Field Stories

Building Capacity for Science, Technology and Innovation: Experience and Role of the African Capacity Building Foundation

Herbert Robinson, Director; Robert Nantchouang, Senior Knowledge Management Expert; Barassou Diawara, Knowledge Management Expert, Knowledge and Learning Department, The African Capacity Building Foundation, Zimbabwe

At a time when African countries are implementing the post-2015 development agenda and Agenda 2063 First-Year Implementation Plan, the role of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in achieving the set targets and goals cannot be overemphasized. For instance, Agenda 2063 recognizes STI as one of the major drivers and enablers for achieving development goals of the African Union and its Member States. To support the implementation of the Agenda, African countries have adopted a 10-year Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024) which is part of the long-term people centered AU Agenda underpinned by STI necessary for achieving the continental sustainable development goals (SDGs).

As a Specialized Agency of the African Union for Capacity Development, the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) contributes to the African agenda on STI in various ways. Since its establishment in 1991 for and by African countries and their partners, the ACBF has been building human and institutional capacity with a vision to see “Africa capable of achieving its own development”. To this end, ACBF has supported capacity development interventions in more than 45 countries and 6 Regional Economic Communities (RECs) as well as the African Union Commission (AUC) and its organs. Given the importance of STI in Africa’s socio-economic transformation, ACBF has supported several interventions on STI and related issues through i) Training programs; ii) knowledge production; and iii) the organizing of platforms for dialogue and coordination of STI capacity development interventions.

Training programs

(1) Supporting the Pan-African Institutes of Science and Technology (AIST) to improve the quality of high education in science and engineering for the economic development of Africa. AIST comprises the African University of Science and Technology (AUST) in Abuja, Nigeria; the International Institute of Water and Environmental Engineering (2iE) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; and the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) in Arusha, Tanzania. The ACBF-supported project aims to build scientific and entrepreneurial skills in life sciences at a pan-African level. With the support of ACBF and other partners, AIST has been providing high quality facilities for graduate and post-doctoral studies and research that has facilitated bridging the gap between research and industrial development through effective technological innovations for the sustainable economic development of the continent. This support entails helping the institutions with adequate capacity to deliver on the training programs while mobilizing resources to support grants (especially for needy but bright girls). The support to the programs also ensures engagement of African governments and the private sector to support the programs for sustainability. With the support of ACBF, several Master’s and PhD students have won various international awards including the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development fellowship with more than 385 peer-reviewed articles published in accredited journals.

(2) Opening of a Computer-Based Training Centre (CBT) in 2018 in Abuja, Nigeria to address technological infrastructure constraints. In order to enhance the capacity of the Public Service Institute of Nigeria (PSIN) to conduct computer-based examinations, ACBF supported the institution with a grant that enabled it to purchase computer equipment and software and expand its 90-seat CBT Centre to 170. Among the training programs offered by PSIN are those in Information and Communication Technology.

Knowledge production[1]

(1) Production of flagship report on STI to support countries’ capacity development interventions in Africa. The 2017 ACBF flagship report, the Africa Capacity Report (ACR) 2017, was on “Building Capacity in Science, Technology and Innovation for Africa’s Transformation” which provides the framework for STI development by focusing on the capacity dimensions in Africa. It examines the status of STI, delving into initiatives, challenges, and capacity gaps for African countries, RECs, the African Union (AU), and nonstate actors to pursue STI-driven economic activities. Among the key findings, the Report shows that 91 percent of the 44 surveyed African countries consider training a High or Very High priority in STI. The Report recommends African governments to make serious commitments to develop human and institutional capacities by investing substantially in high-quality universities, state-of-the-art equipped and maintained laboratories, ICT infrastructure, and research funding mechanisms.

(2) Production of strategic knowledge products to guide STI capacity development interventions related to Agenda 2063. ACBF has published a strategic study, under the request of the African Union Commission, on the Critical Technical Skills required to implement the First 10-Year Plan of Agenda 2063. The study shows that for successful implementation of the first 10 years of the Agenda, there is need to address the critical capacity gaps in science, engineering, medical field, inter alia. For instance, Africa has a current projected gap of over 7.4 million engineers, an estimated gap of 1.8 million water and sanitation specialists and need for around 9.1 million medical doctors by 2023. Africa as a continent has only 144 researchers per million population, compared to 1,027 researchers per million population for the world average. Notably, the continent only has 29% of its research resources dedicated to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and physical sciences. These findings call for attention to the necessity of paying more attention to building the required capacity in STI at the continental level.

Platform for dialogue and coordination of STI capacity development interventions

(1) Stimulating tripartite discussions among key higher education players on how to effectively promote education, science, technology and innovation (ESTI) in Africa. In partnership with the African Union (HRST) and the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), ACBF has been co-organizing for the first Summit of the African Union Committee of 10 Heads of State Championing ESTI (education, science, technology and innovation) in Africa (C10). The objective of the C10 Summit was to set the stage for pursuing the achievement of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the SDGs through Education and STI. So far, ACBF has supported production of country STI case studies in 12 countries including Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, and Zimbabwe. These studies aimed at documenting the experience of the countries covered, with respect to STI and drawing lessons for the other countries.

(2) Promotion of latest knowledge exchange on STI and best practices both at regional and global level. ACBF supported the African Development Bank in organizing the Third Africa Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation, which was held in Cairo, Egypt in February 2018. This provided an important platform to coalesce partnerships in supporting development en-masse and with high quality the requisite technical skills that the continent needs. ACBF is already spearheading these efforts through support to such centers of excellence as the Nelson Mandela African Institutions in Science and Technology (NM-AIST).

Lessons learned: some actions for future STI capacity development programs in Africa

ACBF capacity building interventions during the past 28 years can help to draw some lessons for future programs and projects in Africa. Critical to this is the systematic collection, compilation and augmentation of knowledge and data on STI, as well as its dissemination to the public and key stakeholders. Even more important is the need to document what works, what does not work and why, as well as how to effectively build capacity for STI in Africa.

A key lesson based on ACBF interventions is that capacity development programs and projects must be guided by the principle of patient capital, beneficiary ownership and participation while including at the onset, strategies for capacity retention, utilization, harmonization and sustainability of interventions. Moreover, the key challenge to implementing capacity development initiatives in Africa is financing, which is currently inadequate, unpredictable and unsustainable.

[1] All knowledge products are available online at

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