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A framework for science and technology

Summary & Comment: 02.17.03 These excerpts from Dr. Ngubane’s speech highlight the importance of science and technology in NEPAD’s plan for eliminating poverty in Africa. Biotechnology is emphasized to aid agricultural productivity and eliminate disease. Key words in the speech are cooperation, partnership and collaboration. These must exist between the West and Africa and among African regions and sub-regions as a way of closing the knowledge and development chasms between them and the rest of the world. CD (Résumé in French follows.)

Author: Dr. Ben Ngubane Date Written: 17 February 2003
Primary Category: AU/NEPAD Document Origin: South African Ministry of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology
Secondary Category: -none- Source URL:
Key Words: science, bio-technology, poverty, agriculture, disease

Printable Version

A framework for science and technology:
Excerpts from the keynote address at the NEPAD Workshop
 Crowne Plaza Hotel, Sandton, Gauteng, 17

by Dr Ben Ngubane, MP, Sout African Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology

Ladies and Gentleman, indeed this workshop presents us with an opportunity to convince the man in the street of the impact and relevance of science and technology on our daily lives, as the new millennium anticipates significant scientific and technological breakthroughs in life sciences, energy technologies and information technology that will provide unprecedented scope for human diversity and opportunities for self-fulfilment.

The developing world, and particularly Africa, looks set to be burdened indefinitely by hunger, disease and underdevelopment. Indeed, if food insecurity persists and the decline of human health systems and the environment continues unabated, the prospects for Africa's development will continue to dissipate and the benefits of today's frontier sciences will remain firmly beyond its reach. This precarious and desperate situation is directly linked to low levels of investment in science and technology and has resulted in a deep and almost insurmountable knowledge and development chasm between the continent and the rest of the world.

The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) is a bold acknowledgement by African leaders of the development dilemmas that have kept a permanent stranglehold on the growth of the continent and a sincere commitment to address the enormous challenges associated with this complex process. To deal with these imbalances NEPAD inaugurated a comprehensive
strategy to eradicate poverty and enhance sustainable development on the continent.

Amongst the central pillars of this strategy are four critical science and technology platforms, identified to support:
* The promotion of cross-border co-operation and connectivity, utilizing knowledge currently available in centres of excellence on the continent;
* The development and adaptation of information collection and analytical capacity to support production activities as well as exports;
* The generation of a critical mass of technological expertise in targeted areas that offer high growth potential, especially in biotechnology and natural sciences; and
* The assimilation and adaptation of existing technologies to diversify manufacturing production.

The strategic significance of the platforms lies in their focus on the strengthening of regional and sub-regional co-operation through the use of geographic information systems (GIS), through the convergence of product standards, quality control and through the integration of excellence in spheres of biotechnology and natural sciences.

Although this programme represents a roadmap that is both realistic and workable, it is clear that there are a number of significant policy challenges linked to the implementation of the objectives of the platforms. Experience has shown in Europe that unless an implementation strategy is firmly rooted in an intergovernmental dialogue and consensus, it is less likely to succeed; and decisions flowing from such a process will remain at best ad hoc and unsustainable.

Encouragingly, in recent months we have seen the beginnings of a serious intergovernmental dialogue about making science work for the world's poor - first at the ACP-EU Forum on Research for Sustainable Development in Cape Town and later at the Science Forum of the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg,. The strong and clear message which resonated in both Cape Town and Johannesburg was that science and technology are tools, not rewards for development and their optimal utilization by the developing world is predicated on strong partnerships, both amongst developing countries themselves and with the developed world.

The important implication of these events for NEPAD is that they provided a clear understanding of the importance of the role of partnerships in developing countries to make science and technology work for development. It also clearly demonstrated that the development imbalances manifest in the developing world science and technology can be markedly reduced, through deliberate actions on the part of both developed and developing countries.

We should indeed take heed of the lessons learnt in Europe where knowledge and innovation underpinned by intergovernmental instruments remain the key drivers of economic growth. The truth is if we want to transcend the scourge of poverty and disease, the only viable modality open to Africa and the rest of the developing world is the creation of regional and sub-regional growth and development strategies sustained by a new global partnership in science and technology.

Societies that have harnessed science and technology have benefited immensely and have been able to rapidly accomplish feats that may have taken hundreds of years. The success stories of South and East Asia in tackling poverty and under-development are for an example, instances of judicious application of science and technology in the production process.

Allow me to quote from an 1881 address by Edward Blyden, one of our foremost African leaders, talking to the Liberian College: "The African must advance by methods of their own. We must possess a power distinct from that of Europe". NEPAD answers Blyden's call for African leadership and commitment and asserts that Africans can and must advance by methods of their own and indeed are able "to carve out our way".

Of course, ladies and gentlemen, this African ownership needs to be retained and strongly promoted and enhanced by forging durable partnerships with our friends in the developed world. It goes without saying that such partnerships must be based on mutual respect, shared responsibility and mutual accountability.

The adoption of NEPAD is considered as one of the most important developments of recent times. This is the case, in particular because it places Africa at the apex of the global agenda. Indeed, NEPAD is providing a platform for building scientific excellence in Africa in order to be globally competitive and contributing to the socio-economic development of the continent. What we should realize and emphasize is that science and technology play a pivotal role in meeting this challenge. That investment in science, technology and innovation is the string on your kite - allowing it to rise higher and higher - above poverty and social challenges!

It has been said, many times that Africa is richly endowed with an enormous variety of natural resources, in the form of industrial and other minerals, enviably rich biodiversity (indeed with many surprises), a wide range of environmental regimes with capacity for sustainable biomass production, as well as unique scenic beauty, giving the continent an enormous potential for highly profitable eco-tourism.

Yet, so many millions of the people on our continent are classified as living in absolute poverty, and so many others die everyday from diseases that could be prevented. The identified NEPAD science and technology objectives thus focus on the core challenges of food production, health, energy, information communications, mining and industrial production. It offers a framework for collaboration across Africa and for finding optimum synergies between networks of centres of excellence on the continent. Collaboration with international partners is also an important component of this plan.

From this workshop we also need to be able to address, through biotechnology, the challenges of HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases, agriculture and food security, connectivity and the ability to diversify natural resources that pose a threat in the continent.

Today we have immense opportunities that can help the African science and technology community utilize technology such that it can reduce the levels of poverty in the continent. Biotechnology is one of those instruments that innovation is offering to us. It is one of the greatest sources of untapped knowledge that is offering a mechanism to improve the lives of millions of people in Africa. In fact, biotechnology has become increasingly commonplace in many
industrialized countries, often promoted by new forms of institutional arrangements and public policy.

As you are aware, our African position on growth and sustainable development prioritizes poverty alleviation, and many of the social problems of developing countries have their origins in poverty. Today's technological innovations are pushing forward the frontiers of medicine, communications, agriculture, energy and sources of dynamic growth, eradicating, if optimally harnessed, the scourges of poverty.

These advances have a global reach - a breakthrough in one country can be used around the world. Research and development, indeed, transcends national borders and only very few countries' national investments will suffice to provide global public goods. The case for mutually beneficial collaborative research partnerships involving developed and developing countries is therefore a strong one.

It is, therefore, incumbent on this meeting that we equip ourselves, both on the side of the developing as well as of the developed world with appropriate analysis, argument and motivation to be sufficiently bold in our proposals for follow-up, genuine partnership actions. Our proposals should go much further than access to financial support. Let us not lose sight of the overall objective - the creation of a dynamic, lasting science and technology partnership and dialogue, harnessing science and technology for development.

It is clear that there is considerable policy development still required to further strengthen the case of science and technology for poverty eradication and sustainable development. But our conclusion is already inescapable - we have no choice but to ensure the contribution and utilization of science and technology as optimal instruments of growth and sustainable development on the African continent and to devise intergovernmental responses to new societal challenges on the continent.

There is, however, also a critical need to develop concrete plans of action to address without delay the many challenges facing Africa. In closing, I would like to remind you of a statement that was made in 2002, in one of the NEPAD gatherings, by President Mbeki, which sounded the following warning: 'We have generated so much excitement, enthusiasm, and commitment for NEPAD, for Africa, for world development, that we dare not fail in our tasks. If we cannot unite through an initiative that can permanently reshape this continent, and bring about sustained improvement in the lives of our people, then we will have lost an opportunity that will not arise for some time.”

This message has provoked a lot of soul-searching, and collective responsibility on the continent is no longer treated as an intellectual preoccupation. Nevertheless, we are all mindful that so as not to miss this historic opportunity, Africa will also have to rely on the trusted support of friends and partners. During the coming days' proceedings we must focus our energies on this dual objective - the formulation of policy to inform immediate implementation of actions.

I do hope that these few comments will enrich and contribute to your discussions, providing some of the proverbial food for thought. I thank you for your time and look forward to fruitful deliberations over the next two days I thank you.

Dans les extraits de son discours ici réunis, le ministre sud africain de la science et de la technologie a profité de cet atelier du NEPAD consacré aux termes de ses prérogatives, pour souligner l’importance d’un transfert technologique approprié et le soutien au NEPAD. La science et la technologie ne sont que des outils qui peuvent cependant lutter contre la pauvreté et le sous-développement. Selon lui, le NEPAD offre le cadre par excellence pour la mise en place d’une politique scientifique et technologique cohérente au niveau continental. La collaboration technologique, la mise en place de systèmes de production intégrés,  renouvelables et spécifiquement africains seraient la clef de succè du partenariat avec les pôles les plus avancés.

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