Covid-19, climate change… La Francophonie creates its network of scientists – Jeune Afrique

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Commonwealth countries including Canada, England, Australia and India held frequent scientific advisory meetings in an effort to learn from each other in managing this crisis. A strategy to which French-speaking countries seemed almost extraneous, even if scientific knowledge offers the keys to carry out relevant political actions in the face of global challenges such as the pandemic or climate change.

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Hence the idea of ​​creating the French-speaking International Network of Scientific Consulting (RFICS), including in particular scientists from Francophone Africa, whose vocation is to strengthen scientific consulting capacities in the French-speaking world. Hence the urgency, according to Rémi Quirion, chief scientist of Quebec, to find the means to work with the continent, to increase exchanges between northern countries and southern countries that use French as their first language to interact between researchers and governments . Maintenance.

Jeune Afrique: Officially launched on November 3, the Réseau francophone en conseil scientifique will receive financial support from the Quebec Research Funds in the amount of $1.5 million over five years, in addition to $800,000 from university partners. What will be the precise missions of RFICS?

Remi Quirion: There will be two parts. The first will be to increase capacity in scientific advice in the Francophonie. Of course, this advice exists, but – and this is perhaps cultural – there are clearly few links (in any case much less than in Anglo-Saxon countries and in certain Asian countries) between researchers in the scientific or university fields and policy makers.

The idea is therefore to help interested academics set up a scientific council and lead it, in particular by establishing exchanges with public officials and government authorities. In the second part, it will always be about providing scientific advice in the French-speaking world, but taking into account the ways of acting in each region or in each country, so that the advice is as multicultural as possible. We do not act the same depending on whether we are in Quebec, France, Cameroon or Senegal. And we still do not take sufficient account of these cultural data.

What does it actually mean to take cultural aspects into account?

There is a strong presence of English in the fields of innovation, technology and scientific texts. That won’t change anytime soon. However, French-language scientific publications can be better promoted. Universities should better recognize the value of publications in other languages. The council is therefore trying to develop what we call the “discoverability” of scientific content in French. Very often, only publications in English or other languages ​​appear on search engines, never those written in French. We have to find a way to change that. This will necessarily take time, but it will foster better relations with decision-makers, senior government officials, who, indeed, speak little English.

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What means does it intend to implement to garner political support, particularly in an African continent which claims to be more concerned with its day-to-day survival?

We hope to work with universities on the continent and bring together young PhD students ready to develop these links between scientists and decision makers. More concretely, this assumes that scientists are residents of ministries. Their presence could also allow decision makers to better understand the usefulness of science, as was the case during the Covid-19 pandemic. We can show this for climate change and many other major societal challenges. Our most immediate challenge is to get government departments to hire young scientists.

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Does scientific Africa really exist?

It is obvious that publications, like scientific infrastructures, are rather located in countries from North. However, we had proof that there really was a scientific Africa during the pandemic with, in particular, the fabulous work of characterizing the different variants of the virus in South Africa, or even with the impressive work of analyzing the pharmacology of some plants in Senegal in order to develop new drugs. This is knowledge that we may have ignored in recent decades and that it is time to rediscover, especially by encouraging new generations to embrace scientific careers.

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Where did your idea of ​​proposing to African countries to increase investments in research and development also come from?

Yes, this applies to Africa, but also to the countries of North and Latin America… Making budget choices is always a challenge for governments, which have shorter-term priorities. But investing in science, both in the long and short term, remains a lucrative venture. We will try to convince decision makers to invest in research and development.

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Does this also mean that the best way for Africa to catch up in science is to foster international cooperation?

No doubt. But above all, the projects should be implemented and developed from Africa, according to local needs, because priorities there may be different from those of the countries of the North. Depending on the regions of the continent, countries are more or less receptive to our approach to creating a scientific Africa. We have good feedback from Benin and Senegal, but also from the Maghreb countries. We hope that with the creation of the International Francophone Network in Scientific Advice, all French-speaking scientists will be able to interact, the Senegalese trying, for example, to convince the Ivorians of the need to jointly develop a more dynamic network in West Africa, so as to attract investors in research and innovation. Despite the economic difficulties, decision makers are realizing the importance of investing in innovation.

What challenges await this network?

Above all, it shouldn’t become a private club. It must be inclusive, open to all Francophonie countries, to all interested people, whatever their gender. The other challenge will be to find mentors, ie people with scientific consulting experience in the West or on the continent, and who are ready to help the first generation of experts in this field to emerge. The needs grow. We have seen this with the pandemic and climate change, which generate many challenges in our societies. No country can answer everything alone.

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