Knowl­edge-based so­lu­tions to Africa’s chal­lenges

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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

Re­search Coun­cil.

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?”

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