Scientists chase money - Corporate Ghana’s day of shame

BY: By Enimil Ashon
Scientists chase money - Corporate Ghana’s day of shame
Scientists chase money - Corporate Ghana’s day of shame

Last week, the CSIR organised a cocktail event to which it invited in excess of 60 public and private sector organisations, many of them selected on the basis of the contribution of scientific research to their very existence, growth and continued profitability.

The council needed money to push its 60th anniversary plan to propagate science and technology.

Only five of the companies showed up. The council’s Director-General, Professor Victor Agyeman, noticed it, and mentioned it in passing.

Methinks I felt a lump in the throat of the Master of Ceremonies as he attempted to give voice to his disappointment.

In my line of work, I used to get invited to launch schemes. Those ceremonies that attracted (and still attract) heavy patronage have something to do with beauty pageants: you would be impressed by the number of SUVs and V8s. In there, in black tie, are CEOs of the invited organisations.

The Christian Bible describes Jesus Christ as a man of sorrows acquainted with grief.

I have long accepted the fact that I am acquainted with disappointment.

In the case of the CSIR event, however, I was so disappointed I wept.

There was not a single CEO.

In my lamentation, an Akan proverb played loud in my thoughts. No-one enters the WC and comes back without having squatted.

To what do manufacturing entities owe their very existence if not research and development (R&D), in particular, and science, technology and innovation (STI), in general?

Innovation has long been recognised as an important driver of economic growth and the role of the private sector in promoting innovation is the subject of many theses.

The USA, China, Japan, Germany, Russia are called “advanced economies”.

The last time I checked, none of them got this far by organising Miss America or Miss China.

It is because they invested in STIs. Over there, many private companies have charitable foundations, whose budgets have STI as line items.

In some cases, companies’ annual budgets for science and research are in the US$5-10 million range.

In the USA, the business sector plays a predominant role in funding research. In the early 1980s, the sector’s support exceeded 50 per cent of all R&D funding. This steadily increased over the next 20 years, reaching a high of 69 per cent in 2000.

A colleague who is acquainted with such figures pointed out that private sector contribution in America has declined.

While accepting it as a fact, I was at pains to point out that the decline was the result of the 2001-2002 and the 2008-2009 recession.

Even in its decline, however, the 2009  private sector’s share of R&D total is 62 per cent.

All of the above does not absolve post-Kwame Nkrumah governments of blame.

Ghana government’s annual vote for scientific research is so paltry it is laughable; indeed, there would be no CSIR but for donor-countries and donor organisations, mostly foreign.

Years ago, the Mampong Centre for Plant Medicine discovered a local plant, ‘Nibima” as efficacious for the treatment of malaria.

Tonnes of ink were spilled in its documentation in local science journals.

That was all. Today, Ghana still spends billions to import anti-malarials when all that was (and is) needed is a government policy that would deliberately encourage private sector participation in making this plant the number one drug against malaria.

One of our malaria imports is the Artemisinin Combination Therapy (ACTs), but how did it come about? When, in the 1960s, older malaria

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