Next-level collaborative action to advance African science in a global context

High-level consultative engagements around taking collective steps to strengthen and unleash the voice of the African Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) ecosystem, took place at Future Africa, University of Pretoria, during Science Forum South Africa, where the idea of an African STI Leadership Forum was proposed to kickstart collective efforts towards building a stronger African science ecosystem.

Delegates at the meeting organised by Future Africa, in collaboration with the International Science Council (ISC), on 4 December, agreed that Africa must shape the value system for science and scientific practice which is relevant to the continent’s context.

Future Africa Director, Heide Hackmann, said a strategic forum or alliance of committed partners could work together for a common purpose and shared value, during the meeting which also reviewed key developments in STI on the African continent . Such a network, Hackmann noted, would lead to the exchange of strategic information and ideas on African science systems development, raise awareness of and advocate engagement with and support for the needs and interests, opportunities, and challenges of African science, and provide scientific leadership and advice on the development of Pan-African initiatives.

Convened under the theme, "Unleashing the global potential of African science: Towards the next level of collaborative action, the day-long deliberations, featuring around 70 attendees, included members of the ISC, science academies from the continent, including Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Ghana, and Zimbabwe, as well as South African academics, and scientists.

During the discussions, there was a reflection on the current state of African sciences, science systems, and associated opportunities and challenges posed. The delegates explored collaborative avenues to accelerate African science system development and enhance its voice, visibility, and influence in the global science arena, ascertaining the interest and commitment of African science system leadership to collaborate in pursuing next-level action to advance African science systems. Additionally, the meeting delved into understanding the complementary role and support of the ISC and other international multilateral institutions in advancing African science.

Farai Kapfudzaruwa, Research and Strategic Partnerships Manager at Future Africa, presented on Africa in the World: Insights into Africa's international scientific connections and pathways to pan-African scientific collaborations, an overview of the network of actors involved in the African science ecosystem. However, while the presentation provided a layer of the landscape, Kapfudzaruwa noted that the mapping relied on reported data on websites and was not verified, resulting in a subjective interpretation – which could affect the reliability and validity of results. In addition, several websites of African organisations are not operational, meaning no data could be obtained.

"The vision of the ISC is to advance science as a global public good and the mission of the Council is to be the global voice for science," said Geoffrey Boulton, the ISC Governing Board Member.

Boulton said the ISC was here to "listen and learn" to address a fundamental challenge: how the ISC can become a conduit of African aspirations in science and find ways to bring the African voice to global science.

A strategic forum or alliance of committed partners could work together for a common purpose and shared value.


people in a meeting

"The world needs Africa, in particular, supporting the notion of an African office. This led us to partner with Future Africa, a neutral platform for pan-African research collaborations, to convene this meeting and make recommendations on how we proceed," Boulton added.

The ISC's newly appointed Science Director, Vanessa McBride, added "Future Africa and the ISC have convened a critical discussion working towards shaping the global voice for science, ensuring that Africa is represented. But, perhaps apart from shaping the voice itself, we may want to consider changing the way the world listens to Africa. In either or both of these routes, the ISC stands ready to support the scientific community in Africa"

The ISC has members and partners worldwide and is active in Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, and Africa – although it has no formal office on the African continent yet.

Addressing delegates via a virtual link, Isabella Aboderin, the Director of the Africa Research Chair at the University of Bristol, said there was a need for a more robust, coherent, and unified voice of African scientists, adding that there must be a change in the international system and scientific knowledge production must be explicit in going beyond the SDGs.

The meeting concluded with overall acceptance of the idea of establishing an African STI Leadership Forum to drive the initiative; however, delegates will be given time to reflect and study the presentations, ahead of drafting a concept note to guide proceedings when they meet again at a time and venue to be confirmed.