Kenyan Nobel Laureate, Dr. Wangari Maathai, encouraged “[us] Africans to accept ourselves as we are and recapture some of the positive aspects of our culture.” Africa still has some ground to cover in terms of pride and ownership. The natural sciences have been engraved into our various African cultures as a way of life. That was then, now we often view nature around us as something merely existing outside of us. However, as cultures fuse and development progresses perhaps we should reconsider the advice of Dr Maathai.
In modern society we apply property rights and even intellectual property rights to everything. This has its advantages and disadvantages. One advantage being that individuals ideas can be credited. One of the disadvantages is the concern of intellectual property of indigenous flora. Not only from the threats of exploitive harvesting, urbanization and monoculture but also from bio-piracy. The practice of bio-piracy has long robbed Africa of her culture in terms of floral and biological heritage. Africa annually leaks billions of US Dollars from the unregulated use of indigenous plants. Examples abound, the Khoisan against pharmaceutical giants regarding Hoodia as an appetite suppressant that sold for billions without regard for the Khoisan. Fortunately the error in judgment was addressed. More recently in 2011 the Pelargonium reniforme and sidoides plants that are used to make cough syrup from the root extracts. This plant is found in Lesotho and the Eastern Cape of South Africa. A German pharmaceutical company has patented the methods of extraction and the active compound for profit. Although facilities and funding are limited, Africa has the intellectual capacity to research and produce pharmaceutical and other biological uses of indigenous flora.
However, before the dawn of the Afro-science age, there are regulations, policies and other safety nets that first need to be implemented. With Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) development and socio-economic empowerment at stake, African governing bodies are tasked with protecting African interests and intellect. The Next Einstein Forum (NEF) facilitated the much-needed dialogue between decision makers, funders and STEM researchers. The NEF supports and promotes STEM in African youth through the premise of social development through science. The NEF Global Gathering 2016 (Dakar, Senegal) brought together innovative STEM youth researchers from each African country to engage with Nobel Laureates and country leaders. This dialogue symbolized the dawn of the Afro-science revolution. Perhaps now as we embark on the journey to uplift STEM in Africa, we can begin “to accept ourselves as we are and recapture some of the positive aspects of our culture” including our connection with the natural world.
Header Image credit: GettyImages