Contributing to a better understanding of science advice in Africa

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13th August 2020

Prof. Dr. Madiagne DIALLO

INGSA-Africa, Steering Committee member

Director of Scientific Animation of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council of Senegal

Dpt. Industrial Engineering, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Globalization has made decision-making processes at country level more complex and requires a strengthening of the skills of decision-makers. The Davos Forum, the G7, G20, TICAD, Africa China Summit, ACP EU, OIC Summit, Climate Change Summit, the Paris Club are all forums where are made decisions that influence and affect policies from developing countries. Unfortunately, the decision-makers in these countries are not sufficiently equipped to integrate the technical and scientific dimensions which define themselves as a constricted and interdependent world, which is built on the new data of our technical and scientific civilization[i].

Governments of underdeveloped countries face multiple and diverse challenges that require not only a good grasp of the use of evidence and scientific knowledge, but also effective coordination at regional and sub-regional levels for internal mechanisms in informed decision making.

As much as development thinking and strategies at the level of industrialized countries are supported and maintained at the level of knowledge societies, in countries with weak economies, decisions are made which destroy all planning efforts. In many cases, these states lack effective mechanisms for obtaining relevant and impartial information that reflects the real state of knowledge, despite the timid existence of knowledge societies.

This may be compounded in the case of countries with relatively small and / or underfunded scientific communities or public service organizations that prepare and research evidence for public policy development.

In Europe and in developed countries, think tanks have played an important role in defining the strategies of donors and decision-makers. While in developing countries, states ignore the role of think tanks as think tanks for political brains.

However, soon after independence, in the 1950s to 1970s in Africa in particular, most of the newly independent states created consultative constitutional institutions, called the Economic and Social Council (CES), to help governments define national economic and social policies. To this end, all national development plans were submitted to the CES for technical advice.

Through these structures, attempts at sub-regional collaboration are very often noted to provide answers to current scientific questions. For example, on July 1, 2015, was held in Dakar, the joint seminar organized by the Union of Economic and Social Councils and Similar Institutions of Africa (UCESA) and the Union of Economic and Social Councils and Similar institutions of member states and governments of the Francophonie (UCESIF), on “the challenges of climate change, responses and funding to support the mitigation of global warming and the adaptation of economies”. Months before the seminar, UCESIF, elaborated and distributed to all state members a very detailed guide for Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) indicators planning at state level. It is useful to underline that the UCESA represents the African continent in the Board of Directors of AICESIS (International Association of Economic and Social Councils and Similar Institutions). It is also important to note that CES exists within the African Union (Economic, Social and Cultural Council - ECOSOCC). Globally, the United Nations also has its United Nations Economic and Social Council - UNESC. This gives the measure of the importance of the technico scientific preparation of the strategic decision-making.

The International Network for Scientific Advice to Governments (INGSA) and other organizations (eg UNESCO) have started to explore how different national science systems, including in developed countries, are designed to provide advice to public authorities.

The surprising and violent appearance of the covid19 pandemic in March 2020 ended up revealing, among other fragility in underdeveloped countries, that of Scientific Diplomacy, the main support of the Scientific Council in such frameworks of figures.

With regard to the Academies of Sciences, their essential mission, indicated in their statutes, is to assist and advise their respective State as well as the public and private institutions of their country in the framework of the definition and the implementation of the Policy National Science and Technology.

By virtue of this posture, affirmed by their numerous works and events, the national academies remain a decisive support for any action to promote scientific advice to governments.

The Network of African Science Academies (NSAC) and the InterAcademy Partnership (science, health, policy), subsets of the ISC membership, in their programs and partnerships, target STI in priority areas, while addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Here, the international partnership projects seek capacity building for its membership and scientists-policy maker workshops aimed at fitting science into policy.

Despite everything, a clear lack of evidence-based studies of a sub-regional nature emerges given the complexity of the similar problems faced by countries sharing boundaries.

Opportunities therefore arise to promote active collaboration with the multisectoral and multidisciplinary convergence constituted by the sub-regional advisory bodies to assist in decision-making and to make them a valuable lever for the transmission of scientific information, with a view to inform government decisions as a whole.

As the primacy of Community law over that of the Member States has been established, it is well suited for the sub-regional advisory bodies to assist in decision-making, to take into account technical and scientific knowledge in the formulation of their recommendations for management of member states. The objective is to make the implementation of public policies an action of very high precision having a measurable impact on the well-being of populations.

Out of CES and Science Academies that are the formal institutional Science Advice bodies, there exists other science advice types. The legal status of each science advice type is important for the beneficiary / enquirer of the advice. Individual consultants and consultancy firms / groups may exist under laws / decrees governing non-governmental organizations while research institutes and universities may exist under executive orders / laws. Advisory bodies and ad hoc technical experts groups are created by regional / sub-regional organizations to work with consultants as may be necessary.



  1. The case of COVID19 Pandemic in Africa :

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the responses of the scientific and diplomatic communities have been very different. While world leaders have closed borders and adopted unilateral, uncoordinated and even aggressive measures to defend national interests, scientists, on the other hand, have engaged in unprecedented global collaboration to defeat the new coronavirus together.

In Africa, despite the many research structures (universities, research centers, research institutes, etc.) working on different development sectors, there is a notable lack of a formal liaison mechanism to facilitate exchanges between scientific communities and advisory institutions and/or those responsible for formulating public policy.

In this covid19 pandemic, the diversity and acuteness of the challenges facing African governments require not only a good mastery of the use of scientific evidence and knowledge, but also effective coordination at national, regional and sub-regional levels to develop internal mechanisms for informed decision-making.

This is compounded by the fact that many African countries have underfunded their scientific communities to discover evidence-based information for public policy development. Even more aggravating is the fact that each country has its system sometimes very correlated to the system of the former colony.

Despite the slow arrival and evolution of covid19, the 1.2 billion people living in Africa are at risk; this will remain so until an effective vaccine is available.

In the absence of reliable health care and effective vaccines, national efforts should be focused on developing and implementing robust prevention and control programs to mitigate against the infection[ii]. In Africa, epidemics are not uncommon, with the advantage of acquired experiences in responding to infectious diseases.  However, the impact of covid19 globally and in communities is at a higher level compared to previous epidemics. This requires innovative response mechanisms targeting all levels of Government and society. The mechanisms will take into account the social and political realities and will address the shortfalls in political decision-making based on scientific evidence.

  1. Some national cases
  1. Cameroon
    1. Study on the Economy of Research in Cameroon requested and conducted by the Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation, 2014 : "to optimize the tools and actions of scientific research in the service of economic development of Cameroon, aiming to enable scientists to contribute to position Cameroon as an emergent economy by 2035" ;
    2. Contingency Plans (CP) with Emergency Response Exercises for Biological Invasions in Cameroon requested and conducted by the Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development, 2016, to produce a manual that (a) outlines a systematic risk-based contingency planning process to ensure a timely, efficient and objective and effective response to new introduced species incursions; (b) to formulate emergency response exercises that will help ensure that responsible organizations have the capacity to respond to new introduced species incursions unpredictable in time and space.
    3. Recent Advances in Onchocerciasis Research and Implications for Control, conducted in accordance with Government demand by Cameroon Academy of Sciences and InterAcademy Council (2013-2015) ;
    4. Elements for a National Biotechnology Policy framework for Cameroon, requested by government and conducted by Cameroon Academy of Science, 2015.

b. Ghana 

    1. Education for National Development[iii], conducted in accordance with Government demand by Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2019 ;
    2. Harnessing Science for Development of Medicines : Challenges for Ghana in the Global Matrix conducted in accordance with Government demand by Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2015 ;

c. Nigeria 

    1. The Nigeria Academy of Science Sharing the future of researchers in developing countries[iv], conducted by Nigerian Academy of Sciences, 2019;
    2. Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) Bridging the Gaps, conducted in accordance with Government demand by Nigerian Academy of Sciences, 2019;

d. Senegal

    1. Recent Advances in Spectroscopic Methods: Applications in Industry and Agriculture[v], conducted in accordance with Government demand by Academy of Sciences and Techniques of Senegal, 2020 ;
    2. National Consultation on « The Importance of Advancing Ocean Science and the Need to Better Integrate Knowledge into Decision Making in Africa[vi]», conducted in accordance with  Government demand by Academy of Sciences and Techniques of Senegal, 2019 ;
    3. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs): state of the art, challenges and prospects in Senegal [vii], requested and conducted in accordance with  Government demand by Academy of Sciences and Techniques of Senegal, 2019 ;
    4. Land in Senegal: Inventory and Prospects for the Modernization of Agriculture[viii], conducted in accordance with Government demand by Academy of Sciences and Techniques of Senegal, 2017 ;

e. Rwanda 

    1. The past, present and future of medicine and life sciences in Rwanda: New lenses to the vision 2050[ix], conducted in accordance with Government demand by Rwanda Academy of Science, 2019[x] ;

f. Brazil

    1. Rio de Janeiro city Master Plan revision[xi] guided by 9 strategic studies[xii], requested by City Major and Estate Legislative Assembly and conducted by Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro :
      1. Barra da Tijuca: vector of extension of the City of Rio;
      2. Sustainable Mobility in the City of Rio;
      3. Urban landmarks in the City of Rio: a state of the art;
      4. Master Plans for the City of Rio: the state of the art;
      5. Planning and distribution of Health Unique System beds;
      6. Revitalization of urban centers, learning from Business Investiments Districts in the world ;
      7. Estimation of populations in subnormal areas and hydraulic bodies in the City of Rio;
      8. Transportation planning in Rio using Information and Communication Technologies ;
      9. Optimal distribution of schools and public facilities in peripheric areas.

g. Africa Sub-regional cases 

    1. 1er Atelier Régional Africain du Programme Mondial sur les Ecosystèmes des Terres Arides and 2ème Conférence sur le Climat, les Ecosystèmes et les Moyens de Subsistance en Afrique[xiii], resquested by United Nations Environment Program (UN Environment), World Academy of Sciences for Developing Countries, National Foundation of Natural Sciences of China, Chinese Academy of Sciences and conducted by Academy of Sciences and Techniques of Senegal, 2020;
    2. Implementation of Development Account Project on Sustainable Modernization of Agriculture and Rural Transformation (SMART) : Studies on SMART potential and readiness in Africa[xiv], conducted by The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UN-ECA), among others objectives, aiming to identify/select or develop indicators of SMART in Central, Western and Southern Africa ;
    3. A Study to Identify Priority Areas of Investments and Framework and Guidelines for NARI (RAB - R) Contribution to Country Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Programme (CAADP) Process in Central Africa : Republic of Rwanda[xv], conducted by Forum for Agriculture Research in Africa (FARA) with aim to identify priority areas of investments required for Rwanda Agriculture Broad-Research (RAB-R).

Remark : A closer look at these studies, reports and proceedings indicates that the Academies differ in their approaches to evidence – based science advice as compared to government and others organizations approaches. In particular, the convening activities are not the same.

Also it is noted differences in structure, delivery and validation of consultancy reports, quality control of the consultancy on contingency plans was highest among these examples[xvi].


  • Recommendation 1 : Capacity building

promote in a sub-regional character the capacity of advisory institutions in terms of capitalizing the opinion of technico scientists and on the other hand in the scientific treatment of critical sub-regional problems (study benefiting several countries and bringing together sub-regional actors)[xvii] ;

  • Recommendation 2 : Science Advice platforms

create the conditions for the establishment of a sub-regional platform of Science Advice practitioners to Governments, associating schools of national administration, sub-regional academic research institutions such as CODESRIA, CREPOS, CREA, African future, Science Advice Africa, associations of state bodies and public administration executives. This platform could have among other missions to promote a bulletin of strategic analysis of technico scientific prospective on the axes of priorities of the governments;

  • Recommendation 3 : Sub-regional and Regional studies

promote studies on the challenges faced by countries in the same sub-region and above all based on the priority axes defined in the strategic development plans being implemented in these countries;

  1. Example: in West Africa, youth represent more than 60% of the populations in each country. Unemployment and underemployment are evils that plague economies. Thus the employability of young people is one of the main priorities of political regimes. On the other hand, the issue of making women play a leading role in wealth creation remains unresolved. To these two problems can be added the very negative impacts of climate change in a coastal African sub-region, overlooking the Atlantic, as well as those related to migration issues which are also impacts of unemployment to be analyzed from a perspective under regional.
  • Recommendation 4: COVID19 and emerging infectious diseases

Promote regional clusters to analyze the successes and failures of scientific councils and coordination measures of the response against covid19, as well as to evaluate limits of traditional national and community public policy instruments to address global threats, including whenever measures that involve geopolitical ramifications are concerned. This could be done by engaging and sensitizing target groups composed by Government, Parliamentarians, Civil Societies, Enforcement Agencies, Youths, Women, Children and Vulnerable Groups to develop evidence-based prevention and control policies based on socio-political and socio-cultural realities. To this end, through lessons learned throughout the crisis and previous epidemics, the multidisciplinary and multi-sector teams will share their vision of how to bring science, technology, health, education, economy, diplomacy and the environment to meet the challenges of current and future national or cross-border emerging situations, including local emerging infectious diseases ;

  • Recommendation 5: Communication

develop specific programs that provide to scientists appropriate communication skills/experiences to interact with national/international politicians and the public by publishing science diplomacy related articles in foreign affairs journals to indicate « importance of science in international affairs » and improve science culture by interaction of senior/credible scientists (national/international) with state chiefs of under-developping countries ;

  • Recommendation 6: Competition

encourage competitions that are necessary to handle global challenges in food security, energy need, climate change, infectious diseases ;

  • Recommendation 7: Education
    1. prioritize strongly educational and professional development on STI in higher education and professional development to satisfy economic development needs and major goals of science diplomacy[xviii]. « Unfortunately, in some developing countries (many in West and Central Africa), higher education is separate from research (e.g. Cameroon). Higher education is « buffer zone between high school and labour force entry » instead of providing facilities to develop relevant skills for modern workplace, innovation and job creation »[xix];
    2. create centers of excellence focusing on science - policy interface. Any « discourse on science diplomacy should not only be based on emotions but be based mainly on research to see whether it is efficient ».



Nowadays, science advice comes from multiple sources whether at the level of government or regional/sub-regional organizations. Advice from Economic, Social and Environmental Councils as well as from Science Academies are most rigorous and mainly directed at policymakers at the level of governments. Regional/sub-regional organizations seek advice from a combination of consultants, advisory bodies and ad hoc technical expert groups. There is potential that evidence – based science advice will grow in under-developing countries.

[i] Andre Beaufre, Dissuasion et stratégie 1964, P111

[ii] World  Health  Organization.  Key  facts  from JMP 2015 report. 2015 ( water_sanitation_health/ publications/JMP - 2015 – key facts - en  - rev


[iv] The Nigeria Academy of Science Sharing the future of researchers in developing countries,










[xiv] Identifying opportunities for climate-smart agriculture investments in Africa,

[xv] AFRICA AGRICULTURE STATUS REPORT 2016 : Progress towards Agricultural Transformation in Africa ;

[xvi] IAC. 2015. Enhancing the Capacity of African Science Academies: The Final Evaluation of ASADI. Pp. 111

[xvii] EU Horizon 2020. The Madrid Declaration on Science Diplomacy. 2019. 1.9 Public.S4D4C : Using Science for/in Diplomacy for addressing Global challenges.


[xviii] Colglazier E.W. and Lyons E.E. 2014. The United States Looks to the global Science, Technology and Innovation. Science & Diplomacy 3(3).


[xix] NRC. 2012. US and International Perspectives on Global Science Policy and Science Diplomacy : Report of a Workshop, Washington DC : the National Academies Press.