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


by John M. Malin, Ph. D.
International Activities Administrator
American Chemical Society

The status of Chemistry on the African Continent

Only two countries in Africa, Egypt and South Africa, are members of IUPAC. There is clearly a need to increase African participation. Prof. Jortner, quoting from an excellent report written for IUPAC by Dr. C.F. Garbers, noted that while Africa includes 62% of the world's developing countries, the distribution of development is not homogeneous. Some 29 of the 51 countries published less than 10 abstracted journal articles in 1996 while Egypt published 2560 in the same year. Among the 45 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, only three produced the great majority of published research articles in chemistry. They were South Africa (1359 abstracts), Nigeria (384) and Kenya (97). No abstracts were cited from five countries and another twenty-one countries produced less than ten abstracts each. Rising university enrollments (mostly in the Arts) and stagnant budgets have caused average per-student expenditures to fall from $6,300 in 1970 to $1,500 by 1988.

Dr. Garbers recommended that if IUPAC wishes to embark on further initiatives, a detailed study should be made of an area which is served by so many agencies. He noted that the Committee on Teaching of Chemistry has new and important initiatives to contribute . He suggested that IUPAC, being active in all fields of chemistry and with extensive expertise in publication, could become involved in the preparation of texts for training and reference in selected fields of importance in developing countries. These might include water quality, human health, food analysis and access to chemical information. Also, the work of CHEMRAWN should be extended to techno-economic analysis of countries and regions to identify potential industrial and market initiatives.

Dr. Garbers noted further that, while neither IUPAC nor UNESCO is a major funding organization, together they have the ability to provide direction-giving inputs. One possible approach is outlined in the recommendations made by the recent report of the IUPAC Task Team of African chemists convened in 1997. The Task Team recommended that IUPAC/UNESCO coordinate a Pan-African chemistry development project, implementing recommendations that will come from a series of five regional workshops. The workshops will involve all African countries, which will be invited to assess the types of support and other inputs necessary. Major funding will be sought from local governments and national and international development agencies.

Dr. Garbers emphasized that there is a tendency to generalize about Africa, yet huge differences exist among countries and institutions. Many uncertainties and deficiencies exist in higher education, which remains elitist and selective in the admission of students. The rising demand for access to higher education is prompting reconsideration of the university's role in Africa. However, the outcome may ultimately be dependent on political decisions by local governments.

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