World Federation of Science Journalists

Science cafés: Where African scientists become accessible

February 3, 2010

 Science journalists often have much difficulty getting African scientists accept to be interviewed. Ruth Wanjala, reports from Nairobi (Kenya) how science cafés might be part of the solution and create good opportunities for science journalists.

Ms. Wanjala describes a science café held 23rd January 2010 in Nairobi, Kenya. The event was chaired by veteran Kenyan science journalist Otula Owuor, who was pleased to see some fifteen colleagues participating.

“I would say that the science café concept allows journalists to also interact informally with the scientists”, emailed Ms. Wanjala. “And probably add depth to a science story as opposed to a normal media interview which would probably be more constrained and formal with the usual complexities of the scientist-journalist relationship.”

Ms. Wanjala adds: “After our cafés end, we usually have journalists stay behind and ask the scientists to further explain concepts and ask what seem like "dumb questions" in the informal atmosphere which I think enriches the stories and helps build better relationships between scientists and journalists.”

Read the brief account of the Science Café Debate:
Does Kenya REALLY care about Science?


Does Kenya REALLY Care about Science?


by Ruth Wanjala

Science Café is a model of science communication that places scientists in unusual professional surroundings - often a coffee-shop, restaurant or bar - to discuss topical and thought provoking scientific issues with the public in the presence of the media. Science Cafés aim to demystify scientific research for the general public and empower non-scientists to more comfortably and accurately assess science and technology, particularly those that impact on social policy making.

 The panelists during the January Grand Debate
(Otula Owuor is 3rd from the left)

The Kenya Science Cafés have now been running for fifteen months and have covered a wide range of subjects ranging from Mental Health, Fibre Optic Cable, HIV Vaccine, to Scientific Research ethics. Regular meetings are organized in a café/bar or any other informal setting where one or several scientists are invited to talk in layman's terms about their work in a topical or even controversial area. The events are known for their informal and friendly atmosphere. The media coverage of the Science cafés has been more than encouraging with articles in the Daily Nation, Standard, Business Daily, and African Science News Service (ASNS), People and in Radio and TV: KBC, BBC and Nation TV.

The Grand Debate which was held under the theme Does Kenya really care about Science? was an adaptation of the Kenyan Science Cafés and sought to get Kenyans thinking about the role of Science and Technology in development and in improving livelihoods. The Debate was held on Saturday 23rd January 2010, Louis Leakey Auditorium, Nairobi National Museum. It featured Dr Lusike Wasilwa - Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI)/AWARD, Prof. Shaukat Abdulrazak - National Council of Science and Technology (NCST), Prof. Raphael Munavu - Kenya National Academy of Sciences (KNAS), Dr Samson Kinyanjui - KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Program (KWTRP), Ms Zipporah Musau - Standard Media Group.

An attendant asks a question during the Grand Debate

The idea behind the Grand Debate was to probe the place of Science and Technology in mitigating some of the numerous challenges Kenya faced in 2009 including food insecurity, emerging epidemics, natural and man-made disasters, water scarcity and power rationing. The Grand Debate also aimed to look into Kenya’s capacity to embrace new technological advancements in science and technology such as the fibre optic cable for development.

Some of the key discussions at the Grand Debate were centered on funding for science and technology in Kenya, Brain Drain, women in science, capacity building/training of Kenyan scientists, science and religion and the coverage of science in the media. Discussions also touched on Kenya’s ranking among the international scientific community, the quality of science education in the country, the amount of money spent in Kenya’s research and development and the quality of science coverage in the country amongst other issues.

The Grand debate was filmed and we are currently in the process of editing it to a short documentary to be made available to the public. We hope that the Grand Debate will prompt more Kenyans to discuss and debate the role of Science and Technology for development in the country.

View brochure on the Kenya Science Cafés