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Will the Next Einstein Come From Africa?

  • Alpha Jallow

Senegalese President Macky Sall and Rwandan President Paul Kagame are seen speaking at the opening of the "Next Einstein Forum" in Dakar, March 8, 2016.

Senegalese President Macky Sall and Rwandan President Paul Kagame are seen speaking at the opening of the "Next Einstein Forum" in Dakar, March 8, 2016.

The next Einstein will come from Africa. At least that is the premise of a global gathering of scientists, government representatives and innovators in Senegal this week.

The organizers of the Next Einstein Forum say sub-Saharan Africa currently contributes just one percent of the world's scientific research output. But that, they say, is not for lack of ingenuity, but rather lack of opportunity on the continent.

Senegalese President Macky Sall and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame opened the forum in Dakar with pledges to invest more in scientific education and research.

In recent years, both countries have opened specialized institutions for science, math and technology.

Flavia Schiegel is UNESCO's Under Secretary General for the Natural Sciences. She says brain drain is a problem.

"Well, I think if Africa and African countries, like Senegal or Rwanda explained today, can actually bring a future to young people, the opportunities for good professional careers, I would say these young people either would not leave or they would come back again to be reunited with their families and friends in their home countries," Schiegel said.

FILE - A boy observes a solar eclipse during an event organized by the Sudanese Society for Astronomy and Space Science on the banks of the Nile river in Khartoum Nov. 3, 2013.

FILE - A boy observes a solar eclipse during an event organized by the Sudanese Society for Astronomy and Space Science on the banks of the Nile river in Khartoum Nov. 3, 2013.

Need for basics

Ghanaian researcher Victor Osei, a forum participant, says scientists who remain in Africa encounter daily challenges.

"If you are scientist doing a science project, you obviously need certain things to be available, the least of which might be something probably like electricity. I can't imagine a science research project that has to be stopped because there is no good supply of electricity for instance,” said Osei. “These are all things that when we talk about the enabling environment, we need to think about," he added.

Organizers of the forum say today the continent loses out on about $4 billion each year when Africans go abroad for jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

But the managing director of the Next Einstein Forum, Arun Sharma, says Africa is poised for a scientific boom.

"I think there is also a huge amount of political will which is now coming up, and it's clear that the politicians, not all the politicians but many of the decision makers, are recognizing the necessity for science and technology to be a driver for Africa," he said.

Sharma added that the goal of this week's forum is to showcase the work of young African scientists and help connect them with opportunities for education and funding.

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