In The Field

AU summit: a good night for science

After close to 12 hours of discussion delegates emerged at midnight on 30 January with some decisions. The scientists, according to the AU’s commissioner for science Nagia Essayed, ended up with a result better than they might have expected.

Summiteers also pledged to move ahead with a merger of the two intellectual-property organizations that separately serve Anglophone and Francophone countries in the AU. The new organization will be called the Pan African Intellectual Property Organization. Setting this up is likely to prove complicated in practice, but doing so is necessary for an Africa-wide consensus on IP, which is independent of the politics of France and Britain.

There was also agreement on a 20-year strategy for biotechnology, new diplomatic-style passports for scientists that wll allow them to travel throughout the continent without visa restrictions. 2007, moreover, has been designated as Africa’s year for innovations.

Less certain at this stage is the verdict on a planned new strategy for biosafety, which had financial backing from Germany. The biosafety strategy (if implemented) will have AU countries enforce the world’s toughest biosafety regulatory regime, which will go beyond the regulations of the UN Cartagena Protocol.

Two issues that failed to make it this time were the Africa-wide science fund, and a planned new council of heads of state to oversee AU decisions in science and technology. Essayed says she is not about to drop the ball on both of these issues just yet.

All-in-all, not a bad night for science.

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