Pretoria, 29 June 2011. On the 23rd and 24th of June, ERAfrica, a new, joint African-European project aimed at promoting a unified approach to intercontinental collaboration in the field of science and technology research for innovation and sustainable development was unveiled to representatives of 17 African countries, garnering unanimous approval and general encouragement.
Held in Mombasa, Kenya and conducted under the auspices of the Kenyan Ministry for Higher Education, Science and Technology, the event united representatives from the governments of Botswana, Burundi, DR Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. In both plenary sessions and breakaway groups, all were invited to scrutinise the ERAfrica structure and planned operationalization, and to provide comments specifically on the thematic area most appropriate for the project to focus on, as well as on the types of activities in which it should seek to engage.
Why a new cooperation project?
For a long time now the world has been advised to teeter in suspense at the awakening of the slumbering dragons of the East, while the African continent has in many ways remained something of an afterthought. Yet today the balance of power is steadily shifting, with China ageing rapidly and ever more European countries facing the threat of negative population growth, whereas the former “dark continent” is set to boast a population of more than two billion by 2050. Thus it is from Africa that will emerge the next global workforce, as well as the next generation of scientists, engineers and researchers in all fields. In recognition of this fact, the European Union has long since cultivated a relationship with Africa in science and technology, yet too often these efforts have been disjointed, uncoordinated and limited to individual countries resulting in an ineffectual scattering of resources and needless duplication of work. At the same time, the proliferation of bilateral agreements and relationships has prevented inter-African cooperation and coordination, contributing to the lack of impact on the ground made by otherwise well-intentioned research and development activities. Now however, with the global economy growing ever more precarious, there is an increasing desire to pool vital resources and to establish broad-based multilateral partnerships instead, thus to assure dwindling funds are directed towards real advancement in the lives of people, and that in the greatest number of countries possible. In addition there is a more urgent need to involve the private sector in research projects, a task which in the past has been particularly difficult given the traditional divergence between governmental interest and the requirements of measurable return on investment set by industry. Yet in order to achieve this new kind of partnership a viable model of cooperation is needed, something that will not only convince African and European stakeholders to participate and commit resources to the undertaking, but also a framework that can be adapted for general use in all fields for years to come. It is in response to this need that ERAfrica was created.
ERAfrica forms part of the 7th Framework Programme suite of European research initiatives, and boasts as primary objective the creation of a “European Research Area Network” for the African continent, uniting participating countries in a broad multilateral partnership aimed not only at the communal funding of research activities of mutual interest, but at redefining the way in which African-European cooperation is managed. Currently ERAfrica is composed of twelve member countries (Austria, Belgium, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Kenya, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey), with additional participants not only welcome to join, but actively sought, particularly from Africa. It is partly to this end that the meeting in Mombasa was organised, in addition to seeking widespread African input into the best way in which the project is to be implemented. In this latter regard, discussions held were lively and well-informed, and while a number of possibilities for an initial focus area for ERAfrica activities were raised, taking into account both African and European priority areas, the current state of research and future developments, it was eventually suggested that the field of “renewable and sustainable energy” might be an ideal field upon which to concentrate for the project’s first round of operational implementation. In terms of actual activities to be funded, most participants were partial to joint projects mutually financed by all participating entities, whether governmental or private, but it was advised that one or two complementary activities should also be considered, such as training programmes and inter-African mobility funding. In all cases support for the project was overwhelming, and a number of representatives indicated that they would certainly recommend participation to their respective ministries, thus promising an imminent, and significant, expansion of ERAfrica on the continent to which the project owes its name.
The way forward
Having now procured African support for ERAfrica, the next step is a similar presentation to programme owners in Europe, to take place on 21.10.2011 in Brussels, after which all participating parties (meaning those agencies willing to contribute financially to the research activities to be supported) will gather in Cairo towards the end of the year in order to take a final decision concerning the project’s thematic focus and the nature of its support. And while it is certainly the aim of ERAfrica to make a measurable impact through its research activities, a successful implementation will carry a much greater significance, serving as a model for all future cooperative interaction between the African and European continents, to be imitated in all areas where the goal is the betterment of people’s lives through international partnership.
For more information on ERAfrica, visit the project website at www.erafrica.eu, or contact:
The project coordinator: Dr Yves Savidan from the French Institute of Research for Development (IRD).
Tel.: +27 12 844 0117
The African acting regional coordinator: Mr Mmboneni Muofhe from the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST).
Tel.: +27 12 843 6341
Scientific officer for Israel, ERAfrica: Mrs. Sabrina Legies
Tel.: +49 228 3821 1421