Knowledge-based solutions to Africa’s challenges
Plans to address Africa’s challenges must include knowledge-based trends and analyses
When we talk about impediments to national and African growth and development, the list of challenges is endless. These include the youth dividend and being able to leverage this meaningfully for development; water, food and energy security; climate change; leadership; quality healthcare; and, most importantly, inclusive growth and development.
“It is often said that we must collectively stop lamenting the challenges and begin to implement our plans and programmes to ensure that we can turn these challenges into opportunities to enable Africa to take its place, as a developed continent and economy, amongst the global community of nations,” says Pillai.
She says that Africa's development will be built on the growth and development of all 55 countries. This is spelt out in Agenda 2063 – the continent's first long-term plan for socio-economic development. In South Africa, we have the National Development Plan, which must be implemented with deeper vigour and focus to augment the efforts of Agenda 2063, she says.
“We must in addition begin to increasingly base our plans on knowledge-based trends and analyses,” she adds.
Plans to address Africa's many challenges must include knowledge-based trends and analyses, says Manusha Pillai, the Director: Stakeholder Relations and Communications at the Human Sciences
Looking at African developmental issues
To this end, the Human Sciences Research Council has just concluded its 7th Annual African Unity for Renaissance Conference which brought together academics from around the continent to deliberate on the research trends and outcomes on a range of developmental issues. More than 100 established and emerging African researchers and scholars deliberated on emerging theories and practice in the fields of sustainable development, science and technology, the green economy and renewable energy, economics, the environment and systems science.
Knowledge derived from research outputs can drive innovation, she says. This is described as the ability to translate research outputs into social innovations, novel products, processes, and methods. “Herein will lie durable solutions to some of our most persistent challenges which are only gaining in intensity.
“Although we are making progress in developing the knowledge base to support these solutions, work remains to be done.”
An analysis of African outputs indicate that the number of research papers with at least one African author published in scientific journals has quadrupled from 1996 to 2012 while, at the same time, the share of the world's articles with African authors increased from 1.2 per cent to 2.3 per cent. In South Africa during the 2015/2016 period, 7 158 Web of Science publications originated from National Research Foundation-funded South African researchers, an increase of 10.3 per cent from the previous year.
“These figures can increase if the right investments are made in our human capital. We should not, however, be merely chasing the numbers of graduates, publications or papers.The value of our academic investments must lie in the development of our continental intellectual and human capital to drive the solutions we so urgently require.”
Building capacity and transferring skills
Recognising this, and with a view to bringing young minds into the conversation to enable their contribution to the solutions, South Africa must develop and, more importantly, implement the recommendations of the 2017 Conference, which included a PhD Colloquium.
This served as a capacity-building and skills transfer opportunity with more established researchers and academics engaging with younger emerging social scientists.
“While the PhD is acknowledged as the best qualification for individuals in high-end research roles, it is equally known that we are not leveraging our youth dividend to produce sufficient numbers of such graduates who can lead our journey towards a knowledge economy which can benefit the almost one billion citizens on the continent,” says Pillai.
In this regard, at the beginning of 2015, South Africa was producing about 38 PhD graduates per million of its population while most developed countries produced well over 100 per PHDS per million.
This number was even lower in Africa. By increasing the numbers of PHDS, particularly at public education institutions, Africa will not only be able to increase its research capacity but also be better positioned to train the next generation of researchers, she believes.
“Knowing what we know, are we willing to walk the walk and support the development of our human capital resources? More importantly, will we value our human and intellectual capital and mobilise these to drive our collective development?”
At the inauguration of the Organisation of African
Unity in 1963, Kwame Nkrumah articulated his vision of Africa.
He said: “We shall accumulate machinery and establish steel works, iron foundries and factories; we shall link the various states of our continent with communications; we shall astound the world with our hydroelectric power; we shall drain marshes and swamps, clear infested areas, feed the undernourished, and rid our people of parasites and disease. It is within the possibility of science and technology to make even the Sahara bloom into a vast field with verdant vegetation for agricultural and industrial developments.”
Pillai concludes: “Fifty-four years later, these words remain a vision. Investing in, harnessing and promoting our intellectual and human capital can move this vision closer to reality.”
“Will we value our human and intellectual capital and mobilise
these to drive our collective development?”