The Canadian government has pledged C$20 million to help develop a network of specialized science and technology centres across Africa. Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, made the announcement on Tuesday during a special visit to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo.

The money will be used to expand the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), which exists to recruit and train African researchers and to promote mathematics and science across the continent.

"Just as ideas and innovation are the foundation of Canada's new economy, they will be the basis of Africa's future economic, educational, scientific and governance self-sufficiency," said cosmologist Neil Turok, director of the Perimeter Institute, speaking yesterday.

Looking for the next Einstein

Turok, who was born in South Africa, founded the original AIMS in 2003 – a small postgraduate centre in Cape Town. In 2008 he went on to instigate the Next Einstein Initiative, which led to the opening of a second institute in the Nigerian capital, Abuja. The initiative seeks to create a network of 15 centres across the African continent by 2020, enabling 750 extra African scientists to complete courses each year at postgraduate level.

The money donated by the Canadian government will support a planned network of five postgraduate schools across Africa, including new centres in Ethiopia, Ghana and Senegal. In his presentation yesterday, the Canadian Prime Minister explained the motivation behind the investment.

"Humanity's ascent from ignorance and barbarism to enlightenment and equality has been a fitful and uneven process. If there is, however, a universal constant in human affairs, it is that the expansion of knowledge and technology has continuously made life better for more people. That's why our government is supporting scientific and technological research, as well as development at home and abroad."

Connecting Africa

I believe that connecting Africans to each other and to the world through science is one of the best investments one can make in Africa's future. Stephen Hawking

Also in attendance yesterday was cosmologist Stephen Hawking, an AIMS patron as well as a research chair at the Perimeter Institute. "I was lucky to visit AIMS in South Africa, in 2008, to enjoy the remarkable atmosphere, filled with the students' enthusiasm for math, science and the future of Africa," he said. "I believe that connecting Africans to each other and to the world through science is one of the best investments one can make in Africa's future."

This announcement came on the same day that Mohamed Hassan, the executive director of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS) called for a renewed focus on developing science capacity in Africa. "Africa needs urgently to revitalise its school and university education systems to develop a pool of skilled scientists in partnerships with European universities," he said during his keynote speech at the Euroscience Open Forum in Turin, Italy.

Hassan believes that the development of scientific academies and electronic libraries will play an important role in developing African science as well as protecting African ideas and traditional knowledge from piracy.