The NEF Community of Scientists: The African Brain Trust

February 26, 2018

Dr. Yabebal Fantaye and Dr. Amna Abdalla, Co-Chairs of the NEF Community of Scientists on behalf of the NEF Community of Scientists Executive Committee
We would like to read and grow accustomed to news of the following nature in the not so distant future: “​Scientists in Rwanda have published a new breakthrough in quantum computing. Their work has demonstrated the possibility of building general-purpose quantum computers​”; “​The South African led international team claimed that using the recently built Square Kilometre Array ( SKA ) telescope in the Karoo desert in South Africa, they detected a radio signal originating from a nearby star that strongly suggested life outside our solar system​”; “​A Nigerian based research team announced new genetically modified rice seeds that are believed to be effectively starting the new green revolution. Nigeria is now in a position to produce all of its rice needs domestically in the coming decade, saving about $2bn annually from rice import​”.
How do we achieve this vision for Africa? The task is multifaceted but well within reach. To achieve it, first, a resolute commitment by African governments to support cutting-edge research and funding excellence centers in their countries has to be in place. National and continental policies must be conducive enough to create an environment where local brilliant minds are retained and external ones are attracted. These policies should further foster the transfer of basic research, inventions and innovations to technology to form a knowledge-based economy. Last but not least, the public should be well informed to embrace and even demand innovative products and services.
Perhaps a more important role in the scientific transformation of Africa has to be played by the continent’s young brilliant minds. It was in this vein that the Next Einstein Forum (NEF) founded the Community of Scientists (CoS). The NEF CoS, as one of the four pillars of NEF, was created to facilitate a unified African scientific identity, the existence of which would drive a science-backed Africa’s socio-economic transformation, realizing the continent’s potential and bringing it back to the front line of global technological transformation.
The NEF Community of Scientists is a dynamic network of past and present NEF Fellows and Ambassadors, and other leading scientists within Africa and abroad including fellows from the Africa Research Excellence Fund (AREF). The goal is to create a brain-bank by bringing-together and harnessing Africa’s rich pool of young talent to catalyze growth towards a knowledge-led economy. The NEF CoS is the brainchild of the NEF Fellows and Ambassadors after participation in NEF activities in 2017. Such activities included the NEF Fellow tours in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Mauritius, coordinated Africa Science Weeks in 13 African countries and round-table discussions on precision health and energy storage in Rwanda, South Africa and Davos. The community’s vision is to support NEF’s directive to position Africa as a leader in science globally and drive knowledge-based economies locally, by fostering an environment for innovative scientific discoveries. The NEF CoS will be formally launched in March 2018 during the second edition of the Global Gathering in Kigali, Rwanda.
Its objectives include:

  1. Fostering Scientific Excellence
  • Foster scientific collaborations among and between Africa’s brilliant minds and outside the continent
  • Encourage evidence based scientific reporting and assessments through paid consultations and Pan-African projects
  • Participate in developing cutting-edge and innovative STEM education
  • Acknowledge and give visibility to young and talented African scientists
  • Maintain a respected scientific journal
  1. Mentoring and Public Outreach
  • Inspire young Africans to pursue career in STEM
  • Identify and mentor forward-thinking and advanced young scientific minds in Africa
  • Encourage and support more women to join STEM fields and the ones joined to stay in the field
  • Facilitate the integration of scientific thinking into society through various activities and events
  1. Policy Advocacy
  • Influence policy makers, institutional and industry leaders using research and innovation as well as policy consultations
  • Organize roundtables across Africa on key topics to bring together researchers and innovators with government , business and other stakeholders

The NEF CoS has selected six executive members to direct its activities during its soft launch in Kigali at the NEF meeting in September 2017.
Meanwhile, Africa continues to produce innovations that are slowly changing the world, making it a better place. Recently South African inventors produced a revolutionary plastic heart valve that can replace open heart surgery and is thus poised to save millions of lives. A Cameroonian engineer Arthur Zang invented Cardiopad, a 4 touch screen medical tablet which can be used as a classical electrocardiogram (ECG) device. Using this invention health workers can make ECG reading at remote, rural locations and send the results to heart specialists far away. Arthur will present his work at the NEF Global Gathering 2018. A Kenyan researcher Alex Chika Ezeh produced critical information for sustainable development in Africa in an extensive population demographic, health and education study. Such examples demonstrate that African scientists have much to offer. The NEF CoS provides a platform to empower African minds to help solve some of Africa’s biggest challenges. We sincerely hope that you will join us in this endeavour!