This past week I had the honor of meeting members of various African National Science Academies visiting the UK on the invitation of the Britain’s Royal Society. I was invited to talk about my experiences in the Society’s own MP-Scientist Pairing “Scheme” that I participated in last year. These are high-powered scientists, holding posts in western universities and labs to return to their home countries, giving up the science they loved to become the administrators and bureaucrats that are needed to keep the systems running, in places from South Africa and Kenya to hotspots such as Zimbabwe and Sudan.
In most cases, the delegates were intrigued by what was going on in the UK and with the efforts for to foster engagement between “Western” scientists and those in Africa, as well as between African scientists and their own governments. But they were skeptical that any single solution, especially one coming from Europe rather than generated from within, could apply to the vast and diverse African continent. They were also concerned that any interaction between science and the political system requires considerable interest and demand on the part of the politicians as well as the scientists, a demand that rarely seems forthcoming from African governments.