Speech by Naledi Pandor MP, Minister of Science and Technology, at the Africa-European Union Partnership Symposium: Science for Economic Development at the Euro-Science Open Forum in Dublin, Ireland
14 Jul 2012Chairperson, Professor Serageldin;
Fellow panelists, Director-General Smits, Dr Brito and Dr Murenzi;
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is indeed a great pleasure and privilege for me to address this session on cooperation between Africa and Europe. Africa and Europe have a growing science and technology partnership. This session is therefore highly appropriate and I would like to commend Prof Cunningham and his organising team for arranging it.
I would like to focus on three issues. Firstly, reflections on why science cooperation between Africa and Europe is so important, and why it should be at the heart of the Africa-EU relationship. Secondly, to outline some of the plans of the African Ministerial Council on Science and Technology, and the exciting research and innovation plans afoot in Africa, and what this means for cooperation with Europe. Thirdly, I would like to offer some suggestions on how we can best leverage Africa-EU science partnerships for economic development.
There are long-standing political, economic and cultural ties between Africa and Europe. We do have many diverse interests, partners and objectives but our continents still need each other very much. We need to ensure that science and technology plays a greater role in our cooperation. It is interesting to note that despite different socio-economic contexts, African and European policymakers agree that research and innovation should be prioritised as instruments for growth and development. The EU has its Europe 2020 and Innovation Union strategies. In Africa’s we have Africa’s Science and Technology Consolidated Plan or at the national level strategies such as the South African Ten Year Innovation Plan. We have similar objectives. The case for working together is compelling.
Africa and Europe are also confronted by many global challenges, such as climate change, pandemic disease or energy security. In order to successfully address these, enhanced global science and innovation partnerships are required. To fully realise the potential of our cooperation, a key objective should be a well designed science and technology capacity-building in Africa. We need to unleash Africa’s enormous potential to contribute to global knowledge generation. Specific focus areas should be human capital development and support for research infrastructures. The goal should be to build new but also to further develop existing capacities.
Whilst addressing global challenges is pivotal, it is important that science and technology cooperation between Africa and Europe is not restricted to the traditional areas of cooperation such as agriculture, health and environment research. Cooperation should include a comprehensive series of engagements covering the entire research and innovation value chain, from fundamental and frontier research to the translation and commercialisation of the results of our research partnerships.
There are several ongoing Africa-EU science cooperation initiatives and there is potential to launch many more, it is, however, important to guard against fragmentation of efforts. It may be useful to identify specific flagship initiatives in order to optimally mobilise resources and to secure and retain the attention of high-level policymakers and commitment of sustainable support. Such large-scale initiatives have the potential to transform the landscape of Africa-EU science and technology cooperation, but also to deliver maximum impact for society. They should be aligned with our existing continental frameworks and priorities.
It is within this context that I thought it would be appropriate for me, to share recent decisions of he African Ministerial Council on Science and Technology (AMCOST). In May the Council decided to initiate steps to establish a dedicated financing instrument for research and innovation in Africa. This will be the first African-financed pan-African funding instrument for science and technology on our continent. For our partners in Europe, this should be good news, as with African funding we should be able to further progress initiatives such as the African Research Grants programme, which was started with the much appreciated seed funding from the European Union. Specific efforts will also be made to assist African countries to progress towards the objective of attaining national expenditure of 1% of GDP on research. This will include a coordinated effort to sensitise national parliaments. The positive growth levels in many African countries create a firm basis for the pursuit of our objectives.
African research and innovation programmes are progressing in a number of disciplines and their implementation will be further enhanced by a formal review of our Consolidated Plan of Action. One of the new cooperation opportunities for Europe is the establishment of the African Network for Drugs and Diagnostics Innovation (ANDI) and Africa’s successful bid to host the world’s largest telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope.
By establishing networks of centres of excellence in health innovation in Africa, ANDI is playing a critical role in helping us to ensure better coordination of and efficiency in our investments harnessing science and technology to fight disease in Africa. These centres focus on drug and vaccine development, diagnostics as well as medical devices and technologies. With targeted interventions across the full innovation value chain, the goal is also to boost Africa’s indigenous pharmaceutical capacity for optimal impact on society. In this regard, there is rich potential for synergy with the European Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) which should be exploited.
In November, a conference will be held in Cape Town presenting the second phase of EDCTP to African stakeholders. Links and cooperation between the EDCTP, ANDI and other relevant initiatives will be discussed on this occasion. There is much to be done and the burden of disease is such that actions should be prioritised over words. I am for example happy that we have launched a programme in South Africa to manufacture active pharmaceutical ingredients in Africa for the development of anti-retroviral drugs.
The second area for co-operation if the astronomy sciences. We have made important investments, both with regard to infrastructure and human capital, to position Africa as an international partner of choice in astronomy sciences. A decade of investment in this area of comparative advantage has given use to many economic opportunities. Engineers, astrophysicists, ICT specialists and several other professions have been able to participate in our initiatives. Some of our telescopes are located in remote rural areas – we have had to build roads, ensure energy supply and connectivity for all our projects. All this astronomy work has brought economic opportunity to vulnerable communities and supported the development of Science and Mathematics at local schools. The astronomy sciences have given life to a re-invigorated science focus in South Africa and several African countries.
Recognising these attributes and the outstanding technical quality of the African bid, it is these successes that led to the members of the SKA Organisation deciding on 25 May that South Africa and eight partner countries should host approximately 70% of the world’s largest telescope, the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope. We are immensely proud of this achievement, which is global recognition of the progress of African science and technology. For the first time, Africa will host one of the world’s major large-scale research infrastructures. Europe is a key partner in the SKA and the European Commission through various preparatory initiatives has contributed significantly to the project’s progress. There is a special case to be made for a focused radio astronomy partnership between Africa and Europe – and calls in this regard have recently been made by both the European Parliament and the African Union Assembly.
Radio astronomy is a powerful driver for innovation in domains such as information and communication technologies, including high-speed networks and super-computing, advanced materials and manufacturing and renewable energy. A good example is the blossoming cooperation in very-long baseline interferometry (VLBI). There is strong European interest in the development of an African VLBI Network and South Africa has already become a Member of the Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe (JIVE). Not only do economic opportunities related to VLBI cooperation abound as satellite communication dishes across Africa will be reconfigured for radio astronomy purposes, but the capacities of Europe’s VLBI infrastructure for scientific discovery, will be immensely enhanced by partnering with African infrastructure.
As demonstrated by developments in the field of radio astronomy, the landscape for African-European science cooperation is changing in an exciting and for some, perhaps even surprising manner, with much greater potential for mutually beneficial partnerships. Coming to the final part of my intervention, I would now like to share with you a reflection on how best to harness our cooperation for economic development. Four key interventions are required. Firstly, we need to broaden the range of actors involved in our science partnerships; Secondly, at the policy level we need to ensure an enabling environment for innovation partnerships is in place; Thirdly we should work to ensure access to innovative funding instruments, which can boost innovation; and fourthly science and technology cooperation should be mainstreamed across the different thematic focus areas of Africa-EU cooperation.
With regard to the actors, it is safe to say that universities and public research organisations dominate the Africa-EU science and technology cooperation landscape. We will maximise economic benefit by ensuring a greater involvement of industry, both as funders and performer, but also users of research. Specific attention should be paid to the role of small and medium enterprises engines for growth in both Africa and Europe. How can we better match the products and services provided by our R&D performers with the needs of our SMEs ? There is much potential for enhancing technology transfer and not only from Europe to Africa, but also in the other direction. Extending to Africa initiatives such as the Enterprise Europe Network, which has done much to promote technology transfer in Europe, should for example be considered. It is imperative that that the end-users of research, including civil society, play a much more active role in our cooperation. I would, thus, like to propose that we consider creating platforms linking academia, research, industry but also civil society to develop strategic research and innovation agendas for our priority areas of cooperation.
African-European cooperation in innovation will, however, only flourish if the enabling policy environment is in place. We need an innovation policy dialogue between our two continents, which can identify potential barriers to cooperation, initiate actions to eliminate them and launch initiatives to put innovation at the heart of our partnership. There are several important issues to consider. For example, our different rules regarding intellectual property management – do they encourage or discourage cooperation?
We should also learn from each other. What are the best practices to for example use public procurement as a driver for innovation? Is there scope for partnerships with Europe as we seek through technology localisation programmes to reinforce African capacities to participate in large industrial and infrastructure programmes? Of course also in science and technology cooperation, as we get closer to market, competition between African and European economic interests may occur and is not necessarily unhealthy. Opportunities for cooperation will, however, still be there for mutual benefit and we must find and exploit them. Joint African-European training programmes to develop the skills of our young entrepreneurs or programmes providing incubation support for start-up companies could for example strengthen African-European alliances to join forces in key sectors in the competitive technology global marketplace. Win-win is possible.
Funding is of course central to any effort to promote cooperation in innovation. We should interrogate whether the current funding instruments for Africa-EU science partnerships are the most appropriate ones to ensure economic benefit is leveraged from our cooperation. I noted with interest the European Commission’s proposal for the new Horizon 2020 Framework Programme to have an integrated approach to funding for research and innovation. This will undoubtedly assist us to ensure that greater economic impact from our cooperation under the Framework Programmes is achieved. But we should look beyond the traditional funding instruments. What can we do to encourage support from venture capital for African and European science entrepreneurs ? The European Investment Bank, the African Development Bank, other financial institutions – surely they have a crucial role to play, as we expand the ambition of our cooperation. As mentioned before the landscape of our cooperation is changing and we need to promote the involvement of a greater range of actors, also funders.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in Europe the policy discourse of how the EU’s regional development funds should be used to boost research and innovation, I am referring to the so-called cohesion funds, is well developed. Indeed, in countries such as Ireland, these instruments have contributed significantly to enhancing science and technology capacities. Coming to my last point and linked to the issue of funding, I would like to urge that far greater support to science and technology capacity-building in Africa is provided by the development cooperation instruments of the Africa-EU partnership. The policy rationale is exactly the same as the one for the EU cohesion funds. The best investment in Africa’s long-term sustainable development is an investment to build the continent’s indigenous research and innovation capacities. This should be a major focus of the next European Development Fund.
All major areas of Africa-EU cooperation, whether related to public health, energy security, environmental protection or trade and investment ties, require a strong science and technology support. Hence my proposal that in addition to the specific focus under the current so-called 8th Science, Information Society and Space Partnership of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy, science and technology should be mainstreamed as a horizontal, cross-cutting and priority focus area of Africa-EU cooperation with appropriate support provided under the broad sweep of funding instruments for Africa-EU cooperation.
Ladies and Gentlemen, fellow panelists, I hope that our discussion today will enhance our understanding of how to further strengthen science partnerships in Africa and Europe and maximise their economic impact. I have made some suggestions for a more strategic, concerted approach to leverage the exciting opportunities on offer. I truly believe there is now a golden opportunity to develop new, strategic and mutually beneficial African-European science partnerships. These are partnerships, which will not only enrich the global scientific knowledge base, but can also deliver a transformational impact, not only across scientific disciplines, but also for the betterment of our societies. I hope you have found my contribution of value for our discussion to which I very much look forward to.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
14 Jul 2012
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