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Physicist from Africa makes the case for centres of excellence

28 June 1999

Regional centres of excellence could be a solution to the brain drain of scientists from the countries of the South to those of the North, Cheick M Diarra, a Unesco 'good will ambassador', told a press conference yesterday.

A shortage of facilities in developing countries means that many of their scientists are attracted to the developed world, and local scientific expertise is therefore lost, said Diarra, who works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of the US space agency NASA at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

But Diarra concedes that finding the resources for such facilities is difficult for developing countries, and that scientists will "go where the equipment is". Political will, as various speakers to the opening session of the World Conference had made clear on Saturday, was a key element, but there also had to be a new approach.

"Maybe we could start putting together regional centres which will bring scientists together", said Diarra. "Facilities on a regional basis will bring scientists together. In Africa this will require both political will and strategic planning to site regional centres".

Diarra said he worked at JPL with "people from around the world in a place that values diversity." Going back home from Caltech, said Diarra, "where people still work the land with hoes, is like standing with one leg in the future and one leg in the past".

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