UP webinar on Future Africa Post-COVID-19 suggests researchers must play leading role in reshaping African society

Participants from around the world joined a University of Pretoria (UP)-hosted webinar titled “Future Africa Post-COVID-19” on Friday.

The webinar was held in commemoration of Africa Month, which is celebrated throughout May, and looked at what the future holds for the continent in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moderator Dr. Joel Modiri, Senior Lecturer in UP’s Department of Jurisprudence, said the pandemic has “brought our daily activities to a halt” and it highlights inequalities and surfaces the interdependence of communities as they come together to find a way out.

UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe said Africa Month is the best time to reflect critically on “the Africa we want. The pandemic reveals issues that are complex, complicated, and specific. It is a crisis of society, the economy, and governance.”

Prof Cheikh Mbow, Director of UP’s Future Africa campus, said Africa was much more prepared for the crisis than other countries, having contended with the Zika virus, Ebola, Rift Valley fever, dengue, malaria, and HIV. However, there is work to be done post-COVID-19. The future of Africa will not rely on the “pick-and-roll” model, but rather with the “roller-coaster” model, with a change in trajectories modulated by social, economic, and environmental aspects, not just medical, clinical drivers. He said all UP faculties are in discussion “for a new science that sets the ground for the conditions under which Africa will embrace the future with all possibilities”.

Prof Mbow said Africa needs to change its business model to accommodate the current and future shifts. But finance is central. A looming challenge is the long-term economic aspects, total change of business, including new opportunities to be well-framed and -oriented. “In view of the economic damage, getting [South Africa] back on track requires special consideration on the objectives of sustainable development. The suitability of future technologies, as well as those related to the education sector, will depend on their ability to deliver sustainable solutions.”

Prof Kupe said the government must invest more in research and infrastructure. “We are doing research from a low economic base.”

Professor Wanda Markotter, Director of UP’s Centre for Viral Zoonoses, lauded Africans for their response to the pandemic. “Good leadership has emerged from the continent.” However, Africa should not be caught off guard again. “We need to look at sustainability in everything we do in research. While researchers work with global and international partners, they need to understand problems in society and build relations with them. We need to play a leadership role on how we want to shape research and answer society’s problems,” she said.

To watch the webinar, please click here.