In a groundbreaking moment for gender representation in scientific leadership on the African continent, the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) has welcomed its new Governing Council, with prominent scientist Professor Lise Korsten assuming the role of the first female President in the Academy's 37-year history. The announcement marks a significant step forward towards promoting women's leadership in the scientific community.
Hailing from the University of Pretoria, Professor Lise Korsten is a distinguished plant pathologist who will lead the newly formed seven-member governing council from July 2023 to 2026. She succeeds Professor Felix Dapare Dakora, a renowned Ghanaian plant biologist who served as AAS President for two terms, from 2017 to 2020 and from 2020 to 2023.
The election for the prestigious position was closely contested, with Professor Korsten narrowly securing victory over former AAS vice-president for Southern Africa, Iqbal Parker, with a vote count of 53 to 49. Another candidate, Norbert Hounkonnou, received 34 votes.
The voting process, which took place from June 16 to June 20, was not without tension. The AAS had faced controversies since 2020 when its governing council suspended then-executive director, Nelson Torto, amid allegations of mismanagement. Earlier this year, Torto emerged victorious in a Kenyan court case against the AAS, shedding light on the unfairness of his dismissal and the lack of substantiated allegations.
Moreover, the AAS encountered challenges as research funders, including the Wellcome Trust, moved their grants from the AAS's grant management arm due to concerns about governance within the organization. This upheaval resulted in job losses among staff members at the academy's secretariat, with some taking legal action against their dismissal.
Dr Peggy Oti-Boateng, Executive Director at the AAS, expressed her enthusiasm about collaborating with Professor Korsten and the new Governing Council. "I look forward to working collaboratively with the new leadership to achieve the Academy's goals. I am confident that the new leadership will enable the AAS to thrive, innovate, and make a lasting impact on the scientific landscape of Africa."
The new AAS Governing Council comprises prominent scientists from Burundi, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, Tunisia, and the Republic of South Africa. As the Board of Directors, they will provide oversight for the overall functioning of the academy. Dr Peggy Oti-Boateng reiterated her confidence in the new leadership's ability to drive the academy's goals and make a lasting impact on Africa's scientific landscape.
Under the leadership of Professor Lise Korsten, the AAS is poised to embark on a journey of inclusivity, collaboration, and scientific excellence. Her election sets a remarkable precedent, inspiring future generations of female scientists and heralding a new era for the African Academy of Sciences. With a renewed commitment to its mission, the AAS aims to foster cutting-edge research and advance Africa's position on the global scientific stage.
Article by Jed Mwangi