Speech by Naledi Pandor MP, Minister of Science and Technology, "Science without borders": to the Euro-Science Open Forum in Dublin, Ireland
13 Jul 2012
Ladies and gentlemen;
Thank you for the invitation to come and address you. I am also delighted to be speaking to you at a time when our country and continent are still celebrating due to the excitement generated by the announcement of our success as joint hosts of the bid to host the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope.
Science and technology (S&T) has become a crucial instrument for the production of new knowledge, technological innovation and industrial competitiveness. S&T has also become an important tool in economic diplomacy and global partnerships.
The evolution of South Africa’s science and technology policy architecture after 1994
In 1994 the government of South Africa began to develop policies to support the development of our scientific capacity as a country. We were fortunate in that there was a good foundation to use for our growth aspirations.
Prior to 1994, public investment in South African science was largely an instrument for advancing the objectives of the apartheid government, particularly its military objectives on the African continent and elsewhere.
In 1996 the new government published the White Paper on Science and Technology. This paper emphasised the leading role of science and technology in South Africa’s development, and outlined the role that must be played by other critical partners such as universities, research institutions and industry.
To create greater institutional character and coordinate the objectives of the White Paper, a national Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology was created, which was later succeeded a by the stand-alone Department of Science and Technology.
With South Africa being responsible for no more than 0, 5% of global research output, international cooperation is essential for South African science to prosper. This is why, under the new Department of Science and Technology, one of the key priorities is strategic international scientific and technological cooperation.
This has helped us to develop relations with African partners and to optimally leverage international partnerships and investments in support of national programmes and capacity-building.
The growing importance of the science content of foreign policy has required us to pursue a concerted science diplomacy strategy. A large number of international science and technology cooperation agreements have been signed government since 1994.
The strategic role of the Department of Science and Technology in scientific and technological collaboration
The Department of Science and Technology (DST), is entrusted with the overall coordination of national research and innovation initiatives in South Africa. This includes responsibility for oversight and facilitation of South Africa’s international scientific and technological cooperation.
The International Cooperation and Resources Programme of the DST has a brief to facilitate and nurture bilateral scientific cooperation with countries in Africa, Europe, the Americas and Asia. The same Programme nurtures multilateral scientific cooperation with the African Union, the United Nations system, donor agencies and foundations, global research infrastructure projects and multinational companies, as well as focused strategic partnerships, such as with the European Union.
At present the Department has three international offices located at South Africa’s diplomatic missions in Tokyo, Moscow and Brussels, dedicated to promoting cooperation with Japan, the Russian Federation and the European Union. In the past, we also seconded an official to the secretariat of the Southern African Development Community in Gaborone, Botswana, and an official to the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
We work closely on matters of mutual interest with sister departments, such as the Department of International Relations and Cooperation and its network of diplomatic missions abroad, the Department of Trade and Industry, and the Department of Environmental Affairs.
Our science councils and other publicly-funded research and technology organisations have dedicated teams working on international cooperation. These include the National Research Foundation, which is responsible for the implementation of international science and technology cooperation agreements.
The science diplomacy agenda thus comprises multiple initiatives, all targeting strategic national priorities. South Africa’s priorities for science diplomacy can perhaps best be summed up by stating that international scientific cooperation is pursued both as an objective in its own right, and as an instrument to attain strategic national and foreign policy objectives. International cooperation and investments are sought to support the implementation of national research and innovation programmes that are informed by the developmental challenges of a society in transition.
This is why, when one examines the science and technology cooperation agreements that our government has concluded with the governments of other countries since 1994, it becomes clear that they were concluded with the specific aim of achieving the following four main objectives:
- To uplift and enhance the quality of life of our people.
- To promote science and technology for the development of our national economies.
- To promote science and technology for the improvement of our national socio-economic standard of life.
- To promote the development of existing friendly international relations.
The shift in the focus of bilateral engagements after 1994
A significant shift in emphasis in the post-1994 democratic reconstruction of South Africa has been a move from military technology exchanges closely related to sanctions busting, to a focus on science and technology exchange for economic and national development. Science diplomacy in the democratic era has promoted international cooperation and innovation in science and technology as central to enhancing economic development and competitiveness.
Within the context of a range of various objectives, some strategic objectives can be identified. Chief among these objectives is South Africa’s commitment to support African development, as well as the African regional integration agenda. The DST promotes and invests in efforts to build Africa’s science and technology capacities, and seeks to harness the role science plays to cement intra-African political and economic integration and cooperation.
A key goal is to use South Africa’s privileged relations with partners such as the European Union to reinforce African programmes. South Africa is often in the unique position of both receiving support as a recipient of development aid from developed partners for science and technology programmes, and being a donor in its own right by providing aid to strengthen other African countries’ science capacities.
In the context of international science and technology cooperation, this includes promoting technology transfer to and from South Africa, positively positioning the country in the world through international science and technology partnerships and promoting friendly relations with partner countries. The fact that some South African scientists are world leaders in their research fields means that the world can count on South Africa’s science and technology expertise when the need arises to mobilise resources globally to combat the spread of diseases, poverty and the dangers of global warming.
The relationship between science diplomacy and South Africa’s foreign policy objectives
South Africa’s science diplomacy agenda closely follows its foreign policy. For example, the fostering of South–South relations is an important strategic priority in politics and trade, but also in science. The DST has contributed for several years to the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) science and technology partnership, and also represents South Africa in the science and technology forums of BRICS, the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa grouping.
In building these new alliances, the DST can build on the foundation laid by and learn from the experience of several success stories in South Africa’s science diplomacy. Four of these will be briefly reviewed here: South Africa’s support to science and technology programmes of the African Union; South Africa’s championing of the science for sustainable development agenda; South Africa’s leadership in the Group on Earth Observations; and South Africa’s strategic science and technology partnership with the European Union.
South Africa continues to invest substantially to support the implementation of flagship science and technology initiatives of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), aligned with the Consolidated Plan of Action. This includes funding for the African Laser Centre at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Pretoria and the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Cape Town.
Through the DST’s strategic partnership with Finland, resources were leveraged to support the Southern African Biosciences Network. Presently, South Africa is prioritising the progress of the African Network for Drugs and Diagnostics Innovation (ANDI), which I am co-chairing together with the Minister of Health of Kenya. South Africa has made substantial contributions to the current vibrant progress of African science and technology. This is an objective to which we remain committed.
When South Africa hosted the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg in 2002, the DST, in partnership with the International Council for Science (ICSU), hosted a major programme of science and technology-related side events. An even more salient contribution was perhaps the role of South African negotiators in ensuring that the Summit’s Johannesburg Plan of Action clearly recognised the essential role of science and technology as an instrument for sustainable development.
These diplomatic interventions have played a part in ensuring that science for sustainable development enjoyed priority focus in global forums. The agenda was further boosted by concrete South African support for the implementation of some of the major science and technology initiatives born at the WSSD, such as the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), tasked with launching the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS.)
Not only has South Africa co-chaired the GEO since 2003, but the DST has made important contributions to its Trust Fund, notably for African capacity-building initiatives, and has seconded experts to the GEO Secretariat in Geneva.
In recent years the G20 and other global forums have recognised the strategic importance of GEO, entrusting it with the development of the Global Agricultural Monitoring Initiative. GEO is today a science-driven but government-led instrument for sustainable development, with broad global support.
Support for African programmes, championing the science for development cause and advancing the progress of GEO are all core components of one of South Africa’s most important international science and technology partnerships, namely its cooperation with the European Union.
Beyond the very successful participation of South African researchers in the European Union’s Framework Programmes for Research (outside Europe, South Africa ranks only behind the United States, the Russian Federation, China and India in terms of the number of Framework Programme participations), a multi-facetted strategic alliance that has been carefully constructed over the years since the conclusion of the South Africa-EU Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement in 1996.
This cooperation includes South Africa’s leadership in the Science, Information Society and Space Partnership of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy, South Africa’s implementation of a unique innovation for poverty alleviation budget support programme funded by the European Union, and South Africa’s co-chairing with the European Commission of the Group on Earth Observations. South Africa’s relations with the European Union highlight how science diplomacy strengthens international partnerships beyond traditional cooperation in scientific research.
I would like to highlight one of the current flagship areas for South African science diplomacy, namely radio astronomy in Africa.
Large science investment is often based on the objective of maximising comparative geographic advantages the country and continent enjoy.
To leverage our advantages, South Africa, in partnership with several other African countries recently made history when they secured the right to host most of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) global radio telescope. The bid, supported by South Africa’s construction of the exciting MeerKAT telescope, a precursor for the SKA, and several human capital development programmes, has contributed immensely to raising interest in science, technology and engineering across Africa. Astronomy is an ideal vehicle for public understanding and science education programmes, because of the excitement it generates.
As a result of our focus on astronomy, partnerships with multinational companies related to information and communication technologyengineering required for radio astronomy are thriving, with African expertise becoming a sought-after source of innovation for these companies.
Africa’s successful bid for the SKA can, in large measure, also be attributed to the effectiveness of our approach to economic diplomacy. It is no small achievement for the science diplomacy efforts of South Africa and its partners to have a discipline like astronomy, traditionally viewed as an elitist basic research domain dominated by developed countries, now being recognised at the highest level as a flagship initiative not only for African scientific capacity-building, but also for broader regional integration and economic development.
I have painted a rosy picture of South African science diplomacy efforts. There is indeed much to be proud of. A more detailed analysis, at another time, could also interrogate the obstacles, dead-ends and frustrations experienced, but that will need to wait. As sketched above, the South African science diplomacy agenda has achieved success in three areas:
- Diplomatic efforts to promote international scientific cooperation.
- International scientific cooperation to address political and economic developmental goals related to foreign policy.
- The science content of topical international relations issues and the diplomatic effort required to deal with them.
The growing dynamic interfaces between these three different components, as demonstrated by South Africa’s relations with the European Union, will only grow in importance. Herein is perhaps the biggest challenge for South Africa’s future science diplomacy engagements, namely, having an agenda which is sufficiently focused in order to ensure an optimal investment of resources, but sufficiently flexible in order to respond to the rapidly changing dynamics of international relations in the 21st century, which, if not driven by science, most certainly will require a science-based response.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
13 Jul 2012
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