Partnerships between Africa and Japan in science, technology and innovation (STI) have enormous potential for accelerating development on the continent, President Cyril Ramaphosa said during a Science and Technology in Society forum in Yokohama, Japan on Wednesday.

 

The forum is part of the seventh edition of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), a multilateral leaders' meeting on African development that started in 1993. This year's event is taking place under the theme, "Advancing Africa's development through technology, innovation and people".

 

Addressing the forum, President Ramaphosa said that Africa is looking to significantly expand its scientific and technological innovation capacity and to create institutions that will advance the continent's research agenda while directly linking its scientific endeavours to development priorities.

 

"Such investment and expansion is critical if we are to achieve the priorities set out in our continent's platform for action, Agenda 2063," the President said.

 

"After all, it is science and innovation that produced the vaccines that save the lives of millions of children on the continent. It is innovative technologies that allow expectant women to be diagnosed hundreds of miles away from a clinic and to receive treatment delivered using a drone."

 

The President told his audience of government and business representatives that South Africa aimed to follow the example of Japan, which has achieved significant growth and prosperity through dedicated investment in research and innovation for society.

 

"Our universities have been supported to train more postgraduate students, and our researchers have been supported through funding for dedicated research centres of excellence and over 200 research chairs. We would like to see the existence of research-intensive universities throughout the continent, and intend to find partners to support the creation of research chairs to promote research throughout Africa."

 

President Ramaphosa said, however, that innovation should go beyond the search for cures for diseases to embrace, for example, the development of new technologies for agriculture. He added that partnerships between government and business were essential for innovation to thrive.

 

The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande, who is part of the government's delegation to TICAD, said that Africa has huge potential for growth and development through science, technology and innovation.

 

The Minister was speaking during a Science and Technology in Society forum workshop on strengthening cooperation in STI.

 

Nzimande said that while infrastructure building and public-private partnerships were important, STI had a key role to play in sustainable development in Africa. "There is a very close relationship between the economic development of our continent and the role of STI."

 

The Minister noted that, through a number of collaborative initiatives between Africa and Japan, new technologies, including solar-to-hydrogen technologies and new agricultural and food production technologies, were being experimentally developed on the continent. Projects involving collaborative research on infectious diseases had also been carried out.

 

"It is therefore important for Africa and Japan to explore further opportunities in STI in the context of Africa's development," Nzimande said.

 

Cooperation in science and technology between South Africa and Japan was formalised with the signing of the Agreement on Scientific and Technological Cooperation in August 2003.

 

Since then, over R85 million – R72 million of this coming from Japan – has been invested in more than 55 joint research projects and other programmes that have provided South African researchers, students and scientists with access to Japanese expertise and science facilities.

 

In addition, various exchange programmes and training schemes for young researchers have been established, and 24 university-to-university memoranda of understanding have been signed.