ADDRESS BY THE MINISTER OF HIGHER EDUCATION, SCIENCE, AND INNOVATION, PROF BLADE NZIMANDE ON THE OCCASION OF THE SOUTHERN AFRICAN REGIONAL PREPARATORY CONFERENCE FOR THE 9TH PAN-AFRICAN CONGRESS

H.E. Dr Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of South Africa;

H.E. Professor Robert Dussey, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and Togolese Abroad;

H.E Mr Owen Nxumalo, Minister of Education and Training, Kingdom of Eswatini;

H.E. Ms Nthati Moorosi, Minister of Information, Communication, Science, Technology and Innovation, Kingdom of Lesotho;

H.E. Dr Itah Kandi-Murangi, Minister of Higher Education, Technology and Innovation, Republic of Namibia;

H.E. Mr Domingos Custódio Vieira Lopes, Secretary of State for International Cooperation and Angolan Communities;

H.E. Ms Lindiwe Kunene, High Commissioner, Kingdom of Eswatini;

Dr Monique Nsanzabaganwa, Deputy Chairperson for the African Union Commission;

Mr Jacques Mukwende, Head of Partnerships, Office of the AU Chairperson;

Members of the diplomatic corps;

Distinguished guests;

Members of the media;

Ladies and gentlemen

Good afternoon

At a juncture where non-state actors are gaining prominence in building bonds between nation-states, science diplomacy becomes an important instrument for policymaking.

Science benefits the entire humanity and transcends boundaries of language, ethnicity, and race, particularly in its ability to improve the quality of living for all.

At the same time, the concept of a global village reminds us that although humanity is heterogenous and marked by great diversity, the world is becoming more integrated and smaller.

We see this through joint global efforts to address common challenges that threaten humanity’s sustainable development, and we see it in increased collaboration and interconnectivity between researchers, scientists, entrepreneurs, industry, and young people.

Within this context, African countries have the opportunity and the obligation to focus their attention on diaspora communities not as lost human capital representing a brain drain, but rather to think of them as communities, which though located in multiple distant geographies, can play an important role in fostering development, poverty reduction, and economic growth.  

This is why South Africa’s new Decadal Plan for Science, Technology, and Innovation have prioritised the transformative role that the diaspora can play not only in the socio-economic development of South Africa, but also the continent at large.

We are, thus, committed to create new opportunities for our diaspora for mobility to and cooperation with Africa.

Let us consider that between 2006 and 2012, 44% of engineering and technology ventures launched in Silicon Valley in the United States were established by at least one foreign national, many of whom originally hailed from Africa.

We have also seen leading South African scientists taking up opportunities in North America and Europe. Historically the emigration of scientists, engineers and researchers has benefitted the host country, raising concerns about brain drain and ‘innovation exoduses’ from the country they left.

However, the negative perception should now be replaced with new opportunities to strengthen international networks and partnerships with the diaspora, which can notably be leveraged to address gaps in scientific domains which are crucial to the country of origin’s economic competitiveness and to solving societal challenges.

South Africa is, thus, committed to draw on the wealth of expertise from South African and other African scientists in the diaspora to expand knowledge generation and knowledge exchange in areas for Africa’s socio-economic advancement.

We all need to work together to identify such individuals, and to forge the necessary instruments for partnerships.

We believe that the deliberations we are having through these regional consultations are a crucial step forward.  

As a concrete contribution I would like to offer as resource the Africa Scientists’ Directory, an initiative supported by the DSI and developed by the Academy of Science of South Africa. 

This Directory will be demonstrated during the Experts’ Segment tomorrow and is a unique database showcasing the expertise of eminent African scientists and academics in the diaspora. We hope that more partners in the international community and the African diaspora will support this platform.

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests

One of the most crucial elements for enabling strong links with the diaspora is the creation of active connections. Connections between governments, policy makers and the diaspora, connections with industry leaders, connections between the diaspora and business opportunities.

During the COVID-19 global pandemic, we witnessed these connections at play.

South Africa, through the leadership of President Cyril Ramaphosa, worked closely with Africans in the diaspora who were selected as special envoys to lead the continent’s relief and resource mobilisation efforts in the fight against the COVID pandemic.

Through the efforts of prominent African scientists and African industry leaders based in the diaspora, South Africa was notably selected by the World Health Organization to be one of the implementing partners of the mRNA Technology Transfer Programme.

This programme aims to contribute to equitable access to mRNA vaccines by increasing the distribution of sustainable manufacturing capacity across developing countries, enhancing regional and inter-regional collaborations, and developing and empowering a local workforce through tailored and inclusive training and expert support.

What is unique in the mRNA Technology Transfer model is the multilateral process that allows sharing of technologies to multiple recipients so that through local and regional production those in need can be reached rapidly.

I would also like to highlight another important initiative to support cooperation the with the diaspora, namely the Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) Coalition for Africa, which was launched at the inaugural Africa Day during the United Nations Science, Technology, and Innovation Forum, held in May this year. 

It is an endeavour focused on creating a pathway for African states to develop, deploy, and expand the use of science, technology, and innovation in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals.

One of the key objectives of the coalition and hence its relevance for our discussions today, is that it will rely on the potential of African people, especially its youth and diaspora to expand financial and educational opportunities and to find workable and scalable STI solutions for African countries.

South Africa has had the privilege of having been one of the countries to have conceptualised this initiative.

I am happy to announce that in partnership with United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), a programme of action has been developed which in the medium term will prioritise the mapping of diaspora networks, associations, and similar formal bodies working in science, technology, and innovation.

The internationalisation of our universities is a strategic imperative.  It is, thus, essential, for scientists, researchers, and students from African countries to gain experience and exposure at academic and research institutions in other parts of the world.

We need therefore to invest developing international mobility and transnational research collaboration opportunities.

In South Africa, we have for example launched Oliver and Reginal Tambo Research Chair initiative aimed at promoting the development of scientific excellence, world class centres of excellence and greater collaboration amongst African researchers.

Through this initiative, dedicated funding is availed to leading African scientists including from the diaspora to establish world-class research groups at African universities.

You will see shortly a video of the milestones that have been achieved by the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS).

Many of the graduates from AIMS, whom are amongst Africa’s cream of the crop in the disciplines of mathematics and informatics, artificial intelligence, financial mathematics, and machine learning, are achieving great feats as young Africans in the diaspora.

It is through these dialogues which we are having today and tomorrow, where mechanisms, instruments and incentives should be identified in leveraging meaningful and impactful partnerships with especially the young people that we have invested in.

This should also compel us to think more strategically about the partnership opportunities and potential financial investments that can be leveraged through the diaspora.

In this regard we should creatively leverage the opportunities afforded by partnerships such as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), as well as the US-Africa Summit, the Russia-Africa Summit, and the African Union – European Union partnership. 

I look forward to the deliberation that will take place during this conference and to the declaration that will be adopted. 

It will serve as a critical input towards the 9th Pan Africa Congress. The Department of Science and Innovation, commits its support to work together with our Department of International Relations and Cooperation and Africa Union, and the Togolese Republic and other partners to make the 9th Pan -African Congress a success.

Let us be encouraged and guided by the words of former President Mandela, when he stated:

 “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward.  There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” 

Let’s keep moving forward, pointing our heads to the sun. 

I thank you.

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