Nico Elema & Ndumiso Cingo*
In early December last year, amid the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, 144 programme officers and researchers from the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Stellenbosch University (SU) met online. This was no ordinary meeting, as the participants of the workshop preliminary identified around 40 existing innovations and technologies which have the potential to be upscaled to the rest of the African continent.
Centres of excellence
This workshop further gave impetus to the recently established AUDA-NEPAD Centre of Excellence in Science, Technology and Innovation (AUDA-NEPAD CoE in STI), one of five Centres established by AUDA-NEPAD across the continent – the other Centres are focused on Climate Resilience in Cairo; Rural Resources and Food Systems in Dakar; Human Capital and Institutions in Nairobi, with the Centre for Supply Chain and Logistics still to be allocated. And then there is the Centre of Excellence for Science, Technology and Innovation in Stellenbosch, South Africa. To understand the significance of this tri-lateral partnership between AUDA-NEPAD, the CSIR and Stellenbosch University in operationalising the AUDA-NEPAD Centre of Excellence in STI, one does need to start at the beginning.
Integrating Africa’s economies
With the support of AUDA-NEPAD, African member states know what the major development problems and opportunities are at a country-level. To mention all challenges and opportunities is not possible here, but it is safe to say that the challenges focus on various priority areas which include the integration of Africa’s economies, as evident through the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) in March 2018.
Detrimental impact on development
In addition, priorities are focused on increasing investments in human development, such as increasing the number of children enrolled in primary school and adult literacy rates for the upliftment of the welfare of Africans. Such increases in welfare go hand-in-hand with effective and capable institutions such as the public sector, private sector, and academia, non-governmental, inter-governmental, regional and continental institutions. Increasing improvements in the health sector can further reduce maternal and child mortality, the incidence of chronic malnutrition among children under five, and the incidence of HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which factors continue to have a detrimental impact on development.
In addition, priorities are identified in building healthy national and regional food systems and empowering rural communities, considering that more than 60% of the continental population live in rural areas, and the rural economies remain heavily dependent on agriculture as the main source of employment and livelihood. Challenges relating to energy supply are well known, considering that electricity reaches only about half of the African population. Clean cooking energy is accessed by only one-third of the population, and access to affordable and sustainable energy remains a priority in many African countries.
Promoting climate resilience
Moreover, as the impact of climate change will be felt even more in future, there is a need for the promotion of climate resilience, with sustainable management of natural resources going a long way in securing the well-being of the people of the continent and its natural environment. Lastly, African economies can significantly be advanced through Science and Technology by intensifying the generation and application of knowledge and innovation on the continent.
It is further important to note that the political instruments are in place where, at a continental level, Agenda 2063 clearly articulated seven aspirations and 20 goals to guide the Africa we want as a fifty-year vision. In addition, the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa – (STISA-2024), is the first of several ten-year incremental strategies to respond to the demand for Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) to impact various critical sectors across the continent. At the regional and country-level, various strategies are also in place.
For example, in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), where the ‘SADC Vision 2050’ defines strategies for “a peaceful, inclusive, competitive, middle- to high-income industrialised region, where all citizens enjoy sustainable economic well-being, justice and freedom” and the ‘SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) 2020-2030’ and ‘Action Plan for SADC Industrialization Strategy and Roadmap’, which was ratified in 2017, providing clear guidance in support of the SADC Vision 2050. Similar visions and strategic plans exist in other Regional Economic Communities across the continent. Indeed, there is a need to continue to strengthen these regional bodies to be able to give effect to the strategies and action plans, and here the African Union, and the AUDA-NEPAD, do play a significant role.
It was mentioned earlier that the advancement of Science and Technology is one of the strategic priorities on the continent, and it is here where the establishment of the AUDA-NEPAD Centre of Excellence in STI comes to the fore, and where the trilateral partnership between AUDA-NEPAD, the CSIR, and Stellenbosch University can make a significant contribution.
The role of AUDA-NEPAD, with its political mandate and strategic positioning as the Development Agency of the African Union, is clear. By partnering with the CSIR and the Stellenbosch University, the AUDA-NEPAD CoE in STI has the opportunity to tap into existing home-grown solutions which can be scaled-up for application in other contexts across the continent. Both the CSIR and Stellenbosch University are well known on the continent and globally for their research, breakthrough innovations and technology transfer capabilities.
Moreover, the current collaboration will need partnerships with other institutions across the continent and globally to strengthen and adapt existing innovations and to identify other technologies and innovations which can be scaled up for the continent. Partnerships are not just required at a technical level; they need to extend to all spheres of government, business and civil society. It will be interesting to see how the future unfolds as Africa takes charge of its destiny through science, technology and innovation.
*Dr Nico Elema is the Manager of the Centre for Collaboration in Africa at Stellenbosch University. Dr Ndumiso Cingo is the Strategic Partnerships Manager for the CSIR. The article was first published in News24.
The views expressed in the article are those of the writers and not of Media Torque.