Showcasing the state of science and research in African countries

November 23, 2022

Patrick Amboka, Leah Mwangi, Sheila Mwero, Julius Sindi and James Odero

An important convening, the Annual Meeting of African Science Academies (AMASA) brings together African academies to share experiences and create a voice for African academies through the showcasing of evidence-based research that can help policymakers put science, technology, and innovation as a front banner for national development. AMASA was initiated in 2005 with the first forum held in Kenya with grant support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation channeled through the US National Academy of Sciences (USNAS).

Because of the high costs associated with AMASA, many African academies have shied away from hosting it. In 2015 when the 10-year Bill and Melinda Gates funding was exhausted, African academies were put to the test to host the meeting independently. The Kenya National Academy of Sciences swept in to successful host the first AMASA void of USNAS funding.

This year, the Kenya National Academy of Sciences will again host AMASA in Nairobi, Kenya on November 28 – 30, 2022. This is in collaboration with the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC) and partners – the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), AfriCenter and the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA).

The 2022 AMASA theme is ‘Strengthening Capacity for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems in Africa’. The choice of the yearly theme is informed by the current major challenges to health systems, economies, and social structures in developing countries and their prevalence across all social economic classes worldwide.

Research capacities of Africa’s universities and research institutes

AMASA’s 2022 theme is against the backdrop of the severe shortages Sub-Saharan Africa continues to experience in well-trained and skilled researchers able to conduct rigorous research with social impact to the continent’s myriad challenges including food security. To maximize the provision of research evidence to inform policy and practice in Africa, there is great need to enhance the research capacity.

In efforts to strengthen the Research and Development (R&D) ecosystem in Africa, APHRC is implementing the Gates Catalyze Impact project that commenced in late 2021. The project aims to build a database of all the universities in Africa that have the capacity to conduct health, agriculture, and financial research, building capacities for universities and research institutes to acquire research grants and conduct required high-level research activities. The project also aims at building the capacity of universities and research institutes in Africa to build institutional mechanisms that support and promote high-level research activities.

Gates Catalyze has a particular focus on Implementation Research (IR) capacities that address the challenges of the know-do gap in real-world settings. IR is an integrated concept that links research and practice to accelerate the development and delivery of approaches be it economic, in public health or agriculture. It is focused on the users of the research and not the production of knowledge. The users may include the teams using quality improvement strategies, managers, executive decision makers, policymakers who need to be informed about particular programs, practitioners who want to be convinced to use evidence-based interventions, and people who need to be influenced to change their behavior or communities who are taking action through the research to improve their health conditions. Well-designed IR can contribute to more effective policies and programs.

R&D strategy in implementation research

African investment in R&D for implementation research is staggering. Many African institutions lack an R&D strategy that has the clarity and agility to realize implementation research aspirations. Instead of R&D serving as the institution’s innovative engine for IR, it ends up being isolated as a priority. Amid a growing gap in IR between institutions with a strong R&D ecosystem and those without, institutions wishing to get ahead and stay ahead in terms of implementation research need a robust R&D strategy.

For an R&D strategy to be robust enough to serve as a blueprint to guide the institution’s IR, different stakeholders need to be involved. For the strategy to deliver genuine value, its role must be woven centrally into the institution’s mission. R&D should help to both deliver and shape IR to reveal strategic options for policy and practice influence.

Continuously holding the African academy’s annual meeting will enable different academies to learn from each other. Through this continuous learning, there will be an increase in the number of African universities and research institutes that capably test, and adopt evidence and innovations generated from health, agriculture, and economics research as global public goods to achieve health impact. This will ultimately result in a strengthened ecosystem for IR in Africa, anchored on a network of highly capacitated academic and research institutions on the continent.