Initiative Aimed At Boosting Knowledge And Technology-Based Legislation In Africa 17/07/2008 by Wagdy Sawahel for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)By Wagdy Sawahel for Intellectual Property Watch CAIRO – African countries recently approved a plan to set up a parliamentary knowledge network to enhance legislative and institutional capacity for creating science and technology-based legislation including intellectual property rights. But the community of science policymakers is having somewhat mixed reactions. The plan was announced last month during the International Conference entitled “African Parliamentary Knowledge Network – Building together open and learning parliaments in Africa” held in Cairo and attended by African parliament speakers, lawmakers, international parliamentary and information and communication technology (ICT) experts. The 4-5 June conference was hosted by The People’s Assembly of Egypt and organised under the auspices of the pan African Parliament, by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) through its regional initiative “Africa I-Parliaments Action Plan” and its Global Centre for ICT in Parliament. http://www.ictparliament.org “Through this network, modern technology and communication will be consecrated to enhance parliamentary action,” Ahmed Fathi Sorour, chairman of People’s Assembly of Egypt, said at the opening session. “No democracy could be viable in the absence of knowledge and awareness.” African Parliamentary Knowledge Network – Aims and Objectives Ten African countries sanctioned the charter [pdf] and agreed on making Egypt the temporary seat of the African Parliamentary Knowledge Network (APKN) and appointing the Egyptian Parliament as the chair and coordinator of the network’s future activities. APKN aims at promoting and enhancing the collaborative creation and sharing of knowledge, ideas, experiences and good practices among parliamentary administrations in the areas of legislation, information, research and documentation, and information and communications technology. Draft framework of activities here [pdf]. For example, APKN will help in developing skills required to effectively translate policy into legislation, assess legislation, and manage legislative services as well as supporting legislative drafting and the legislative process. It will also deliver capacity building services and software applications to support bill drafting. In addition, it will provide information and research services in support of “evidence-based policy making” for producing effective and forward looking science-based policy. APKN will rely on African parliaments to cooperate voluntarily and on the commitment of a group of African parliamentary leaders to provide political support and guidance until the approval of long and short-term plan of activities. While the UN will provide technical, coordinating and planning support as well as sponsoring the organisation of the APKN annual conference for the network, more financial resources will be identified and plans and schedules will be formulated for subsequent approval. Scientists: Mixed Reaction John Daly, a science and technology consultant, said, “Egypt’s Parliament has pioneered the use of ICT to serve the needs of its parliamentarians and is a great host for the pan-African initiative.” Daly, the former director of the Office of Research of the US Agency for International Development told Intellectual Property Watch, “The initiative holds great promise in helping African legislative bodies to do better in creating knowledge-based legislation.” Daly added that “It may help improve legislation dependent on the interpretation of scientific knowledge as well as improving legislation governing science and technology policy and institutions, such as that related to standards and IPR, but its importance is far broader with promise for improving a broad range of policies.” However, Kenyan scientist Calestous Juma, director of the Science, Technology and Globalization project at US-based Harvard University told Intellectual Property Watch, “I am generally sceptical of ‘networks’. They’re mostly about ‘net’ and not ‘work’.” “Every African Parliament needs a strong research bureau to free it from dependence on the executive branch or blind immunity,” Juma said. “Support for such offices, of which the US Congressional Research Bureau is but one example, would greatly advance the march of enlightened democracy. But I worry about such robust initiatives being pre-empted by mediocre networks created to serve the whims of programme officers in donor agencies.” Also Tarek Saif, biotechnologist at Egypt’s National Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries, told Intellectual Property Watch, “While the idea of establishing APKN is a good one, it might be transferred to a smart tool controlled by the West to transfer their favourite legislation and policies to Africa.” “To avoid that,” Saif concluded, “APKN must be a completely pan-African network from A to Z including the financial support.” Wagdy Sawahel may be reached at email@example.com. 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