EU-Africa Partnership Aims At Knowledge Access, Technology Transfer 07/11/2008 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 The European Commission and African Union Commission have agreed to launch six projects in science, space and information technology in a bid to strengthen African scientific capacity, promote technical cooperation, facilitate technology transfer and accelerate the development of African education and research through increasing knowledge access and narrowing digital divide. This was outlined in a joint statement issued on 1 October on “Implementation of the EU-AU Partnership for Science, Information Society and Space” after an EU-AU meeting. Targeting Digital Divide In a bid to contribute to the modernisation and development of education and research in African countries, an Africa Connect project will support national research and education networks in sub-Saharan countries to ensure digital connection for their students and researchers in sufficient capacity and on affordable terms through interconnection with the European GEANT2 academic internet network at the most cost-effective high bandwidth capacity. In addition, the European Commission and African Union Commission (AUC) have agreed to launch the African Internet Exchange System (AXIS) in order to support the establishment of a continental African internet infrastructure through national and regional internet exchange points. This will generate huge cost savings by keeping local traffic local and offering better quality of service and new applications opportunities. AXIS also will provide technical assistance on planning, regulatory and policy issues as well as workforce development through organising training programmes for policymakers, information technology professionals and harnessing information and knowledge for youth development. Ahmed Rebai, head of the bioinformatics unit at the Tunisia biotechnology centre in the town of Sfax welcomed the news, telling Intellectual Property Watch that “the current infrastructure for information and communication technologies (ICTs) in Africa is very poor, as poor as most of the people living there.” “[In Africa] ICT is like a good car: only rich people can get it,” he said. “Even in countries that have been connected to the World Wide Web for more than ten years such as northern African countries and South Africa there are still some problems in the access to internet for students, researchers, professionals and officials.” Rebai said “the best way to develop ICT in poor countries is to develop internet connection via mobile phone or by television, because mobile phone and TVs is more affordable than computers and they have multiple uses.” However, Thierry Amoussougbo, regional advisor at the ICT, Science and Technology Division of United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, told Intellectual Property Watch that some good examples are underway in Africa. More than 32 African countries have adopted global and prioritised policies and practices to harness the potential of ICTs for socioeconomic development. Many “ICT4D” [ICT for development] leaders are emerging, such as Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who is coordinating the ICT4D agenda within the country, justified by the level of heads of state who attended the World Summit on the Information Society Tunis phase (2005), and the establishment of the ICT Conference of Ministers at the AUC. Technical Cooperation and Technology Transfer A new African Research Grants project will help the AUC to set up a continent-wide research programme focused on developing sustainable science and technology research responding to Africa’s technical, economic and social development in different thematic areas related primarily to the earth and life sciences. Another project, called “Water and Food Security in Africa” will focus on strengthening capacity in science and technology in order to cope with food security problems while promoting sustainable management of land and water resources. In order to consolidate the research and work methodology, the Nile Basin will serve as a pilot case for research and demonstration activities to tackle food supply problems and effective water and land management as well as defining the appropriate remedial strategies and measures. To enhance cooperation in space applications and technology, two projects have been launched. The Kopernicus-Africa project will reinforce Africa’s use of, and contribution to, remote sensing science, especially through building of operational systems. A second project will enhance capacity building in the AUC on geospatial science. Technology transfer to the AUC will focus on establishing a mirror of the Africa Observatory for Sustainable Development [pdf], which is based on Europe’s Joint Research Centre, and which together provide scientific information on natural resources, food security, crisis management and renewable energies. EU-Pan African Intellectual Property Project The six projects are among 19 “lighthouse projects” identified and developed by the AUC based on Africa’s development priorities and challenges and were agreed upon during the EU/AU Summit in Lisbon in December 2007, Eltayeb Mohamed Abdelgadir, researcher at Sudan-based Agricultural Research Corporation, told Intellectual Property Watch. The fate of the remaining projects is “not clear,” he said. Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid at Cairo’s National Research Centre cautiously welcomed the news but pointed out that important projects dealing with securing and using Africa’s indigenous and traditional knowledge, establishing a Pan-African Intellectual Propriety Organization (PAIPO), science and technology for the development of African small and medium-sized enterprises, and support for a business incubators network were not considered as ‘early deliverables’ and were not given immediate attention. “These unapproved projects were supposed to help Africa to create more intellectual property rights (IPRs), promote the commercialisation of research, establish an African mechanism and model of legislation for recognising and protecting both knowledge and innovations derived from traditional knowledge systems and the rights of local communities” Abdelhamid said. Tarek Saif, at Egypt’s National Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries, took the view that creating an Africa-wide IP entity is extremely important for promoting innovation, techno-industrial competitiveness, and economic growth in Africa. “I hope that the EC gives the African Union project on PAIPO the attention it deserves as a tool for protecting innovations-based traditional knowledge and promoting local science and technology-based industry” Saif said. Saif downplayed concerns that PAIPO might lead to a strict and rigid IP protection regime that might harm Africa’s interests, (IPW, Technology Transfer, 30 August 2007). arguing that one of the main aims for PAIPO is setting IP standards and suggesting ways for implementing them in a way that reflect the needs of African states. “At the end of the day,” Saif said, “PAIPO must be financed and managed by Africa and for Africa and only represents the African voice in a completely independent way and not to be controlled by international donors and IP rights holders and used as a tool for harming Africa.” Wagdy Sawahel may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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