Why ERAfrica matters for Africa (Daan du Toit, South African Department of Science and Technology)

These are exciting times for scientific and technological cooperation between Africa and Europe and ERAfrica provides an opportunity for true “shared ownership” of research and innovation cooperation programmes between Africa and Europe.

These are exciting times for scientific and technological cooperation between Africa and Europe. Driven by the political momentum of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy, endorsed by Heads of States and Governments, several strategic initiatives have been launched over the past few years to improve collaboration. This for example includes the European Commission’s “FP7 Africa Call”, launched in 2009 to fund African-European research cooperation related to critical health, food and environmental challenges.

There is an ever expanding list of forums and platforms where Africa-EU S&T cooperation is discussed, priorities identified, partnerships brokered, etc. Chief among these is the so-called “FP7 INCO-Net”, CAAST-Net. The question can therefore legitimately be asked; why yet another new network? Why ERAfrica? Why should African countries invest their own resources in ERAfrica’s planned joint initiatives?

For the founding African members of ERAfrica, (Egypt, Kenya and South Africa), the answers to these questions are unequivocal:

ERAfrica provides an opportunity for true “shared ownership” of research and innovation cooperation programmes between Africa and Europe. Through their own funding contributions, even if asymmetric, ERAfrica enables African countries to become full owners of the joint activities to be undertaken, with the resultant same rights and responsibilities as their European partners regarding the design and implementation of cooperation initiatives.

ERAfrica therefore provides African countries with a strong platform that ensures cooperation with Europe is aligned with their own national, regional and continental priorities, related to for example capacity-building. Cooperation with Europe will, thus, be directed toward achieving synergy with and reinforcing African programmes. Simply put, ERAfrica requires an investment from African countries but also enables Africa to determine in partnership with Europe the focus and manner of cooperation. International S&T cooperation is therefore not pursued as an opportunistic, ad-hoc activity but as a strategic, targeted endeavour.

Through ERAfrica, African countries are provided the opportunity to develop new, innovative instruments and modalities for cooperation through dialogue with European programme owners and managers. Since African countries will be making a funding contribution they will have an equal say with regard to for example governance and administrative issues such as the rules of participation or the intellectual property regimes of funding schemes. ERAfrica, thus, offers a unique forum for shared learning between Africa and Europe, regarding the planning and implementation of joint initiatives, thereby strengthening the Africa-EU S&T policy dialogue.

ERAfrica additionally enables African countries to achieve synergy between their various bilateral relations with other African and European countries. By pooling their funding together, instead of pursuing multiple bilateral relations of a relatively small scope, the opportunity accordingly exists for participating countries to develop larger multilateral cooperation frameworks, leverage increased funding and significantly enhance impact and benefit for society.

ERAfrica will certainly enable African countries to leverage a greater return on their own investments, since other funding partners like philanthropic organisations or the private sector will be eager to investment in initiatives in which African countries are making their own investments. Here ERAfrica will install new dynamism to the science component of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy’s Science, Information Society and Space Partnership.

Lastly, the symbolism of Africa’s own investments is important. In ERAfrica, Africa is not merely a recipient of aid but an investor in the partnership. This projects the dynamism of the continent’s commitment to invest its own resources to harness the potential of S&T to achieve sustainable growth and fight poverty. A strong African participation in ERAfrica portrays Africa as an emerging and confident global partner, ready to invest its resources to contribute to the international knowledge generation enterprise, to enrich scientific knowledge and discovery, and address through partnership our planet’s many shared global challenges.

Daan du Toit, South African Department of Science and Technology

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