ECOWAS Policy on Science and Technology (ECOPOST)
This article relies largely or entirely on a single source. (September 2017)
In 2011, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopted a Policy on Science and Technology (ECOPOST).
An integral part of Vision 2020
ECOPOST is an integral part of the subregion's development blueprint to 2020, entitled Vision 2020. Vision 2020 proposes a road map for improving governance, accelerating economic and monetary integration and fostering public–private partnerships. It endorses the planned harmonization of investment laws in West Africa and suggests pursuing ‘with vigour’ the creation of a regional investment promotion agency. Countries are urged to promote efficient, viable small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and to expose traditional agriculture to modern technology, entrepreneurship and innovation, in order to improve productivity.
A framework for national policies
ECOPOST provides a framework for member states wishing to improve – or elaborate for the first time – their own national policies and action plans for science, technology and innovation. Importantly, ECOPOST includes a mechanism for monitoring and evaluating the policy’s implementation, an aspect often overlooked.
Nor does it neglect funding. It proposes creating a solidarity fund which would be managed by a directorate within ECOWAS to help countries fund investment in key institutions and improve education and training; the fund would also be used to attract foreign direct investment. As of early 2015, the fund had not yet been established.
The regional policy advocates the development of a science culture in all sectors of society, including through science popularization, the dissemination of research results in local and international journals, the commercialization of research results, greater technology transfer, intellectual property protection, stronger university–industry ties and the enhancement of traditional knowledge.
ECOPOST encourages countries inter alia to:
- raise gross domestic expenditure on research and development (GERD) to 1% of GDP, as recommended by the African Union in 2003; in 2013, research intensity averaged 0.3% in West Africa;
- define their own research priorities, so that researchers are working on topics of national interest rather than those proposed by donors;
- create a national S&T fund which would allocate funds to research projects on a competitive basis;
- establish science and innovation prizes;
- define a harmonized regional status for researchers;
- put in place a national fund for local innovators which would also help them protect their intellectual property rights;
- adapt university curricula to local industrial needs;
- develop small research and training units in key industrial fields, such as lasers, fibre optics, biotechnology, composite materials and pharmaceuticals;
- equip research laboratories, including with information and communication technologies;
- establish science and technology parks and business incubators;
- help companies specializing in electronics to set up business in their country and develop the use of satellites and remote sensing for telecommunications, environmental monitoring, climatology, meteorology, etc.;
- develop a national capacity to manufacture computer hardware and design software;
- facilitate the spread of modern information technology infrastructure to foster teaching, training and research;
- incite the private sector to finance research and technology through tax incentives and related measures;
- create networks between universities, research institutions and industry to promote collaboration;
- foster clean, sustainable sources of energy and the development of local construction materials;
- establish national and regional databases on research and development activities.
Investment in research and development
ECOWAS countries still have a long way to go to reach the African Union’s target of devoting 1% of GDP to gross domestic expenditure on research and development (GERD). Mali comes closest (0.66% in 2010), followed by Senegal (0.54% in 2010), according to the UNESCO Science Report (2015). They are trailed by Ghana (0.38% in 2010), Nigeria and Togo (0.22% in 2007 and 2012 respectively), Burkina Faso (0.20% in 2009), Gambia (0.13% in 2011) and Cabo Verde (0.07% in 2007). The strong economic growth experienced by the subregion in recent years owing to the commodity boom does, of course, make it harder to improve the GERD/GDP ratio, since GDP keeps rising. Several countries have increased their commitment to research in recent years. Mali devoted just 0.25% of GDP to research and development in 2009, for instance, and Senegal has increased its own research intensity from 0.37% in 2008.
Although the government is the main source of GERD, foreign sources contribute a sizeable chunk in Ghana (31%), Senegal (41%) and Burkina Faso (60%). Gambia receives nearly half of its GERD from private non-profit sources.
GERD tends to be spent mainly in either the government or university sectors, depending on the country, although only Ghana and Senegal have provided data for all four performing sectors. These data reveal that the share of GERD performed by the business enterprise sector in these two countries is negligible. This will need to change if the region is to raise its investment in research and development.
It would be hazardous to extrapolate to the entire subregion without recent data for more than seven countries but the available data do suggest a shortage of qualified personnel. Only Senegal stands out, with 361 full-time equivalent researchers per million inhabitants in 2010, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Next come Cabo Verde (51), Burkina Faso (48), Ghana and Nigeria (39), Togo (36) and Mali (32). The data for Nigeria date from 2007, for Cabo Verde from 2011 and, for Togo, from 2012. The world average in 2014 was 176 per million inhabitants.
Despite policies promoting gender equality, women’s participation in research remains low. Cabo Verde, Senegal and Nigeria have some of the best ratios: around one in three (Cabo Verde) and one in four researchers. Concerning the sector of employment, the surprise comes from Mali, where half (49%) of researchers were working in the business enterprise sector in 2010, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
Impact of science and technology in West Africa
The agriculture sector suffers from chronic underinvestment in West Africa. By 2010, only Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Senegal had raised public expenditure to 10% of GDP, the target fixed by the Maputo Declaration (2003). Gambia, Ghana and Togo were on the threshold of reaching this target. Nigeria devoted 6% of GDP to agriculture and the remaining West African countries less than 5%.
Other underdeveloped areas are the water, sanitation and electricity sectors, which hold potential for public–private partnerships. The situation is most urgent in Benin, Ghana, Guinea and Niger, where less than 10% of the population enjoyed improved sanitation in 2011. Although people have greater access to clean water than to sanitation, this basic commodity still eludes more than half of the population in most countries. Access to electricity varies widely, from 13% in Burkina Faso to 72% in Ghana (2011 figures).
Internet penetration has also been slow in West Africa, contrary to mobile phone subscriptions. As of 2013, 5% of the population or less had access to internet in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Sierra Leone and Togo. Only Cabo Verde and Nigeria could provide one in three citizens with internet connections.
Why has the research sector had so little impact on technological progress in West Africa? Apart from obvious factors like underinvestment, this situation has resulted from the relatively low political commitment to science, technology and innovation on the part of individual countries. There is a lack of national research and innovation strategies or policies with a clear definition of measurable targets and the role to be played by each stakeholder; a lack of involvement by private companies in the process of defining national research needs, priorities and programmes; and a lack of institutions devoted to innovation that can make the link between research and development.
The low impact of science and technology in West Africa has also resulted from the differences in education systems, the lack of convergence among research programmes and the low level of exchanges and collaboration between universities and research institutions. The centres of excellence established since 2012 by the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) and within a World Bank project should help to foster collaboration and the dissemination of research results, as well as a greater convergence among research programmes.
In education, the three-tiered degree system (bachelor’s –master’s–PhD) has now been generalized to most West African countries. In the case of WAEMU countries, this is largely thanks to the Support to Higher Education, Science and Technology Project, funded by a grant from the African Development Bank. Between 2008 and 2014, WAEMU invested US$36 million in this reform.
Moves to improve data collection
Countries are being encouraged to work with the ECOWAS Commission to improve data collection. Of the 13 countries which participated in the first phase of the African Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators Initiative (ASTII), just four from ECOWAS countries contributed to ASTII’s first collection of data on research for publication in the African Innovation Outlook (2011): Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal. ASTII was launched in 2007 by the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), in order to improve data collection and analysis in the field of research.
ECOWAS was barely more visible in the second African Innovation Outlook, with just six countries contributing data on research and development out of 19 across the continent: Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Ghana, Mali, Senegal and Togo. Nigeria was totally absent and only Ghana and Senegal provided a full set of data for all four performance sectors.
Subregional training workshops were organized for countries by ECOWAS in 2013 and 2014 on science, technology and innovation indicators and how to draft research proposals. ECOWAS has taken other steps recently to tackle the lack of technological impact of the research sector. For instance, in 2012, the ministers in charge of research adopted the ECOWAS Research Policy while meeting in Cotonou, in Benin.
- Essegbey, George; Diaby, Nouhou; Konte, Almamy (2015). West Africa. In: UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030 (PDF). Paris: UNESCO Publishing. ISBN 978-92-3-100129-1.
- ECOWAS (2011). ECOWAS Policy for Science and Technology. Economic Community of West African States.
- ECOWAS (2011). Vision 2020: towards a Democratic and Prosperous Society. Economic Community of West African States.
- ONE.org (2013). The Maputo Commitments and the 2014 African Union Year of Agriculture (PDF).
- Planning and Coordinating Agency of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (2011). African Innovation Outlook 2010. Pretoria.
- Planning and Coordinating Agency of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (2014). African Innovation Outlook 2014. Pretoria.