Scientists can create malaria-proof mosquitoes – but is the world ready?

Calestous Jumaby Calestous Juma

The ability to edit the genetic code of organisms is hailed as one of the most profound technological achievements of the last five years. Specific techniques known as “gene drives” can transmit inheritable traits throughout the entire population of an organism.

There are several ways by which gene drives can be used to control major diseases such as malaria, which killed nearly 395,000 people in Africa in 2015. One approach is to introduce gene drives that induce sterility in mosquitoes. Another is to release mosquitoes that do not transmit malaria into the environment.

According to a newly released report by the US National Academies, Gene Drives on the Horizon: Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty, and Aligning Research with Public Values, gene drives “hold promise for addressing difficult-to-solve challenges, such as the eradication of insect-borne infectious diseases and the conservation of threatened and endangered species.”

This article was published by the World Economic Forum. Read more here:

Dr. Calestous Juma is Professor of the Practice of International Development at Harvard Kennedy School. He directs the Belfer Center’s Health Innovation Policy in Africa Project, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He is author of Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies (Oxford University Press, 2016). Twitter @Calestous


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Aviation and logistics in Africa’s regional integration

by Calestous Juma

Calestous JumaAfrica’s regional economic integration represents the continent’s most ambitious political innovation since the wave of decolonization that started in the late 1950s. It is widely recognized that realizing this vision will depend largely on the extent to which Africa is able to invest in adequate energy, transportation, and telecommunications infrastructure.

Considerable attention in the area of infrastructure is being given to surface transportation. This focus  is largely influenced by historical trends where roads, railways, and waterways became the dominant modes of transportation. As Jo Guldi argues in her book, Roads to Power, Britain invented the world’s first infrastructure state. With it also came a new form of technocratic governance that wielded considerable influence of the population.

The story of 19th century Britain more recently has played out in China, which displays the same attributes of the infrastructure state. Africa’s growing ties with China are also playing a key role in reinforcing the focus on surface transportation. This is mainly because China’s contemporary economic history has been significantly shaped by heavy investments in surface transportation.

For Africa, however, air transportation and the associated logistical services may provide a unique opportunity for the continent to facilitate regional economic integration. Africa is pursuing its regional integration goals in a new age with greater access to additional technologies. Continue reading

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How Africa can transition from extractive industries to learning economies

For a summary of Prof. Juma’s Twitter Q&A on this topic, click here.  #AskCJuma

by Calestous Juma

The current slump in world commodity prices is forcing Africa to rethink its traditional dependence on raw material exports. The time for African nations to lay the foundations for transitioning from extractive to learning economies is now.

The jolts are real. The International Monetary Fund has projected that the continent will grow by 3% in 2016. This is well below the 6% average growth over the last decade and the lowest rate in the last 15 years.

Some argue that Africa has already squandered the commodity boom and wasted the opportunity to increase its manufactured exports. Others point to the fact that extractive industries crowd out manufacturing, making diversification more difficult.

International policy discourse on the issue is still dominated by the need to bring more transparency to extractive industries. The assumption here is that such transparency will help control the operations of multinational corporations, which in turn will improve the use of revenue from exports. Noble as they are, the suggestions are still framed in the context of commodities and will add little to economic diversification. Continue reading

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How Africa Is Shaping Its Relations with China

For a summary of Prof. Juma’s Twitter chat on this topic, click here. #AskCJuma.

by Calestous Juma

Africa-China-book Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari is on a high-level visit to China this week. The focus of the working visit is to explore areas of cooperation between China and Nigeria on power, transport, roads, and agriculture.

The visit has reopened a lingering debate on Africa-China relations. Much of this debate has focused on how China’s interests are shaping its relations with Africa. But according to a new book, Africa and China, this debate overlooks the extent to which Africans and their governments are shaping their relations with China.

Buhari’s visit comes at a critical period in the economic history of the two countries. Nigeria is experiencing critical budgetary constraints because of decline in crude oil prices. Meanwhile, China is recording a downturn in its growth, undermining its trade relations with its African commodity exporters such as Nigeria.

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Why executive leadership matters in African agriculture

by Calestous Juma

Calestous JumaIn a poignant comment, Albert Einstein said that “an empty stomach is not a good political adviser.” African leaders are starting to appreciate this message by paying more attention to the importance of high-level political support for agricultural transformation.

Nigeria, under the leadership of former President Goodluck Jonathan, offers an inspirational example of the importance of high-level political support for agricultural transformation. During his tenure he committed his cabinet to making agriculture a primary driver of economic development. He provided leadership by launching the Nigerian Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) in 2011.

His vision was that agriculture would be Nigeria’s new oil and leading foreign exchange earner. Jonathan’s goal for ATA—to add an extra 20 million metric tonnes of food to domestic food supply by 2015 and to create 3.5 million new jobs—was as bold and ambitious as his overall dream for Nigerian agriculture. Continue reading

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Africa’s new harvest

by Calestous Juma

Calestous JumaThe second edition of The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation has been released. The first edition of the book was published in 2011 as a memorandum for Africa leaders. Its core message was that African could feed itself in a generation. It was as a call to action to achieve this goal.

The book was released on the heels of a series of food price spikes and the Arab Spring uprising in North Africa. The Arab Spring provided clear evidence that the ability of a country to feed itself was linked to its national security. The events helped create a sense of urgency among African leaders to focus on agriculture as a foundation for the long-term economic transformation of the continent.

This edition serves four purposes. First, it acts as report card on what has been achieved since the release of the first edition. The main message from the lessons of the last five years is that countries can overcome their most intractable challenge if they can bring high-level political capital to bear on the search for solutions. Continue reading

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Statement on Agricultural Biotechnology

by Calestous Juma

Calestous JumaMy work on agricultural biotechnology for Africa dates to the mid-1980s. My first major publication on the subject in 1989 was entitled The Gene Hunters: Biotechnology and the Scramble for Seeds. This was nearly seven years before the first commercial release of the transgenic crops in North America. The focus of my work has been on identifying technologies that could contribute to sustainable development in Africa. I have advocated policies that seek to reduce the negative consequences of new technologies while maximizing their impacts. Continue reading

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Why Study the Life Sciences?

by Sujata K. Bhatia

Today is a special day, not only because you are graduating, but also because you are entering the community of life scientists. Why pursue the life sciences? The pursuit of any scientific endeavor is noble, but the life sciences are particularly special. There are obvious practical reasons that the life sciences are valuable. The study of the life sciences lends important insights into disease processes, and allows the development of novel therapeutics and innovative medical devices, thereby directly improving human health. The life sciences also enable an understanding of the environment and the other living species with whom we share the earth; this knowledge guides conservation efforts and literally helps us to save our shared planet. Continue reading

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The Benefits of Africa’s New Free Trade Area

by Calestous Juma and Francis Mangeni

calestous pic The creation in June 2015 of a free trade area from Cape Town to Cairo is possibly the most significant event in Africa since the formation of the Organization of African Unity in 1963. It is a grand move to merge existing regional organization into a single African Economic Community.

The Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) includes the 26 countries that are members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC), and Southern African Community (SADC). The TFTA covers a population of 632 million and a combined GDP of $1.3 trillion. The area spans 17.3 million square kilometers, which is nearly twice the size of China or the United States.

Critics argue a single trading bloc will not work where individual sub-regional ones have failed. To the contrary, the consolidation of the three trading blocs will build on previous trade gains and will result in the whole being larger than the sum of its parts. Continue reading

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Democracy and the Necessity of Drones?

by John Kaag, Scott Pratt, and Sujata K. Bhatia

Earlier this month, Firmin Debrabander argued in the New York Times that drone warfare creates a democratic disconnect between the American public and its leaders.  This disconnect, for Debrabander, is grounds to question current drone policies.  This is not a new thesis.  Many scholars have expressed this concern since 2009.  Drones permit us to lose track of our leaders’ military decisions.  When no one we know risks life or limb in an international conflict we tend not to care so much.

But a worry lingers in the back of our minds: perhaps, far from causing a disconnect, instead there might be a necessary connection between modern democracies and drone warfare. Continue reading

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