Technical excellence without social and political support is not sustainable

on Tuesday, 10 December 2013. Posted in Governance Forum

Dear Colleagues,
Here is our discussion topic for November and December
We have discussed in the past about the new hopeful
Africa in which we are reclaiming the optimism that was so palpable during the
pre-independence and immediate post-independence period but got lost along the
way. In the recent past my organization, the African Center for Global Health
and Social Transformation  (ACHEST) has
been engaged with the African Academies of Science in discussing how African
Scientists can contribute to the Post 2015 Development Agenda.


These discussions affirmed the critical role of the
scientific approach in generating, translating, simplifying and disseminating
knowledge so that it can be used routinely by society and politicians to create
responsive policies, design new ways of doing things, make new products and
make sure that all plans are implemented to scale in a timely manner.  In order for
this to happen we agreed that
scientists need to come down from their ivory towers to engage directly with
communities to jointly identify needs and design appropriate solutions. To have
these solutions designed by scientists and communities to be implemented
however, needs the involvement of politicians to prioritize and allocate the resources
needed for implementation.

These discussions have brought us right back to the role
of techno-professionals whom we criticized in the past for being replete with
knowledge yet remaining passive and aloof in the face of inadequate and poor
quality services delivered to African populations. The question is: are
scientists and techno-professionals in Africa going to become more active in
engaging with their communities as the change agents, a role that we are
advocating now and during the Post 2015 development agenda?

The very fact that African Academies of Science are
convening a meeting in December 2014 dedicated to this topic is very
encouraging. It is also true that a number of universities in Africa have
developed programs that link directly with improving community practices in
farming methods, post-harvest, value addition etc. I have seen young students
show-casing inventions of tools for fetal monitoring in pregnancy and robots
for detecting bombs. Yet there are some gaps: where are the studies on
corruption and how to curb it; gender violence including the enhanced role of
women in the new Africa; on dependency and the extended family system. I invite
you to add to this list.

How can scientists engage with the political class who
are critical to the ability of scientists and society to implement well
researched solutions? In the ideal situation, once a priority has been
identified by researchers and is embraced by the communities i.e. the people,
politicians should fall in line automatically or face the risk of losing votes.
In practice however, politicians in Africa tend to see scientists and academics
as competitors and potential candidates and therefore loath any scientist and
academic who gets close to communities. Further, politicians world over like to
be seen as the leaders and considering that they were elected by the people,
this has some justification. Our perennial key question and challenge is how we
can build synergy between scientists and researchers, communities and the
politicians so that research evidence is routinely converted into implemented
policies, new ways of doing things and other products. I suggest that all the
actors make some movements namely, scientists and researchers become more
aggressive in generating and marketing new knowledge for the benefit of
society; communities demand and use more information and new knowledge and
politicians listen more and cede technical leadership to scientists and
researchers. My experience over the years is that technical excellence which is
not backed by social and political support cannot be sustained.
What do you think?

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