Ethiopia gets long-awaited science academy

Ethiopian Tea Farmers
The academy will promote new farming technologies among other activities

Ethiopian News | By Abraham Fisseha and Mićo Tatalović

Ethiopian science is taking a big step forward with the launch of a national academy this week (10 April) that will accommodate both natural and social sciences.

The aims of the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences (EAS), based in Addis Ababa, include promoting the national science agenda, such as new farming and industrial technologies. The academy will also give researchers financial and technical support, and publish journals and books for scientists and the public.

“The EAS will be an independent, merit-based institution committed to assisting the national development agenda, promoting excellence in science and arts and advancing the nation’s natural and cultural heritage,” Roman Tewolde, coordinator of the launch board, told SciDev.Net.

It is an initiative that has been on hold for a long period. The first attempt to establish an academy was in the last years of Emperor Haile Selassie’s rule in the 1970s but a military takeover and political instability stalled the move.

“There has not been a national organisation to speak with authority on behalf of all learned bodies in Ethiopia,” Tewolde said.

A spokesperson for the Royal Society — the scientific academy of the United Kingdom — who has been working closely with Ethiopian scientists for the past 18 months on setting up the EAS, told SciDev.Net he had high hopes for it.”The academy has potential to be a force for positive change and a bright spark for practising evidence-based policy in Ethiopia,” he said.

The Royal Society is currently working to build science capacity in a number of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Ethiopia was chosen because it not only lacked an academy, but also had an enormous drive for change within the science community, he said.

There has been recent concern that some African science academies do not do enough in their countries (see Nigeria’s academies ‘don’t contribute enough to development’). But the spokesperson said that he had confidence that the EAS would not become “just a collection of scientists” and would “have a substantial role in influencing science policy and engaging young scientists”.

Redda Teklehaimanot, president of the EAS’s launch board, told SciDev.Net that the academy’s role will be “to encourage development of science and technology in the country, help advise the government and also help with science education”. The board has drafted plans for programmes, he said, and details will be discussed in the next few weeks.

“In preparing for their launch the scientists driving the creation of the academy have been diligent in building very good relationships with both federal and state governments while making sure that the academy remains intellectually independent,” said Lorna Casselton, foreign secretary of the Royal Society.

“This independence is vital to ensure that the new academy is not simply a rubber stamp for government policies but is free to provide authoritative, evidence-based advice on relevant issues.”