Public Lecture by HE Dr GNM Pandor, Minister for International Relations and Cooperation, at the UNISA 150th Anniversary celebration, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 31 July 2023
Dr Samuel Kifle, State Minister, Ministry of Education,
HE Ambassador Xolisa Makaya, Ambassador of South Africa to Ethiopia,
Ambassador Dr Muktar Kedir Abdu, Ambassador of Ethiopia to South Africa,
Professor Puleng LenkaBula, Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of South Africa,
Dr Tsige Aberra, Regional Director, UNISA Ethiopia Regional Learning Centre,
Excellencies and members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour for me to address you this evening at this event, to mark a very important milestone in the life of the University of South Africa. It is particularly inspiring that UNISA chose the theme “Science Diplomacy – Reclaiming Africa’s Intellectual Futures into the Next 150 Years”.
The year 1946 saw UNISA become the first university in the world to adopt the open distance education model, then called “learning by correspondence” through the UNISA Division of External Studies. This foresight and agility are what has seen UNISA adapting through its different iterations over the years, to remain standing 150 years later. The COVID-19 pandemic and consequent accelerated developments in digital technologies have shone a positive spotlight on long-distance education.
To this, we say, congratulations!
Hundred and fifty years (150) of UNISA’s existence is a significant milestone not only for South Africa but for the Continent as a whole. The University, through its innovative tuition offerings, research, and development, has managed to overcome the barriers of borders, attracting students across the continent and beyond. The over 900 masters and 454 PhDs produced by UNISA, is a resounding testimony to this Pan-African University.
Therefore, on this occasion, we must ask ourselves, what would the University of South Africa be like in 2063 or in 2173, which is 150 years from now? What kind of contribution do we want this university to make to the continent in terms of training future scholars and professionals and generating new knowledge? Will UNISA still be relevant in responding to new realities and innovations?
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The phenomenon of countries advancing their scientific and technological developments is historic. However, it has found new expression in the 21st century in the form of advances pursued through international relations – hence the concept of science diplomacy. Science diplomacy with its myriad definitions and context, can be described as a country’s efforts into improving the intersection of science, technology and foreign policy. The global community acknowledges the work done by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), on their effortful work to popularise courses on science diplomacy.
On its part, the African Continent has made tremendous inroads in using scientific evidence in the formulation of public and foreign policy. In this regard, the University of South Africa must leverage its presence across the continent by building partnerships and networks. Partnerships are important for drawing together the capabilities, interests, and resources of different stakeholders to achieve Agenda 2063.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Indeed, science, technology and innovation are enablers for achieving our mutual socio-economic development goals, building on our vast existing ecosystems of bilateral and multilateral relationships driven by our shared values, common interests and policy imperatives.
If we are to achieve our goals as envisioned in Agenda 2063, the Research, Development and Innovation Agenda should be an axis of such partnerships, networks and Collaborations. We believe that the Innovation Agenda will create a huge growth potential for the innovation ecosystems within the continent and contribute to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the African Union Agenda 2063, and the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA 2024).
Through this theme, the university has already committed to continue adapting its knowledge production modalities, research, innovation, and community engagement approaches, and to address the evolving needs of our African continent.
Accelerating sustainable economic growth is a priority for all of us. Developed countries have prioritised research development and innovation in science as part of their recovery plans for current and future global economic crises, including recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigating the adverse impacts of Climate Change.
Similarly, strong developing countries such as China, India and Brazil, are reaping the benefits of their investment in science, technology and innovation-driven policies over the past decades. Advances in scientific and technological knowledge made possible significant reductions in poverty and improved quality of life.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Governments have placed focus and resources towards expanded and strategic internationalisation in the form of joint research and innovative initiatives, building human capacity through international mobility, strengthening and growing research infrastructure capabilities. Science diplomacy has contributed towards socio-economic development and allowed us to firstly reinforce our foreign policy objectives through global solidarity, multilateralism, the African Agenda and South-South Cooperation.
New developments such as the Square Kilometre Array and Artemis Program, present African countries with an opportunity to play a role in the world’s leading radio telescopes and deep space monitoring capacities. The Artemis Program is a human and robotic Moon exploration program led by NASA, involving the EU, Japanese and Canadian space programs. The program’s long-term goal is to establish a permanent human base on the Moon and thereafter potentially on Mars.
International scientific cooperation has also led to a greater understanding of complex global crises such as climate change, the loss of biological diversity, and pollution. Understanding these crises is the first step toward addressing them. We are pleased with the outcomes secured at the recent COP27 Summit on the shared threat to our environment, which was informed by science.
At a bilateral level, the successful cooperation in the field of science between South Africa and Ethiopia includes joint endeavours in space science and technology. This project is implemented by the South African National Space Agency and the Ethiopian Space Science and Geospatial Institute.
We must deepen dialogue and engagement between policymakers and innovators, remove barriers, and close gaps that impede innovation and creativity. Innovation is a substantial economic opportunity for the Continent’s development. We must demand that our Universities, Science Councils, Think Tanks, State Owned Enterprises and Industry Private Sector, and Innovation and tech hubs make use of initiatives such as the Continental Free Trade Area and the Digital Transformation Strategy, among others, to realise the Africa we want.
As the African proverb says: “If you want to go fast go alone but if you want to go far go together”, the same applies to the progress we need in the field of science, the solutions that science needs are borderless and require collective effort. The AU represents the ambition to reinforce science, technology and innovation capabilities on the continent. In turn, science will help reboot weakened multilateral institutions which are so crucial in achieving our development aspirations. As a continent, we must utilise and leverage our membership to multilateral and mini-lateral partnerships to bridge the digital divide and secure access to technology, in order to create decent jobs and attract investment.
It is therefore essential to create a conducive environment that allows science to flourish in the countries of the South. The developing South is often seen as a “beggar” when asking for access to key technologies for its development. Developed countries place hefty requirements, unfair and discriminatory trade regimes, which limit our advances in science.
The recent Covid global pandemic has shown us that effective health solutions are science-based. Developed countries used their scientific research capabilities and were quick to respond than the rest of us. On a positive note, South Africa has also been part of the launching of the World Health Organisation mRNA Hub led by Afrigen and the NantSA laboratory, which will collaborate with the mRNA hub by providing RNA enzymes required to produce vaccines. This is a tremendous contribution towards ensuring that Africa is not left behind if the world is faced with other debilitating pandemics in the future. This, ladies and gentlemen, did not come easy. We had to fight for the temporary waiver of intellectual property rights by the WTO, which allowed the continent to access much-needed Covid-19 vaccines at the time.
Going forward we need a fundamental transformation and modernisation of the global financial architecture, and reform of the multilateral Development Banks to make them fit for purpose to assist developing countries with their Sustainable Development and Just Transition efforts. By addressing issues such as debt, risk aversion to investing in developing countries, and creating markets in developing regions for new technologies such as green hydrogen, the full potential of STI can be unleashed.
The possibilities of science are limitless, and as we forge ahead with ground-breaking research and innovation, it is inevitable that multilateralism will be strengthened as countries break through frontiers with far greater speed and effectiveness when working together. Our hope is that in rebooting multilateralism, science will also fortify the bonds of global solidarity on many of the pressing issues of our times.
ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION
OR Tambo Building
460 Soutpansberg Road