I  U  P  A  C

 News & Notices

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

Capacity Building and Research Support in African DCs

Concerned by such circumstances and trends, in 1995, IUPAC strengthened its collaboration with UNESCO to help develop and foster chemistry, with an emphasis on capacity building and research, within the world's developing countries. Initially it was decided to focus on a small number of African countries with a demonstrated capacity to benefit from such an initiative. A twelve-person Task Team, composed of senior chemists from Sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa, was then convened by Dr. C. F. Garbers, a Member of the UNESCO/IUPAC International Chemistry Council. Approximately 40 African government departments and related foreign and international donor and development agencies were approached for information (not all have replied to date). This effort also sought to ensure IUPAC's full cognizance of, and coordination with, ongoing development efforts. An extensive literature search was undertaken and statistics on chemistry and science in Africa were also collected. IUPAC, and the entire world chemistry community, are grateful to Dr. Garbers and the members of the task team for their important contribution.

The first fruits of this ongoing effort was Dr. Garbers' 1997 report on: "Chemistry in Africa's Least Developed Countries: An Overview of Capacity Building and Research Support." The report concurred with the findings of others that the universities of Sub-Saharan Africa are already in crisis and that, without external funding, even the current research effort in most of these universities is not sustainable. Some universities already depend on foreign funds for over 50% of their total budgets, and chemistry research and teaching facilities have already "degenerated beyond belief."

Many national chemistry and science training efforts are limited in scope. Just five of Africa's 51 countries train approximately 76% of all post-secondary students in the natural sciences. Although a few chemistry departments are good, most need significant help in upgrading their facilities, staff and programs. Because of difficulties with maintenance, compatibility, spare parts, etc., previous efforts to provide second-hand scientific equipment from abroad have generally been of only marginal use. North-South scientific collaboration and donor agency financial support have been crucial to developing Africa's growing capacity in chemistry, but such aid has also often fostered economic, cultural and intellectual over-dependence. More regional "South-South" (not "North-South") and "bottom-up" (not "top-down") collaboration is essential.

The Overview also notes many new international efforts to revitalize African universities and increase donor coordination, efforts which IUPAC supports and with which it must coordinate its own future efforts. The participation of so many chemists from DCs at this IUPAC-sponsored International Chemistry Conference, and the unfortunately unrealized desire of so many others to attend, further demonstrates the potential and need for expanded regional cooperation. Such meetings can also help provide a forum for the formal and informal discussions required for its implementation.

The International Council for Chemistry, established by IUPAC and UNESCO, is a significant step in this direction; but IUPAC could greatly expand its work with groups of experts from all stakeholders to elaborate an integrated regional plan for promoting chemistry-for-development, and then seek to define and coordinate the required international and local inputs as part of a single, rational plan. This program's overall goal should be to combine IUPAC/UNESCO/African analyses and planning with donor-community and African capacity building and research support to strengthen chemistry's pervasive role in meeting the needs of government, communities and industry in African countries.

IUPAC and UNESCO, as the preeminent international organizations in their respective fields, could, and in the view of the Task Team should, invite the countries of Africa to conduct needs assessments for chemistry research and teaching at their universities. UNESCO and IUPAC should also help provide them with the human and, if necessary, the financial assistance to do so. IUPAC would review, strengthen and integrate the national reports into an overall regional strategy, one which, as far as possible, links weak departments to stronger institutions in the same or neighboring countries. Special attention should be given to opportunities and proposals for subregional or regional initiatives.

The Task Team proposed that IUPAC ask UNESCO to allocate sufficient financial resources in 1999 to help fund IUPAC-organized regional workshops to study, prioritize and integrate the various subprojects and budgets into a single long-term plan, and to fund other African chemistry-related activities. Thereafter, UNESCO would probably have to solicit the larger amounts of funds needed to implement such a plan from sponsoring governments, both within and outside of the region. IUPAC should appoint a task group of outstanding African chemists to help coordinate such regional initiatives and actions regarding the central issues of capacity building and scientific-professional training infrastructure.

These efforts must also be closely monitored; and IUPAC's commitment to longer-term support must be linked to demonstrable progress. This follows from both the seriousness of the problem and our global approach. If successful, IUPAC's African Chemistry Initiative could be a useful model for similar initiatives in other regions of the developing world. If unsuccessful, limited - perhaps irreplaceable - resources and opportunities will have been squandered.

I, for one, am confident that, with our joint effort and goodwill, this bold initiative in chemistry for the benefit of all mankind will succeed. Indeed, considering mankind's future basic needs, it must succeed.

Back to Introductory Remarks


Home - News and Notices - Symposia/ Conferences - IUPAC Organizations and People
Recommendations - Provisional Recommendations - Divisions - Commissions
Standing Committees - Publications - Links - IUPAC Affiliates
Page last modified 15 December 1998.
Copyright © 1997, 98 International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.

Questions or comments about IUPAC
please contact the Secretariat.
Questions regarding the website
please contact Web Help.