Nigerian virologist, Professor Oyewale Tomori, in a Nature Careers podcast with Akin Jimoh, chief editor of Nature Africa, shared his thoughts and experiences on the state of science over the past six decades. His assessment of the current state of academic research in his home country and across the continent provides insight into the future of science in Africa with lessons learnt from the past.
Prof Tomori, past president of the Nigerian Academy of Science and a former vice-chancellor of Redeemer’s University in Ede, highlighted the effects of foreign funding; the African brain drain and the contribution of diaspora scientists. He also addressed the necessity for societal changes to attract more women into science.
“If your science doesn’t affect the life of your people, nobody cares about you,” – Prof Oyewale Tomori
Pockets of continental Excellence
Prof Tomori likened Africa to the desert, with it areas of excellence such as South Africa, “maybe Kenya, perhaps Senegal and in the northern parts of Africa, Tunisia, Algeria. But basically, the rest is blank, “he said. “Maybe South Africa is doing better than others, although they do get some foreign support. Not much input from the African governments. But generally that is the situation of science in Africa.
Many good foundations were laid during the colonial era (the Fifties and Sixties), the MRC in Fujairah, in Gambia, Kemri in Kenya, the Uganda Virus Research Institute, the Institut Pasteur set up in Senegal, saw more young people looking further than just farming but stayed in the environments they grew up in.
However, Prof Tomori stressed, things were good then, but when politics entered the fray, science lost its position and everything revolved around oil and money. Health and the science behind it, counted very little, if any.
With the establishment of science academies, professional science associations, groups and foundations, Africa is picking up the pace. The distinguished professor said that science should be relevant to the needs of the people. He also said that many African scientists, of many which are women, are doing excellent research.
The Role Of Young Scientists and Women In The Future
The younger generation is now performing the relevant science, according to Prof Tomori with technology at their disposal. However, he insists, that science should be relevant, not the degree or the prestige, but to adapt science to improve the lives of people.
He is a huge proponent of women in scientific research and is adamant that women should have the same opportunities as men. He refers to the Nigerian Academy of Sciences with a female president and four out of five panelists being women. He was quoted during the podcast that during his decade of studying, women were the best graduates and came out top, ahead of the men.
“We must give kudos to women. They work, get married, have children and take care of the family while still excelling.”
Brain drain or Brain Gain?
The question according to Prof Tomori is how scientists in the diaspora, can contribute to advancing science and research, creating an enabling environment in Africa. He says Africa is still leaking excellence as many African environments are not nurturing the talent and in order to develop capabilities, young people are leaving the continent for greener grass overseas. Africa is known for strikes and protests and to improve science, it is necessary to improve nations and governments on the continent.