Why Africa will “March for Science”

By Joseph Opoku Gakpo

April 12, 2018

Record numbers of Africans are expected to March for Science on Saturday, with demands ranging from removing the bottlenecks that are hindering the use of agricultural biotechnology to providing better health care and stopping environmental destruction.

Millions could turn out for the marches planned in at least seven African nations: Ghana, Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria, Malawi, Kenya and Mozambique. The motivations for these rallies are many, including a push to end rural poverty, calls for increased investments in science and technology and more support for agricultural production.

Organizers say they are recruiting large numbers of participants so that the marchers’ messages will go out loud and clear to those that need to hear them.

Africa’s rallies will be among more than 230 satellite marches registered in cities across the globe to mark Citizens Science Day. People will be marching to express their passion for science and draw attention to the need to ground policy formulation in science-based evidence.

Scientists skeptical of the Trump Administration’s hostile policies toward science organized the inaugural 2017 March for Science, which has evolved into a worldwide rally to celebrate science and push for its increased role in governance. One of the main objectives of the US rally is to hold political leaders accountable for passing equitable, evidence-based policies that serve all people and all communities.

“Science continues to be ignored or minimized in the crafting of policies that should rely on robust scientific input,” Kristen Gunther, March for Science national director of strategy, said in a statement announcing the march. “We will gather and raise our voices to show officials that we are here to hold them accountable, we’re increasingly engaged and our numbers are still growing. We are pro-science voters, constituents and community members — and November (the month of US mid-term elections) is coming up fast.”

“This is a critical time to stand up for science”

In Ghana, the Alliance for Science Ghana, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology – Ghana, and state research institution Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) are organizing the Accra March for Science 2018 under the theme “Building Ghana: Let’s end environmental destruction and poverty through science informed actions.”

“We chose this theme to drum home the point that unless government prioritizes science by investing a lot more in technological research, and begins to adopt the outcome of research works by scientists when making policy decisions, there is no way we will succeed in ending poverty in our country,” a statement from the organizers said. “We also want to draw attention to the fact that there is direct correlation between protecting our environment from degradation and ending poverty.”

The science lovers in Ghana are also asking the government to do more extend scientifically informed support to farmers as a way to ensure food security and lift rural communities, especially, out of poverty. “There are lots of scientific innovations and improved agricultural technologies, including biotechnology, that have been developed at research institutions here in Ghana which are not reaching farmers as a result of poor extension services, lack of investments in agriculture generally and cumbersome regulatory procedures,” the statement noted. They want these policies to change.

In Nigeria, the motivations are no different. “We speak up for science because there is a low level of interest and rejection of certain values of science, especially in its application in agriculture, medicine, environment, etc. The March for Science seeks to publicly communicate science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity,” said a statement from organizers, which include the Nigeria Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology Nigeria, and other partners.

The objectives of the march in Nigeria include “re-emphasizing the role of science in national development as it helps in mitigating the impacts of climate change on our environment, in food safety and food production, as well as increasing food production through biotechnology,” the statement noted. “We seek to promote awareness on the efforts of Nigerian scientists to develop improved crops resistant to drought, insects and diseases through the science of biotechnology.”

In South Africa, the Durban March for Science is expected to see leading academics, scientists, researchers, students, civil societies and the general public rally together to highlight and celebrate the strides made towards science. The University of KwaZulu-Natal is partnering a number of science-based institutions to organize the march. According to a statement from the organizers: “South Africa, and indeed scientists from Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, have made laudable contributions in all spheres of science that have contributed to discoveries and improving lives in Africa and globally. The march is an opportunity for scientists and staff and people from all walks of life to highlight the impact that science has on societies.”

Organizers say the South Africa event is “an opportunity to recognize and support the significant contributions local scientists have made to the world, and [establish] a platform from which to promote science as a career to our youth.”

In Malawi, issues about healthcare are on the agenda for Saturday. After marching through the streets of Malawi’s second biggest city, Blantyre, participants will gather for discussions on such topics as improving treatment outcomes and extending treatment coverage for severe acute malnutrition, how science could help address cassava brown streak disease, and dealing with plastic waste.

In Uganda, organizers say the march will stand against unnecessary delays in passing science-based legislation. “Science plays a pivotal role in decision making. Our government needs to prioritize it in all policy processes,” noted a press statement from the Makerere University Biotechnology Students Association, Uganda Alliance for Science and other stakeholders who are organizing the march. “This is a critical time to stand up for science, as it’s under attack both globally and locally by anti-science movements.”