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TWAS Newsletter
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The evolution of science and aid

The evolution of science and aid

Science aid should reflect the evolution of new, more equitable relationships between developed and developing nations, says TWAS executive director Romain Murenzi

[In recent decades, the way that rich countries have delivered science aid and support to the developing world has profoundly changed. During the Cold War, aid often was used for geopolitical leverage, but today, nations and their scientific institutions increasingly see that cross-border partnerships can help address major challenges, bringing benefits to everyone. At a high-level international conference this week in New Zealand, TWAS Executive Director Romain Murenzi spoke about how that transformation made Rwanda's landmark science policies possible, and how it is shaping the current science landscape. 

Murenzi's remarks came at the First Global Conference on Science Advice to Governments, held in Auckland on 27 August. The conference was convened by the International Council for Science and hosted by New Zealand’s Chief Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman. It convened about 200 science advisors, senior officials, representatives of national academies, experts and scholars from more than 40 countries for discussions on how scientists can play a role in advising governments in a global environment.

Murezni served as moderator of a panel on science and foreign aid and gave the keynote talk. The following is the text of his remarks:]

Excellencies, distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen – 

Good afternoon, and welcome to "Science and Aid", Session 2 of the Science and Diplomacy Symposium. I thank you all for joining us. This is a topic of central importance for science diplomacy in our time. Please allow me to thank the government of New Zealand for supporting this conference. And I especially would like to thank Prime Minister John Key; Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor; and my colleagues and friends at the International Council for Science. With their work in science and science diplomacy, New Zealand is making a truly valuable contribution to better science and a better world.

My country of birth, Rwanda, in the early 1990s endured a civil war that culminated in the genocide against the Tutsi, leaving at least one million people dead. This summer, the nation commemorated the 20th anniversary of the genocide and the liberation that ended this profound disaster. As you can imagine, such a commemoration calls us to think of the past, and of the lessons learned on the road to recovery. It also is a time to think of the future.

From 2001 to 2009, I served as a minister in Rwanda's government, and in those years my portfolio included education, science and technology, including Information and Communications Technology. Before I arrived in that post, the country had already begun on a course to establish a knowledge-driven economy by 2020. After the election of President Paul Kagame in 2000, the government pursued a systematic approach to easing poverty, improving health and increasing stability through science. 

What do I mean by "systematic"? In the President's office and throughout the government, there was a recognition that science and technology were related to most every challenge we faced as a nation. To build solutions, one needed a vision and policy that involved not just the government, but also all sectors of the nation, including academia, civil society, business and the diaspora. Crucially important in this effort to rebuild Rwanda were foreign partners, both in East Africa and globally. 

In governments and among the public, there are many different conceptions of foreign aid. Often the ideas are rooted in the Cold War era of the 1950s and 1960s, when developed nations typically gave aid to solidify the loyalty of client states. But this began to shift in the 1970s, as the US and China and the US and the Soviet Union used scientific cooperation to build trust and improve relations. Certainly Rwanda saw the old model as a road to dependence. In the aftermath of the genocide, the nation wanted to set its own goals. It wanted to work with partners who would provide not just funding, but also expertise, and who would support the country's freedom to set its own course. 

An example: To develop Rwanda's landmark 2005 policy on science, technology and innovation, we worked closely with East African regional science and technology commissions, including Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. We worked with the World Bank, the African Development Bank and UNESCO, among others. The United Kingdom played a critical and highly constructive role in this process through the Department for International Development (DFID). 

The president of Rwanda and Jeremy Macadie, then the UK's ambassador, came to the National University of Rwanda for the final meeting on this policy. Sir David King, then the UK Chief Science Adviser, accepted our invitation to visit in 2006; he met with President Kagame, and addressed the two chambers of Parliament on the importance of science and technology. Prof. King later became a member of President Kagame’s Advisory Council. Sir Gordon Conway, then the chief scientific adviser for DFID, also provided welcome advice. 

We also built a relationship with the Royal Society, with the belief that it could be an advocate in supporting investment for science in developing countries. President Kagame was invited to speak before the Royal Society in 2006. 

In 2011, I began work as the executive director of TWAS. The past three years have strongly reinforced the impression that science aid has evolved far beyond ideas that prevailed 50 years ago. Developing nations see the scientific success achieved by China and India, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa, and they see how science can bring national strength and independence. The orientation of many developed nations has changed, too. More often, now, they recognize that science aid is not merely a means of geopolitical leverage. They see the value of helping to build genuine partnerships in the developing world; scientific capacity in these nations can build economic strength, stability and problem-solving skills, with benefits for the whole world. 

And emerging nations such as Brazil, China and India are now increasingly important sources of science support for developing nations and Least Developed Countries. These nations and others support PhD studies and postdoctoral research through TWAS, helping to convey their own hard-won expertise to other developing nations.

Today, more science aid is flowing to developing nations. Usually it is targeted to the Millennium Development Goals and other specific, positive objectives. 

Still, there is an underlying challenge. Developed nations have more resources than developing nations. Their science is more advanced. Inherently, they have more power. And so how do you create a partnership that is not exploitive and not patronizing? How do you build a partnership that is mutually beneficial and as near to equal as possible? We are only beginning to develop experience in this area. 

The answer is that such partnerships are an art as much as a science. They depend on working relationships...personal 

However, it is also true that the practices of "aid effectiveness" give us a very valuable tool and orientation for partnership-building and the productive distribution of science aid.

"Aid Effectiveness" has emerged since the late 1990s as a new set of values to govern development aid in the post-Cold War period. It gained momentum in the past decade after major international meetings in Paris (in 2005) and Accra (in 2008). It is very interesting to note that, in Accra, dozens of developing countries were closely involved in the process, from pre-meeting consultations to regional preparatory events. They are invested in this process.

What are the values of "Aid Effectiveness"? 

  • Aid from donor nations must be harmonised and coordinated with the goals of the developing country.
  • Projects must be well-evaluated before they receive aid. 
  • Strong local structures are needed to support the project and maximize the value of the aid. 
  • Ambitious collection of data in the developing nation helps to assess the need for a project or the project's impact.
  • This in turns promotes transparency and good governance. 

In this way, "Aid Effectiveness" promotes the evolution of new, more equitable relationships between developed and developing nations. Without this orientation, it is not possible to effectively and efficiently support capacity-building in science, technology and innovation.

As you can see, science diplomacy can play a variety of roles in helping to build these partnerships. Over time, this model helps to assure that aid funds are well-spent. And it helps developing nations to build the governance and policy that enable them to pursue their goals and advance their independence.

Thank you very much.