The Academy of Science and Technology of Senegal: an instrument of action and advice to decision makers for the progress of the Nation.
Professor, Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar,
Founding Member, The Academy of Science and Technology of Senegal
It is widely acknowledged that science, technology and innovation are primary catalysts for the socio-economic development of a country. Natural resources and financial capital were the major determinants of development several decades ago but today knowledge and innovative capacity are the key factors stimulating competitiveness, economic growth, and sustainable development.
It is vital for every country to develop economic growth strategies based on knowledge and innovation. In order to successfully meet the challenges of globalization, African countries, in general, and Senegal, in particular, must place science and technology at the heart of their development policy.
The scholar Cheikh Anta Diop recognized the crucial role of knowledge, science and, specifically, for technology in any development policy. He reaffirmed this role in 1974 in Dakar, during the Third Biennial of the Association of East African Scientists: “Let us not forget that knowledge is the only force and the only richness here, and that to coin a phrase from the well-known Professor Lichnerowicz, one can say that the weight of every country is measured by the brains of its researchers and by its scientific bodies.”
As a developing country with a primarily agricultural economy, Senegal is confronted with limited human and material resources in scientific and technological fields, and therefore, has problems incorporating science and technology into its development policies.
The recognition that Senegal and other countries in the region need to better integrate science and technology in their economic development strategies was one motivation among many others that led to the creation of the Academy of Science and Technology of Senegal (ASTS). The integration of science and technology into economic, social, and cultural policies will ensure the well-being of these countries’ populations as they face the challenges of globalization.
History of the Academy of Science and Technology of Senegal
Senegal is home to a number of well-known scientists who contribute to the promotion of scientific excellence and who, in addition, are recognized authorities at both the national level and within international academic societies.
The Academy of Science and Technology of Senegal was created with the intention of capitalizing on this stock of human capital, essential to the scientific and technological advancement of Senegal. The General Assembly that constitutes the ASTS first met on
November 9, 1999. Governmental authorities had agreed to the creation of this institution, and they gave it an official recognition. Envisioned as an academic society and placed under the patronage of the President of the Republic of Senegal, the ASTS has as its mission assistance, consultation, advice, and expertise. The ASTS is currently the only Academy that exists in Senegal.
The opening of the ASTS took place on November 25, 1999, under the chairmanship of the Chief of State, and in the presence of members of the Government, the National Assembly and officials from the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), the Third World Network of Scientific Organizations (TWNSO), and the African Organization for Science and Technology (AFRISTECH).
The annual opening ceremonies of the ASTS are often chaired by the President of Senegal, and include the participation of national and international political and scientific leaders. They are organized around a theme that is independently chosen by the Academy.
Mission of the ASTS
As an independent institution, the ASTS has the following principal objectives:
to assist and advise the Senegalese State (government, public and private institutions) in the definition and implementation of national science and technology policy
to initiate, recommend, and develop programs in the fields of science and technology
to encourage scientific research, and to assist with the promotion and the use of the results of such research
to bestow awards and recognition upon individuals who have made significant advances in their area
to create job opportunities in science for young people and women
to contribute to the development of a culture of science and to a closer connection between science and society
The Membership and Operation of the Academy of Science and Technology of Senegal
The ASTS is composed of permanent members, corresponding members, associate members, honorary members, and emeritus members. In 2005, the Academy had forty-four permanent members who were elected by a merit-based process, four associate members, and fifteen honorary members.
The ASTS is composed of the following deliberative bodies:
The General Assembly, which includes regular members and associate members
Sections that are chaired by a Vice President. The three main sections are: Science and Technology, Health Science, and Agricultural Science. A fourth section, Economics and Social Sciences, is in the process of being created. The current statutes allow for a maximum of twenty members in each section
The Executive Office, which is composed of a President, three Vice Presidents (the Chairmen of the sections), a Permanent Secretary, an Assistant Secretary, a Treasurer, an Assistant Treasurer, four members of the Academy, and the immediate outgoing President
The ASTS is an institution that was created very recently, in 1999. While its young age could be a constraint at a practical level (budget, real estate), it also presents a challenge in terms of the composition of the institution and its function. Compared to more established academies, the ASTS is composed of members who are relatively young: thirty-three of the forty-four members are still active professionally (not retired).
Furthermore, in addition to their scientific activities, several members of the ASTS have had or still have significant political responsibilities: serving as ministers; advisers to the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, or ministers of government; and deans of universities. These outside responsibilities, combined with the objectives and independence that are fundamental to the operation of the Academy, are likely to facilitate dialogue between Academy members and political decision makers. As a result, the scientific opinions that are produced by the Academy through studies (which are either requested by decision makers or initiated by the Academy itself) are generally respected by the political authorities who will then be able to take them into account at the time of a decision.
Activities of the Academy of Science and Technology of Senegal
Since its creation, the ASTS has carried out a number of activities to provide scientifically based advice to decision makers and to strengthen the contribution of science to sustainable development. These activities include: annual opening ceremonies, public lectures, scientific seminars, national and international conferences, studies and inquiries that are both requested and self-initiated, and scientific publications.
The annual opening ceremony is one of the Academy’s most important events. It is chaired by the Head of State and held in the presence of the highest authorities in country, the media, and national and international ASTS guests. The theme of the ceremony is chosen by the Academy. The Academy then organizes preliminary reports for the topic. The principle conclusions and recommendations are read in the presence of the President of the Republic, who then responds to the Academy speech. Thus, the opening ceremony is a platform for the ASTS, a place for communication and dialogue between the nation and its decision makers on science and technology topics that are considered a priority by the Academy.
In 2003, the opening ceremony dealt with the topic “Development of Science and Technology Education in Senegal.” The ASTS took advantage of this occasion to draw the attention of the Head of State to the fact that Senegal needs to implement educational policy in the area of science and technology education in order to create a place for Senegal in the knowledge society. Based on these recommendations, the Minister of Education has created a “National Steering Committee for the Development of Science and Technology Education,” with the following objectives:
to survey the current situation of science and technology education in Senegal for every level from pre-school to higher education
to develop a national program for science and technology education
to prepare a national seminar for discussing the above program
to integrate the suggestions of the seminar with the program recommendations to be submitted to the Minister of Education
to implement systems for evaluating the final program
This National Committee continues its work in this area, together with the ASTS.
The ASTS has also organized a scientific meeting on the topic of “Flood Management: The Case of the Town of Saint-Louis.” Due to the recurring floods in Saint-Louis (a city located in northern Senegal, in the delta of the Senegal River), the ASTS decided to send a scientific expedition to Saint-Louis to study the issue. The President of the Republic, concerned about spring flooding in Saint-Louis, asked the ASTS to work with the Minister of Agriculture and Hydraulics and to make concrete recommendations on how to address the problem.
The ASTS held a seminar about the flooding problem in April 2004, allowing a diverse body of individuals to focus on the problem. The seminar attendees included the President of the Republic; concerned ministers; international experts; and members of universities, local communities, and civil society. This seminar resulted in a “Plan of Action for Fighting Floods and for Urban Management,” which was given to the Minister for Agriculture and Hydraulics by the President of the Academy.
The ASTS also organizes public lectures. These lectures are held on a monthly basis, and can be presented by members of the ASTS or by any member of the national or international scientific community. The lectures relate to topics agreed upon by the Academy and the presenters. The lectures are open to the public, to media, and to public and private institutions. Examples of past topics include:
Political Science in Senegal: New Perspectives Offered by the Creation of the Academy of Science and Technology of Senegal
Towards an Energy and Science Policy for the New Partnership for the Development of Africa (NEPAD)
Public Health Policy in Senegal
Mathematics: A Key for Development
Reflections on the Use of Photovoltaic Solar Energy
Can Agricultural Research Answer the Concerns of Agricultural Policy?
Numerical Radiology: Luxury or Necessity for Senegal?
Research: An Invaluable Tool for the Management of Fishery Resources
The Introduction of New Communication and Information Technologies in West Africa
The ASTS also publishes studies. In 2004, the ASTS gave attention to biotechnologies and the potential they may have for sustainable development if applied to strategic sectors. The workshops on this topic resulted in a publication by the ASTS entitled, “Biotechnologies: Potentials, Stakes, and Prospects: The Case of Senegal.” A document entitled “Plan of Action”
is in preparation. This study will be delivered to the political authorities in the form of a national program for the development of biotechnologies.
Due to the universality and rapid evolution of science and technology, it is necessary for the institutions that work for their application and advancement to cooperate. Conducting international relations is one of the most vital activities that the Academy carries out. It is important that the Academy establishes collaborative relationships through exchange of experiences, human resources, information, expertise, and/or through joint projects or scientific exhibitions.
An international dimension is strongly present in the activities of the ASTS. The 1999 inauguration by the President of the Republic was attended by representatives of academies of all continents and symbolized ASTS’s collaborative relationship with international institutions that have similar values and objectives.
The ASTS is a member of several international networks, including:
The Inter Academy Panel (IAP), a network of more than 90 academies worldwide. The ASTS is a member of the Executive Committee of the IAP and leads the Science and Education for Africa program;
NASAC (Network of the Academies of Science of Africa), where the ASTS has been given the responsibility of establishing the Academies of Science in French-speaking Africa; and,
NASIC (Network of the Academies of Science of the Member States of the Organization of the Islamic Conference).
The ASTS cooperates with academies of science and technology in many countries, including France, the United States, Canada, Italy, China, Kenya, and Uganda, as well as with international organizations such as the International Center for Development Research (IDRC) and the Agency for French-Language Universities (AUF). This cooperation is often framed by a signed agreement between the ASTS and these institutions.
In March 2005, with the support of the Inter Academy Panel and with the participation of the Network of the Academies of Science in Africa, the ASTS organized an international symposium on the development of a regional program for Science and Technology Education in Africa. The Senegal Ministry for Education strongly supported and actively participated in this symposium. As a result of this conference, the ASTS has been given the responsibility of coordinating a regional program to implement an “Inquiry Based Science Education” (IBSE) model at elementary schools in Senegal and other parts of Africa.
Above all, the Academy of Science and Technology of Senegal aims to be utilized by decision makers as an instrument of action and advice for the general progress of the nation. In order to
better integrate science and technology in the process of sustainable development in Africa and, more specifically, in Senegal, it is essential that the Academy and its partners implement strategies to make knowledge and information available to the public and to decision makers at the time of policy decisions. For this reason, in 2005 the ASTS developed a strategic plan to fulfill its duty to public authorities, the private sector, and other stakeholders while also preserving its independence, transparency and scientific excellence.
Inondations et Aménagements : le cas de la ville de Saint-Louis. Document de Stratégie de Lutte contre les Inondations et de Gestion Urbaine. Académie des Sciences et Techniques du Sénégal, 2004.
Les biotechnologies : Potentiels, enjeux et perspectives. Le cas du Sénégal. Académie des Sciences et Techniques du Sénégal, 2004.
Rapports d’activités de l’Académie des Sciences et Techniques du Sénégal (2001, 2002, 2003).
Rapport général « Ateliers préparatoires à la Rentrée Solennelle 2003 », Académie des Sciences et Techniques du Sénégal, 2003.
Site web de l’Académie des Sciences et Techniques du Sénégal : www.asts.sn