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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

Concluding Remarks, Plans and Proposals for Future Actions

Dr. Abegaz offered plans and proposals for future actions as follows:

Ø Chemists should pledge partnership to each other. Country-specific or regional problems should always be addressed with quality and relevance.

Ø A census should be taken of professional resources in Africa. AAPAC should prepare directories of African scientists and of papers published.

Ø Problems in obtaining access to chemical information need to be solved. The Internet gives access to information but well-stocked libraries provide ownership of the information.

Ø Creative approaches can make scarce instrument resources generally available to African scientists. As an example, NAPRECA can now utilize its FTNMR instrumentation more effectively by sending Free Induction Decay (FID) data directly by e-mail to users for analysis. This allows researchers quicker access to spectra and saves analysis time in the primary instrument facility.

Ø African institutions need to obtain fairer prices when purchasing instrumentation. Vendors normally charge more in Africa than in developed countries.

In his concluding remarks, Prof. Jortner noted that this meeting between AAPAC and IUPAC officials has inspired deep respect for the chemistry community in Africa as it faces difficult problems, even as AAPAC adopts firm commitments and a sense of purpose for the future. He provided the following summary of the central issues, together with several proposals and conclusions.

  1. Human capital development. Plans must be made for human capital development in Africa with the understanding of chemistry as the conceptual foundation of materials science, physics, and biology. Goals, objectives, and programs for education on all levels require long-term strategic plans.
  2. Research at the graduate level. Research in the African University system is necessary and essential. The professional development of young scientists, graduate students, post-docs and beginning faculty members must be a top priority. To help in this area, IUPAC will bring 20 young chemists from developing countries to the Berlin Congress in 1999.
  3. Reduction of braindrain. While scientists should be free to move wherever their interests take them, IUPAC and AAPAC must strongly recommend that the research systems of Africa take initiatives to bring back young, outstanding scientists after their training abroad. Special programs should be instituted to do this, for example a program of research grants of $20,000 - 40,000 over a period of 4-5 years for young scientists who return to Africa. Additional programs should be implemented to foster exchange of personnel in both directions.
  4. Worldwide responsibility. It is the moral responsibility of the entire world chemistry community to join forces to help Africa in building its education and research capabilities at all levels.
  5. Bridging the gap between donors and developing countries. IUPAC might act as an independent, authoritative, non-governmental, politically neutral body to help with management and accountability in the distribution of research funds in Africa. The Union also could contribute its expertise to assist with external review of research proposals.
  6. Regional and International Collaboration. Support must be found for regional cooperation. Intra-African collaboration is often more limited in scope than is collaboration with countries outside Africa, because most financial support for collaboration originates outside the African continent. Development of an electronic African Journal of Chemistry would increase collaboration in Africa and develop worldwide recognition for the chemical sciences on the African continent.
  7. Problems and challenges of the chemical industry in Africa. While it is important to curb pollution, upgrade industrial technology, and facilitate regional and industry-university cooperation, it is also necessary to develop a "green" chemical industry. Environmentally and economically viable industry must be attracted to Africa.
  8. Environmental chemistry. Issues of chemistry and the environment were raised in the conference pertaining to pollution, food, water and health problems. Environmentally benign chemistry solutions will be sought.
  9. Science, society and government in Africa. This issue involves public understanding of science and government science policy. The building of a critical mass of scientific activity and the spreading of the message that chemistry is important for development are crucial. However, while IUPAC's strategic plan (1998) includes the goal of representing the interests of chemistry in governmental and non-governmental forums, IUPAC will not undertake projects involving local governmental policy development. IUPAC can contribute to the representation of the interests of the chemical community of Africa in governmental forums organized through AAPAC-IUPAC collaboration.
  10. Electronic communications. The revolution in electronic scientific communications must be brought to Africa by initially setting up a PC computer network, maintaining its infrastructure, making databases available and organizing training programs to help users.

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