Programme Director

Prof. Felix Dapare Dakora, President of the African Academy of Sciences

Prof. Nelson Torto, Executive Director of the African Academy of Sciences

Dr Vladimír Šucha, Director-General of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre

Fellows and Affiliates of the African Academy of Sciences

Distinguished International Guests

Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Ladies and Gentlemen

 

It is a great privilege to deliver these remarks on the occasion of the opening of the 11th General Assembly of the African Academy of Sciences.  The Department of Science and Technology is delighted and proud to support the Academy in the organisation of this prestigious gathering.  The General Assembly marks the start of an intense week of activities, concluding with our annual Science Forum South Africa later this week, during which we will aim to put science at the heart of the national and African continental discourse.

 

Allow me, Programme Director, to quote one of the greatest leaders of this continent Kwame Nkrumah, who said "It is clear that we must find an African solution to our problems and that this can only be found in African unity. Divided we are weak. United, Africa could become one of the greatest forces for good in the world."

Earlier this year, at the South African Development Community's Annual Ministerial Meeting on Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, I had the opportunity to talk to Prof. Torto about hosting the General Assembly with our Science Forum. The decision to cooperate was easily made and informed by three strategic objectives.

 

  • Firstly, the South Africa Government entirely shares the Academy's strategic priority to invest in and leverage science, technology and innovation as instruments for growth and development – to defeat poverty and ensure that Africa not only responds to but also leads in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This is also a very important theme in our new White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation, which is currently being finalised.

 

  • Secondly, South Africa has a historic commitment to support and strengthen pan-African continental and regional science, technology and innovation institutions and capacities.  For example, for many years we seconded officials to the SADC Secretariat in Gaborone, funded activities of the African Union and, through our Academy of Science of South Africa, supported the Network of African Science Academies.  Our support for the AAS is part of this commitment.  

 

  • Thirdly, we believe that the African Academy of Sciences, as our continent's premier membership association bringing together Africa's leading scientists, including our brightest emerging talent, has a crucial role to play in advancing the African scientific enterprise.  Delivering scientific advice for policy-making to ensure our continent responds effectively to the Sustainable Development Goals by implementing pan-African research and innovation funding programmes are some of the critical roles the AAS should play – and ones in which we are determined to support the Academy.

 

The General Assembly's theme of "Our History, Impact and Future" is entirely appropriate for this year's gathering. The AAS has a proud history to celebrate but, as required by the scientific approach, we should critically analyse whether we are achieving the desired impact, helping to build the "Africa we want", which is our ultimate objective. 

 

I am also encouraged that partnership-building is at the heart of the strategic agenda for the Assembly.  Science knows no borders between countries or disciplines, hence it is critical for the AAS to invest in partnerships – internationally but also within Africa, with civil society, industry and all stakeholders.  The AAS should be a dynamic, accessible partner for African development – not a secluded ivory tower.

 

Partnerships are essential for coordinated, strategic planning for African research and development, and reducing the fragmentation of resources and duplication of efforts that has been detrimental to the development of science in Africa.  Here I would like to laud the AAS and its platforms, including the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa and the Coalition for African Research and Innovation, through which the AAS is bringing together funders to systematically collaborate – reducing the duplication of efforts – for the benefit of Africa. Through this coordinated effort we will be able to make an positive impact on the six priority areas of the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024), namely the eradication of hunger and achieving food security; the prevention and control of diseases; communication (physical and intellectual mobility); the protection of our space; living together to build society; and wealth creation.

 

Science in Africa remains underfunded at 1,3% of global spend, according to the 2015 UNESCO Science Report.  Promoting partnerships should thus be a strategic priority for the AAS to mobilise support for science, and to promote networking and the sharing of ideas to create a robust research ecosystem.  The AAS also has an important role to play in promoting interest in Africa's research management capacities.

 

In this regard, we await with interest the launch during the Science Forum of the AAS's new Good Financial Grant Practice standard, an innovative and integrated tool to standardise, simplify and strengthen the financial governance of research grant funding worldwide.  At a time when the investment of public funds is coming under even greater scrutiny by the societies we serve, the development and adoption of protocols such as the GFGP is a good example of the impact the AAS can achieve.

 

For optimal use of all the available funding for science and technology in the African continent, there should be better coordination of all the institutions making the funds available.  For instance, the African Development Bank has already invested $2 billion in 70 education projects between 2005 and 2017, with a primary focus on science and technology, and continues to make major investments in various African countries to advance science and technology.

 

To promote gender equality, the African Development Bank also aims to speed up the enrolment of girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  To this end, the bank is investing $42 million and $13 million in the establishment of the Pan-African University and Nelson Mandela Institute of Science and Technology, respectively.  The focus of these institutions will be science and technology.

 

I also noted with appreciation the AAS's commitment to promoting African women in science and addressing the gender imbalances in African research.  I salute the AAS cohort of African women scientists – formidable forces that have driven groundbreaking research impacting society, and have been recognised globally for their scientific contributions. For example, last year the BBC named South Africa's Prof. Quarraisha Abdool Karim one of seven trailblazing women in science.

 

African women in science can be role models to change stereotypes about women in science, to catalyse individual career development and to encourage young girls and women to pursue careers in science.  Women make up 50 per cent of the population, but African women scientists account for only 30 per cent of the total number of African researchers.  Let me acknowledge that the AAS is contributing to bridging the gender divide by funding research focusing on issues facing women and children. One example is the maternal, neonatal and child health innovations funded through Grand Challenges Africa.

 

I do not want to miss the opportunity to reiterate that South Africa is in the last stages of the development and approval by our government of the White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation, which we believe will take this country to greater heights.

 

The AAS has a large presence in South Africa, and of course we are honoured to count its President among one of the leading scientists affiliated to a South African institution.  The AAS is a key partner for our national system of innovation, including through its funding of programmes of strategic importance, while promoting national and intra-Africa collaboration.

 

We are, thus, proud to be part of the AAS's history, to assist the Academy in enhancing its impact and, most crucially, to be its partner for the future, building on the foundation of welcoming the General Assembly in Tshwane.  I wish everyone a most successful General Assembly, marked by rich, intense debate, which will advance our common agenda, and look forward to participating in the gala dinner on Tuesday night at which we will be celebrating African women in science, and the AAS Founding Fellows.

 

In conclusion, I would like to pay tribute to our former President, Nelson Mandela, whose centenary we are celebrating this year.  We also remember that it was on this day that the world gathered for his memorial service at the FNB Stadium in 2015.  We stand on his shoulders not only as South Africans, but as a global community, because he remains one of the greatest leaders the world has seen.

 

In this spirit let me quote President Nelson Mandela when he said "What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived.  It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead." Ladies and gentlemen, the task ahead of us is to ensure that we make a difference through our work; that we use science to change the lives of our communities. We dare not fail.

 

I thank you.