countries represent 85%.
Our paper, The Impact of African Science: A Bibliometric Analysis, found that African researchers are mainly focusing on agricultural sciences and related areas such as environmental sciences and plant and animal sciences, as well as a number of specific health sciences. We found that high specialisation in health-related sciences such as immunology and microbiology may arise from research work on tropical diseases and specific health problems, the location of international medical research centres on African soil, and the abundance of international cooperation between African researchers and those overseas.
In terms of scientific impact (citations per publication), our study finds Africa as a whole to be approaching the world average. Yet a cluster of mainly East African countries (including Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda) already show above average impact. Possible factors include high specialisation in a few scientific disciplines, high levels of international collaboration, and even the prevalence of English as the main national language.
Despite Africa as a whole being relatively specialised in agricultural sciences, this discipline does not reveal high impact, possibly because international donors give priority to health-related areas. One solution could be for individual countries to seek or extend their partnership agreements with other countries with similar profiles. Creating a scientific comparative advantage in agricultural sciences seems reasonable, given the economic needs of the continent.
There is also a practical impact of investing in science in Africa. As other literature suggests, one of the most powerful instruments for human development is education. Education boosts people’s self-confidence, enabling them to find better jobs, engage in public debate, and make demands on government for health care, social security and other entitlements.
Increasing the existence of good quality academic research is essential for providing up-to-date and qualified training for the next generation of university graduates. It is the excellence of this education that will enable the new professionals to be competent in finding appropriate solutions for problems in their own lives and societies. See the author video and infographic below, or access the full article here.
AUTHOR VIDEO (2.06 minutes)
MEDIA CREDITSFlickr / IRRI, USAA, Gates Foundations, UNICEF Ethiopia