By Daniel Otunge

On the sidelines of the 4th African Scientific, Research and Innovation Council (ASRIC) Congress in Nairobi, I sat down with the out-going chairperson of the Council’s Bureau, Prof. Ratemo Michieka, to understand the road the council has travelled thus far and with what effect.

Prof. Michieka, who is also the Honorary Secretary of the Kenya National Academy of Sciences, says the need to establish ASRIC dates back to the First African Congress for Scientific Research, Technology and Drug Industry held in Cairo in December 2004.

The Cairo conference led the 2005 Sirte (a city in Libya) Executive Council Decision (EX/CL/Dec.216 (VII), requesting the AU Scientific Technical Research Commission (AU-STRC) to consider the matter and provide advice on the way forward. This led to the development of the Statutes of ASRIC by the technical team.

In April 2014, the ASRIC Statutes was presented to the African Ministerial Conference in charge of Science and Technology (AMCOST V) meeting in Congo, Brazzaville, for review.  Finally, the Statutes of ASRIC, which was then adopted by the Executive Council through decision (EX.CL/Dec.747 (XXII)), thereby paving the way for the establishment of ASRIC.

It has not been smooth sailing, Michieka intimates during our conversation over lunch. For example, it took another four years (2014-2018) and the intervention of a number of senior scientists, such as Prof. Michieka and other leaders of the African academies of Sciences, to get the Council off the ground. He later became the founding chairperson of the Council’s bureau (2018-2021).

The Bureau is one of the governance structures of the ASRIC, the chair explains. Other structures include the Scientific Committee and the Secretariat, domiciled at the AU-STRC. The pioneering Bureau Members lead Prof. Michieka has four vice-chairpersons, including Mr. James Phiri (1st Vice Chair), Prof. Mosto Onuoha (2nd Vice Chair), Prof. Driss Ouazar (3rd Vice Chair), and Prof Beban Sammy Chumbow (4th Vice Chair). While the Secretary of the Bureau is the Executive Director of ASRIC, Dr. Eng. Ahmed Hamdy. The lack of gender inclusivity is duly noted.

ASRIC outgoing Bureau members

For a long time, the continent did not have a forum to bring together researchers and scientists for dialogue and collaborative research, Prof Michieka explains. Thus, with the establishment of ASRIC, the continent has the-much-needed pan-African platform that serves as a voice for the African research and scientific community. The platform provides scientists and researchers with strong networking and policy influencing opportunities.

The main mandate of the council is to promote research and innovation to address Africa’s socio-economic development challenges. Its core functions include mobilizing African research excellence to advance the African development agenda; building and sustaining a continental scientific, research and innovation-policy nexus; promoting dialogue and providing the voice of the scientific community that expresses continental excellence, and advocating for knowledge exchange and technology acquisition and link the scientific community.

Other functions of ASRIC are to support and strengthen the capacity of STI national and regional councils and facilitate collaboration among them; identify strategies and means to bridge the gap between science, research and innovation and policy; promote intra-Africa and international collaboration in STI, and mobilize resources to support scientific, research and innovation activities and program in accordance with the AU policy in this area.

“ASRIC not only brings together the scientific community, but also the funding agencies, the private sector, civil society, entrepreneurs, business leaders and other stakeholders. It is instrumental in the implementation of various AU development policies such as the Science Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024), Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), and Accelerated Industrial Development in Africa (AIDA), that underpins science, research, technology and innovation and ultimately Agenda 2063,” Prof. Michieka said.

According to the report prepared by the out-going Bureau presented at the Congress, ASRIC has made significant progress in a number of areas despite the challenges. To begin with, the development and endorsement of the ASRIC Statute and rules of procedure paved the way for the establishment and operationalization of the ASRIC and its governance bodies, including the Congress, the Bureau and the Committees on science and innovation, communication and resource mobilization.

Prof. Ratemo Michieka, the First ASRIC Bureau Chairperson, addressing the 4th ASRIC Congress in Nairobi

Asked about what his all-men Bureau has achieved since its election into office three years ago, the chairperson without much thought enumerates five key things starting with improvement of the intra-Africa research. This, he says, has been a gap as evidenced by available literature which shows low collaborative research among African scientists/universities compared research between African and Western Hemisphere Scientists/institutions of higher learning.

“Africa has much more in terms of resources but there is a challenge of exploitation and coordination in terms of research and its finances,” remarks Prof Michieka, adding:

“The paradigm shift championed by ASRIC is for the National Academies of Sciences (NASs) and the National Research Council (NRCs) to inform the council about their programs and projects so that it can evaluate, select and adopt projects of high quality and potential impacts as its flagship projects. Similar projects are clustered into a single flagship project and resourced to enable them to maximize scale, impact and sustainability.”

A good example of ASRIC flagship projects is the development of the low-cost Moringa Sand Filter Hybrid Technology for Household and Community Water in Africa that have dominated the discussions at the 4th ASRIC Congress in Nairobi. ScienceAfrica News will have a deep dive solutions journalism story on the moringa-water initiative which is already being used by communities in Cameroon in the next article on the ASRIC congress.

Suffice it to say that the innovative low-cost flagship project is the brain-child or the intellectual property of Prof Kenneth Yongabi, a Cameroonian, currently lecturing at the Faculty of Health Services, Imo State University, Nigeria.

The establishment of African Scientific Journals by ASRIC is another proud moment for Prof, Michieka and indeed the entire ASRIC fraternity. “It is an African adage that if no one knows of your work it is as good as you have not worked,” he says.

“The need of the ASRIC Scientific Journals was initiated during the 2nd Bureau Meeting where it was envisioned that ASRIC should lead not only in knowledge production but also in scientific advocacy and publicity on the continent and beyond. So far, two volumes five thematic scientific journals have launched and published since then. The five journals are The ASRIC Journal on Health Sciences; The ASRIC Journal on Agricultural Sciences, The ASRIC Journal on Natural Sciences, The ASRIC Journal on Engineering Sciences, The ASRIC Journal on Social Sciences and Humanities.”

Despite the teething problems, such as financing and delayed recruitment of key staff like, editors, reviewers and registration of the journals for global recognition credible and leading African scientific thematic journals. During the discussions on the status of the journals, Dr. Eng. Ahmed Hamdy, the Executive Director of ASRIC, assured the participants that ASRIC had seed money to get the journals off the ground and noted that there are friends of ASRIC whom the secretariat will approach for additional financial support.

The Bureau’s 4th Vice Chair who heads the Resource Mobilization Committee of ASRIC, Prof. Prof Beban Sammy Chumbow, supported Hamdy’s reassurance on matters finance to alley fears that the journals would not live long unless they had sound financial and technical backing.   Speaking on the same, the outgoing chairperson of the ASRIC Bureau reminded the meeting of the saying that ‘success has many suitors’ and urged the team working on the journal to work hard and produce a good product in order to attract more suitors with goodies.


ASRIC is also in the process of building strong networks at both regional and international levels with a view to increasing its chances of accessing adequate grant support for its projects and programs. “A smart partner analysis study was conducted by the Bureau and its Committees and potential partners identified. The in-coming Bureau team are expected to build on this foundation to unlock more resources and technical support,” Prof. Michieka told the Congress during a presentation on his Bureau’s performance scorecard.

Dr. Eng. A. Hamdy, ED of ASRIC welcoming delegates to the 4th Congress

Operationalization of ASRIC STI Fund (ASTIF) to boost financial health of the Council has also greatly preoccupied the ASRIC and its organs. This is so because ASTIF is needed to boost predictability of flagship project development and financing.

“There is need to expedite the relocation of the African Union Research Grant (AURG) from the Department of the ESTI to ASTRIC by identifying and removing any bottlenecks that may be slowing the process.  The incoming Bureau should engage the office of the Deputy Chairperson, Office of the Legal Counsel, and the Commissioner of ESTI, H. E Ambassador Sarah Anyang Agbor, to conclude the process, considering that it is one of the functions of ASRIC as mentioned in its Statute,” the outgoing Bureau team advises in their exit report.

The report further recommends that “the incoming Bureau is advised to look at and work on the registration of the ASRIC in the Green Climate Fund (GCF) in order to be accredited and to access funds.”

It also urges the successor Bureau to “revisit the position paper on sustainable financing of ASRIC where establishment and functionalization of the ASRIC STI Fund (ASTIF) with the view to attracting 0.1% of the Member State’s contribution to the AUC” are illuminated. The Bureau should resubmit the position paper to the Education, Science technology and Innovation (STC-ESTI) Commission for consideration and endorsement, Prof. Michieka advises.

ASRIC has also made significant progress in supporting research and science education through academic scholarship scheme. For example, it has secured $500,000 from the Euro-Mediterranean University of Fez to support of $500,000 30 African doctoral studies in the field of the industry.

Two sets of 10 students (20 students in total) have commenced their studies in Morocco while the 3rd set will commence next year, Prof. Michieka says, adding: this is part of ASRIC’s contributions to the realization of STISA 2024 mandates on building technical and professional competencies science, technology and innovation. STISA-2024 stands for Science Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024. one of the pillars of STISA-2024.

The scholarship includes tuition fees of about $9,000, one annual airplane return ticket from the student’s home country capped at $1,000, and a monthly living allowance of $1,000 for 11 months per year for three years.

According to Michieka, the key priority areas for the merit-based funding are emerging technologies and future global jobs such as artificial intelligence, digital engineering, additive manufacturing, material synthesis, renewable energy, industry 4.0, embedded system, green hydrogen, sensors, energy storage, batteries, innovation and entrepreneurship. “It is worthy to note that ASRIC Scholarship Scheme is mainly based on merit and not any other criteria are considered under the scheme,” he reiterated.

ASRIC has also been active mobilizing African scientists and researchers to address Africa’s pressing problems like the Covid-19 pandemic.  The ASRIC’s Covid-19 call to action attracted 250 top brain volunteers from African specialized agencies and the diaspora to advise on possible containment measures and expected negative impacts of COVID-19 on Africa’s socio-economic sectors.

This also resulted in the formation of the ASRIC Advisory Board (AAB) on STI intervention for COVID-19 with emphasis on the pandemic diagnosis, therapy and vaccines. “The implementation modalities resulted in forming the Intellectual Property Taskforce that are working on intellectual property issues in joint research during pandemic. The Pandemic Modelling Taskforce that is working on the development of the pandemic model and scenarios and Mapping Out R&D Interventions for COVID-19 Taskforce made up of young and early carrier Scientists,” he said.

ASRIC Annual Statutory Congress now in its 4th session is one of the fountains of ASRICs success story. It is a platform where scientists from the four corners of Africa meet to deliberate, network and share knowledge on the continent’s development aspirations and role of STI in realizing such dreams, including AU-Agenda 2063.

A Cross Section of Participants in the Inclusive and Community Based Innovation Workshop

The Congress is the general assembly of the African Scientists with its 55 voting members and it is the apex decision-making body of the ASRIC. The 1st ASRIC Congress was held in November, 2018 in Abuja, Nigeria and was attended by over 150 Scientists from 36 AU Member States, RECs, STI institutions, and international partners.

The 2nd ASRIC Congress was also held in Abuja, Nigeria from the 20th – 23rd November 2019. It focused on “Freeing Africa from Poverty, Hunger and Diseases” with four sub-themes; Health Sciences; Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; Water, Energy and Environment; and Governance, Sociology, Business & Economics. Due to the pandemic, the 2020 Congress was held virtually under the theme “Infectious Diseases and Pandemic Threat; What Agenda for Africa?” Prof Michieka says the theme was strategically chosen because of the pandemic and the overwhelming impact on the continent.

The Council has also undertaken other various capacity building activities, such as the workshop on improvement of knowledge on inclusive community-based innovations conducted in Abuja Nigeria.

ASRIC has set up the African Union Network of Sciences (AUNS) in accordance with Article 7 (II) (d) of ASRIC Statute. The article encourages opportunity for partnership with others to support and promote the establishment of pan African platforms connecting institutions networks, and other actors to strengthen synergies and scientific knowledge exchange.

AUNS is a virtual network that involves a wide range of individuals working together to address African science and technology development challenges.  Over 12,000 scientists from all over Africa have already joined the network.

“It is an innovative way to enhance brain circulation and bridge the gap between African based Scientists and those in the Diaspora to address Africa’s Challenges,” says the report presented to the delegates by Dr Mohammed Kyari, ASRIC Senior Scientific Officer.

Even so, it faces crippling challenges including “lack of funding and technical issues experienced with the portal development”.

Dr. Kyari, moderating the Congress deliberations

Despite the challenges, ASRIC is a good idea whose time has come. If well managed and resourced (by member-states and well-wishers), ASRIC has the potential to address Africa’s socio-economic development challenges characterized by the innovation gap. Efficient implementation of the flagship projects like the moringa-purified water project will make all the difference. As noted by experts during the 4th Congress, this will require the establishment of a commercialization committee made of innovators, lawyers, engineers, entrepreneurs and business development experts.