Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- The conference of African intellectuals and their brethren from the Diaspora opening in Dakar Thursday could not be more timely, coming against the backdrop of frantic moves to cut a new image for the continent in global politics and economics, according to delegates already in the Senegalese capital for the meeting.
"The idea is wonderful.
An assembly of brains cannot but afford the kind of exchange that could lead to networking to provide leadership the needed guide to a better Africa," Paul Nchoji Nkwi, executive director of the African Population Advisory Council (APAC) told PANA Wednesday.
Though considered a first, Nkwi noted that the conference in Dakar was not without precedent, recalling similar initiatives in the 1980s by the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU), particularly the conference of African scientists held in Brazzaville, Congo, which led to the creation of the now-moribund Union of African Scientists.
Lamenting that only a few of the centres of excellence that emerged from such forums had survived, he expressed fears about the conference in Dakar going down the same road.
"I can only hope this would not be just one of those conferences where we meet, chat and part.
The authorities should recognise that effective development requires the critical mass of Africa's thinkers," Nkwi said, insisting that Africa has the requisite intellectual capacity to assert itself on the international scene.
"Africa has produced Nobel laureates.
This is proof that far from a hapless and needy region, the continent has much to contribute towards world progress," he argued.
Nkwi suggested that panels at the Dakar conference should come up with a roadmap on how the African intellectual could lend his/her voice to policy formulation and the drive for development, noting that the ultimate success in this endeavour would depend on how well the authorities could accommodate criticism and suggested alternatives.
"The conference would, for instance, feature experts in governance.
But the exercise would be pointless if at the other end politicians ignore their recommendations," he stressed.
The APAC chief also said he expects the inclusion of intellectuals from the Diaspora this time round, to broaden and deepen reflections at the conference, but was quick to add that bad governance, the absence of an enabling environment - particularly marginal government funding for scientific research - caused the exodus of African intellectuals.
"The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) calls for more public funding for science and technology, and for the integration of intellectuals in the development process, but not many governments appear to take this recommendation seriously," Nkwi regretted.
He added: "I hope the conference in Dakar would get African leaders to listen to the intellectual community, and not consider them as critics and rebels.
They need an enabling environment, short of which many would have no alternative but to look elsewhere.
" The three-day conference is expected to gather some 350 intellectuals from Africa and 150 from the Diaspora.
Also to grace the opening ceremony Thursday are several African Heads of State, Nobel laureates and eminent figures.
Topics for discussion include the concept of Pan-Africanism in the 21st Century, the contribution of intellectuals to regional integration, relations between Africa and the Diaspora, African identity in a multicultural context, Africa's place on the global scene, and challenges and prospects for the continent in science and technology.