Tuesday, April 6, 2010

China to cement grand African research plans

China will flesh out the details of its joint research programme with Africa at a meeting in Beijing this week.
The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), which includes 49 African countries, plans to implement several large-scale science and technology projects across Africa in the next three years (see China sets its sights on African research cooperation).
These include the training of 2,000 Africans in agricultural technology;100 clean-energy projects to tackle climate change and the funding of 100 African postdoctoral students to undertake research in China.
Next week, schedules will be discussed in the hopes of turning these promises into a reality.
"The track record of the Chinese government fulfilling its pledges towards Africa is strong, so I would anticipate the new pledges will be fulfilled," said Jing Gu, a researcher at the non-profit Institute of Development Studies in the United Kingdom.
But others are not so optimistic, questioning whether the collaboration is fair to Africa (see Knowledge for natural resources: a fair exchange?).
"Its real motives are well known: to elbow out all foreign companies and gain access to Africa's resources at cheap prices," said George Ayittey, a Ghanaian economist based in Washington DC, in an online debate sponsored by The Economist magazine in February.
Others question the success of China's past efforts. "China's visibility is very high in trade and business but quite low in science and technology," said Kazhila Chinsembu, a molecular biologist at the University of Namibia. For example, he said, even when African students travel to China to do funded studies "the calibre of such scientists is very low... Most cannot pass local examinations here in African universities".
"In my mind there are a lot of verbal promises but not much action," said Chris Whiteley, an enzymologist at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa.

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