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IUPAC-AAPAC Joint Meeting on Chemistry in the Development of Africa
Durban, Republic of South Africa, 11 July 1998


Introductory Remarks
IUPAC and Chemistry in Developing Countries

by Prof. Dr. Joshua Jortner
President, IUPAC

The Case of Africa

IUPAC strives towards the globalization of the activities of the world chemistry community for the sake of scientific progress and the service of chemistry. The broadening of the geographical base of IUPAC is imperative, particularly in Africa where currently only Egypt and South Africa are members of the Union. Both countries make central contributions to IUPAC, but this is not enough. I am calling for extensive future participation of African academic and industrial chemistry in the activities of IUPAC. I hope that more African countries will join IUPAC for the sake of the future of the chemical sciences and for chemistry in Africa.

Perhaps it might be useful to provide a few specific examples of what IUPAC has been doing, and could do in the future, in Africa. The African continent is home to 62% of the world's DCs. The distribution of what development there is, is highly non-homogeneous. The same is true of chemistry infrastructure and research. Over half, twenty-nine of Africa's 51 countries; published less than 10 journal articles (national total) in 1996, a year in which Egypt published 2,560 journal articles, conference papers and/or technical reports. Rising university enrollments (mostly in the Arts) and stagnant budgets have caused average per-student subsidies to plunge from $6,300 in 1970 to $1,500 by 1988. Falling staff salaries force potential researchers out of the laboratory into second or third jobs, or to temporary or permanent emigration ("brain drain").

IUPAC can learn much from decades of previous aid programs, their successes and their all too frequent failures. We can learn:

  • The importance of allowing the scientists in the recipient countries themselves to formulate and prioritize their most critical needs.
  • The need to emphasize long-term institution-based capacity, including management and maintenance capacity.
  • The benefits of long-term institutional relationships and linkages, rather than "hit-and-run" short-term studies and assistance contracts.
  • The potential for increased regional and subregional training and research cooperation.
  • The need to increase the recipient institutions' ability to coordinate and integrate multiple donor inputs and to make meaningful strategic management decisions.
  • The need for funds to support preliminary (pre-grant) exploration costs, grant preparation costs, returning (overseas-trained) scientist re-entry grants, etc.

    IUPAC should not try to duplicate the work of others. Even 10 years ago the total annual resources for development-related research was $2 billion; and today the World Bank's expenditures on African training alone amounts to about $100 million a year (about half of which is overseas training). Furthermore, the World Bank, the Association of African Universities (AAU) and the African Finance Ministers already consider research, including chemistry research, an integral part of their new initiative to revitalize African universities. Similarly, the World Bank is already working with 15 African countries (speaking three different languages) to develop a trans-national African Virtual University. So we must always remember, despite our enthusiasm, that IUPAC is neither a funding Agency with an operative infrastructure, nor can it match the massive financing of the World Bank, government agencies and large private donor organizations.

    What then can IUPAC do? It could, and should launch an African initiative which exploits IUPAC's unique strengths, and which helps complement, inform, guide and/or coordinate - but not duplicate or compete with - the work of others. IUPAC's main commitment rests on its large body of chemical research, teaching and management expertise. The top-level expertise of its members is:

  • Voluntary
  • International
  • Non-governmental
  • Politically neutral.

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