Vol. 22, No. 2
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
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.
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.
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
- 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
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
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
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
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.