Chemistry International
Vol. 22, No.2, March 2000

2000, Vol. 22
No. 2 (March)
..News from IUPAC
..West Africa Chemical Society
..Reports from Symposia

..Awards and Prizes
..New Books
..Reports from Commissions
..Conference Announcements

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Chemistry International
Vol. 22, No. 2
March 2000

News and Notices from Other Societies and Unions


The West African Chemical Society: A Catalyst for the Development of African Science

This article, by Prof. Richard-Emmanuel Eastes (Département de chimie, Ecole Normale Supérieure, 24, rue Lhomond, 75005 Paris, France; E-mail: [email protected]) and Jean-Paul Pradère (Director of Research at CNRS Laboratoire de Chimie Organique, UMR 6513 au CNRS, Faculté des Sciences et des Techniques, 2, rue de la Houssinière, 44322 Nantes cedex 3, France; E-mail: [email protected]), was originally published in L'Actualité Chimique in January 1999 (pp. 30-33) and is reprinted here with their kind cooperation and permission.

Founding of the West African Chemical Society
Aims and Objectives of the S.O.A.CHIM.
Activities of the S.O.A.CHIM.
Annual Congress of the S.O.A.CHIM.
Sequence of Events at the 4th S.O.A.CHIM. Congress
Assessment of the Congress in Cotonou

Annual Congress of the S.O.A.CHIM.

This event is a veritable scientific congress that enables scientists to expound upon the results of their research. It is also the ideal occasion for them to discuss their theses and expand their knowledge. This event owes its development to the dynamism of each nation and to the determination shown by the committee members (Chairman: Prof. Y. T. NíGuessan, Ivory Coast; Vice Chairmen: Prof. L. Diop, Senegal, and Prof. C. G. Accrombessi, Benin; and Permanent Secretary: Prof. F. S. Sib, Burkina Faso) to increase international interest. After congresses in Abidjan in 1995, Dakar in 1996, and Lomé in 1997, it was Cotonouís turn in 1998 to welcome about 130 participants, who came not only from the nine West African countries involved in the S.O.A.CHIM., but also from South Africa, Canada, France, and Rwanda.

Sequence of Events at the 4th S.O.A.CHIM. Congress

Presentations at the 4th S.O.A.CHIM. Congress portrayed various research activities developed in West African universities. A large part of the results concerned the promotion of natural products (extraction of essential oils, highlighting active principles linked with African pharmacopoeia, etc.).

In addition to 43 presentations on the congress theme of ìChemistry and Quality of Lifeî, 5 plenary sessions that took place in the large lecture hall in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Cotonou dealt with the following areas:

  • New nucleoside analogues: a heterochemical application; Dr. J.-P. PradËre, Faculty of Science and Technical Studies, University of Nantes, France; Part 1: HIV, replication modes, biomolecules, synthesis of nonnucleosidic derivatives; Part 2: Synthesis and activity of 2,3-dideoxynucleosidic derivatives.
  • Microscale chemistry in experimental chemistry;
    R.-E Eastes, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, France; Part 1: Definition, pedagogical interests, and prospects in Africa; Part 2: Practical demonstrations.
  • Chemical pollution: a multidimensional approach to water contamination caused by agricultural activities; Prof. O. Banton, INRS Eau, University of Quebec, Canada.
  • Urban pollution: modeling emissions of pollutants in the city of Cotonou; Prof. A. L. Ajavon, University of Benin, Lomé, Togo.

Assessment of the Congress in Cotonou

The Cotonou Congress provided an occasion for productive debates and exchanges between participants. The most successful aspect of the congress was clearly the fact that researchers from several countries working on similar topics were able to meet and discuss their results and opinions. Apart from S.O.A.CHIM. congresses, this kind of exchange is only possible through articles published in the semiannual Journal de la Société Ouest-Africaine de Chimie, which is unable to cover all the work carried out in that part of the world.

Finally, over a period of five days, ceremonial and personal interactions took place in an extraordinarily friendly and enthusiastic atmosphere. Without a doubt, this fervor will be present once again at the 6th Congress in Conakry (Guinea Conakry) in 2000.

Aspects of Chemical Sciences in Sub-Saharan West Africa

The few days spent in the company of the African scientists and the accounts they gave, as well as the experience of cooperation between laboratories and/or universities - illustrated by the particularly active collaboration developed between the University of Abidjan and the University of Nantes1 - enabled us to gain considerable insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the chemical sciences in West Africa. We portray below a brief outline of those details.


It appears that research development differs according to the countries concerned. More disadvantaged countries owe their slow progress to several diverse difficulties relating to low budgets for equipment and operating costs, problems with the supply of chemicals, difficulties with equipment maintenance, etc. Furthermore, many universities do not have the means for analyses that are crucial to the completion of a research project. These shortcomings have direct consequences on the length of time necessary to obtain results at a postgraduate work-experience level and at a doctoral thesis level, and, therefore, on the very nature of the subject matter that it is possible to develop.

When acquiring any research equipment, the decision is also linked to problems involving its maintenance. Prof. C. G. Tea, Dean of the Department of Science of Matter Structure and Technology at the University of Abidjan-Cocody, insists that one should adopt the following strategy: ìBefore any decision is made concerning the acquisition of equipment, priority should be given to the question of maintenance. Indeed, technical constraints such as power failures and important variations in voltage require the protection of our equipment. These measures regarding equipment protection apply as much to our microcomputers as they do to NMR appliances, if we have them. Furthermore, climatic conditions (humidity and/or heat) should not be overlookedî.

The difficulties involved in accessing scientific information should be emphasized. Indeed, many laboratories do not have the financial support to subscribe to the various scientific magazines. Hence, there is a clear need to cooperate with foreign laboratories that have the means to develop the required projects.


Despite the lack of resources and teaching staff, African universities welcome a large number of students. As a result, teaching costs prove to be quite high in the field of chemistry - particularly in the cases of Cocody and Abobo-Adjamé Universities in Abidjan (Ivory Coast). Even though teachers at African universities have often been trained in French-speaking countries, most of them are now African, having practically replaced the French teachers that were previously working in the universities in question. In addition, a number of teacher exchanges and teaching partnerships exist between African universities.

With regard to syllabus content, there is a clear tendency to try to incorporate teaching directed toward professional development into master's level university programs. However, although essential to the learning of chemistry at all levels, experimental teaching often remains difficult to implement.

Therefore, bearing in mind the many difficulties that workshop supervisors encounter in certain departments, microscale chemistry2 could be a concept worth developing. Indeed, low budgets, irregular supplies of solvents, lack of available equipment, and the large numbers of students to monitor occasionally force workshop supervisors to organize several pairs around one experiment. This problem is repeated regularly for years, owing to lack of chemicals and equipment. Microtechniques using small amounts of products, along with the ingenious ideas that underlie them, seem to be well adapted to these circumstances. Indeed, by reducing the costs, the risks, the time spent to implement experiments, and the amounts of chemicals necessary for each synthesis, microscale chemistry is likely to enable more students to carry out experiments by themselves. Another form of microscale chemistryódifferent from that which is currently being developed in Franceóalready exists and is now widespread with successful results in southern Africa. As far as West Africa is concerned, projects are already underway to develop experiments using small quantities of simple materials (magnesium synthesis, for example). As part of this initiative, we are also organizing a collection of lightweight materials (syringes, septa, small glass items, various test tubes, spatulas, etc.) and chemicals in small packaging so that they can be sent to several African university laboratories. Every day in our laboratories, we throw away many items too worn to be used for research purposes, but which could still be of great use in the teaching of chemistry.3

External Collaborations

It appears that, unlike the teaching situation, few research projects between Africans in the field of chemistry are currently being developed. On the other hand, a number of French laboratories are collaborating with their African counterparts. This collaboration, which is sometimes crucial to the survival of research in certain laboratories, can take on different aspects at various levels.

Therefore, the welcoming of African students on a grant into French universities, after having been chosen by written application and recommended by the scientific heads of their own universities, ensures the development of new training and/or the reinforcement of the cooperative action in progress. In the recent past, the work of certain doctoral students has even enabled them to become prize winners for their doctoral theses (awarded by the National Center for Scientific Research [C.N.R.S.]).

Furthermore, the development of integrated research programs, which includes the active participation of African teacher-researchers as part of the program of teacher training, enables expansion of oneís knowledge. These initiatives are all the more useful, because teacher-researchers often have heavy teaching loads.

However, during the completion of a cooperative project, the individuals in charge strongly urge that as much of the research program as possible be carried out in the African laboratory. This program may then be continued by the doctoral students (as work-based learning), the researcher, or the African teacher-researcher in the European laboratory involved in the cooperation, which has the necessary techniques and equipment for its development. A third partner, either from academia or from industry, may carry out the tests or measures to promote the developed subject, if necessary. These kinds of strategies are currently being formulated in order to develop new material, such as in the synthesis of biomolecules, the promotion of natural products, etc.

Cooperative programs may also involve laboratories from a number of African and French universities. For example, highlighting the active principles of plants in traditional African medicine (odontology) is the focus of a joint venture between Abidjan-Cocody University and Nantes University. As part of the program, the Faculties of Science and Technology and of Odontology and Pharmacy at the two universities are combining their expertise to complete this project. Moreover, several universities may find themselves working together on the same program.

In general, the needs that have previously been identified regarding teaching, research, and scientific information highlight the real need that these joint ventures represent for our African colleagues. Therefore, as part of this initiative, the chairman of the S.O.A.CHIM. visited France in the spring of 1999 in order to meet the different partners likely to offer their support and the various heads of the Société Francaise de Chimie (SFC).


Even though it is still young, the S.O.A.CHIM. represents Africaís determination to provide itself with the necessary means for self-development. Therefore, the effort its members put forth to increase interest can only create a feeling of optimism and confidence. Thanks to initiatives of this kind, perhaps one day the following quotation, which appeared at the rear of the conference hall at the University of Cotonou, will become obsolete: "Every child that does not have access to education is the proof that our civilization does not yet live up to human dignity" (E. Portella, a leading dignitary of UNESCO).

Chemists eager to pass on to their African colleagues subjects likely to be of some interest to them, have the opportunity to publish the information in the Journal de la Société Ouest-Africaine de Chimie4, or they may participate in any future congresses5.


1Coordinators: Prof. Y. T. NíGuessan and Dr. J.-P. Pradère.

2For more information about microscale chemistry, see: a) Martin, N. H. and Waldman, F. S. The three R's of resource management in the undergraduate organic chemistry laboratory. J. Chem. Ed., Vol. 71, November 1994, No. 11, pp. 970-971; b) Szafran, Z., Singh, M. M., and Pike, R. M. The microscale inorganic laboratory: Safety, economy, and versatility. J. Chem. Ed., Vol. 66, November 1989, No. 11, pp. A263-A267; c) Perlmutter, H. D. and Kapichak, R. K. A multiscale approach to organic chemistry laboratory introduction of kiloscale experiments. J. Chem. Ed., Vol. 69, June, 1992, No. 6, pp. 507-508; d) Silberman, R. G. Running a microscale organic chemistry lab with limited resources. J. Chem. Ed., Vol. 71, June 1994, No. 6, pp. A140-A141; e) Zipp, A. P. Introduction to 'the microscale laboratory '. J. Chem. Ed., Vol. 66, November 1989, No. 11, pp. 956-957; f) Wood, C. G. Microchemistry. J. Chem. Ed., Vol. 67, July 1990, No. 7, pp. 596-597; and g) Zubrick, J. W. The Organic Chem Lab Survival Manual: A Student's Guide to Techniques, 3rd ed. John Wiley, New York, 1992.

3Before sending any items, contact R.-E. Eastes at the following e-mail address: [email protected]

4For information about publishing in the Journal de la Société ouest-africaine de chimie, contact: Professeur Faustin Sié SIB, 06 BP 9006 Ouagadougou 06-Burkina-Faso.

5To participate in the S.O.A.CHIM. Congress, contact: Professeur Yao Thomas, NíGuessan Laboratoire de Chimie Organique Structurale, Faculté des Sciences et des Techniques, Université díAbidjan-Cocody, 22 BP 582 Abidjan 22, République de Cote d'Ivoire.



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