The launch of Future Africa at the University of Pretoria is a “timely response to placing science, technology and innovation at the centre of Africa’s development”.

This was said by Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, who spoke at the launch of Future Africa at the University of Pretoria on Friday, 29 March. This flagship institute was recently established on a purpose-built campus to promote transdisciplinary research excellence and foster the development of research networks, partnerships and training. It aims to address complex societal challenges and to contribute to the achievement of Africa’s sustainable, inclusive and equitable development.

Watch the Future Africa launch live stream

On-site features of the institute include modern living quarters for postgraduate students, accommodation for visitors, a dining hall, an open Research Commons designed for interactive work, and a state-of-the art conference centre, as well as crop-based gardens.

Addressing scientists, university staff and government officials,  Minister Kubayi-Ngubane said the institute “can stand as a shining example of how Africans can work to find solutions to Africa’s challenges by working together as Africans and not citizens of individual nation states”.  She said the Department of Science and Technology is in the process of establishing an African Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in partnership with the World Economic Forum. “We are inviting other African countries, academics and the private sector to work with us to maximise the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I ask this institute to become an active participant.”

University of Pretoria Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Tawana Kupe, who officially unveiled a plaque to commemorate the opening of the institute, said: “Future Africa is a space to create new knowledge in new ways to address current and emerging complex, often seemingly intractable challenges that face primarily our continent, but also resonate globally. This means that we will find solutions to problems from a holistic view point because problems rarely occur in a vacuum. At Future Africa, we aim to transform the world through African research excellence.”

 

UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Tawana Kupe unveiled a plaque to commemorate the opening of Future Africa at the University of Pretoria

He explained that a transdisciplinary approach to research is required, bringing together researchers and partners from many disciplines and various sectors of the broader community.  Knowledge created through transdisciplinary, team-based research is a sound and good basis for evidence-based policy making, monitoring and evaluation. This is necessary for Africa’s sustained and sustainable development.

“Future Africa is becoming and will become an agent of change that will revolutionise knowledge creation in Africa and by Africans and their global collaborators to transform lives, sectors and industries, societies and nations; by making a contribution to the global archive of life-affirming knowledge,” said Prof Kupe. In line with the National Development Plan 2030, the African Union 2063 Strategy, and the Interim Post-2015 UN Strategic Development Goals, Future Africa’s research programmes will be based on areas that underpin its ethos and values, namely:  sustainability and equity.  

Prof Kupe said: “This transdisciplinary platform will focus on strengthening skills and knowledge in the areas of systems thinking, responsible leadership – including science leadership, examining the role of governance and institutions, and sustainable development that interrogates the requirements for future change.” He explained: “At Future Africa we aim to transform lives through education, research, development and using science to solve problems, improve conditions and have a positive impact on society. We will do this by questioning, debating and exploring our natural curiosity.”

Future Africa will also focus on promoting academic leadership by developing local and African science leaders and boosting the number of researchers on the continent through leadership development programmes, postgraduate, postdoctoral and research fellowships, and through the hosting of visiting scholars. He said it is imperative that Africa’s youth are empowered, educated and enabled to find solutions to issues facing the continent, “because for such a young continent the future is theirs. Today we’ve made a commitment to give our young researchers from across the continent a platform on which to make a difference.”

For Prof Kupe, many industrialised countries in the North use their resources and invest heavily in research and development. Some of the researchers who work in these countries are African scholars, researchers and specialists who do not find the opportunities they need in Africa, and in doing so take much of Africa’s intellectual capital with them. Prof Kupe urged researchers to “stay at home, in Africa and help us build and rebuild our societies. At the University of Pretoria our call is a pan-African one, and we are making research opportunities available at Future Africa across the continent.”

One of the speakers at the launch, Thierry Zomahoun, President of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, said in years to come 40% of the global youth will come from Africa, while 11 million young Africans enter the job market annually. “If we don’t know the industries they are going to work in, how will we know what skills sets they require? Initiatives like Future Africa are so important as we need a new generation of skills sets for the 21st century.”

Meanwhile, Prof Kupe said UP is located in the city’s scientific hub, close to the Technology Innovation Agency, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the National Research Foundation, the Department of Science and Technology, the Innovation Hub and other research, development and innovation bodies and agencies. Future Africa at the University of Pretoria is part of the fast emerging, most innovative “Square Mile in Africa” that is comparable internationally with other innovative spaces.

“This means UP is ideally located to engage with the wider scientific society to work across disciplines towards creating innovative solutions to the major challenges facing South Africa and Africa,” Prof Kupe added.

He called on governments, multilateral organisations, donors, trusts, foundations and businesses to pledge their support to Future Africa “and to ensure that we have the funding that we need to transform Africa’s futures. Such support will provide the sustained and long-term impact that will benefit society.”

He announced that there will be an annual Future Africa Transdisciplinary Research Summit and a team-based competition involving established and emerging researchers, who set out to solve complex problems.