SADC Member States Urged to Increase Investment in STI

Ministers responsible for Education and Training and Science, Technology and Innovation at the Royal Swazi Convention Centre in Ezulwini, Swaziland

Nhlanhla is a recent graduate from the University of Swaziland with an MSc in Agricultural Sciences. At the age of 25, she is full of life and has many dreams for herself and her five siblings, many of them either unemployed or underemployed. Nhlanhla dreams of a future where she would be able to not only afford food, water, shelter and energy, but be able to even go on a holiday in Durban. The future in her mind is one where flooding in lowlands of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi become a thing of the past, veld fires in the Western Cape of South Africa can be predicted and prevented, droughts in the region are no longer a matter of life and death, and no children die within the first 1000 days after conception, and the regional economy is driven by value-added goods that are manufactured in the region.

It would also be a future where every SADC member state including her own motherland would be investing at least 1% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on research and development. Although it is still a dream for many young people like Nhlanhla, this forms part of “The Africa We want” as driven through the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024 (STISA-2024) and Agenda 2063.

It is now exactly 38 years since the initial commitments towards increased investment into R&D dating back to the Monrovia Declaration and the Lagos Plan of Action (LPA) for the Economic Development of Africa (1980-2000). Could the SADC region be the first among the regional economic committees to reach the elusive 1% GERD target – or even 2.5% as other countries are already envisaging?

“The SADC region is making significant strides to make Science, Technology and Innovation the engine of industrialisation of the SADC region”, according to the joint meeting of Ministers responsible for Education and Training and Science, Technology and Innovation, held in Ezulwini, Swaziland, on 22-23 June 2017. The purpose of the joint meeting was to review progress and implementation of on-going programmes and initiatives in the education and science, technology and innovation sectors, in relation to the revised Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) 2015-2020 and Industrialisation Strategy (2015-2063).

In his opening remarks His Excellency Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Swaziland, Dr Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini, highlighted that the SADC region has identified education, science, technology and innovation as vital components in developing its member states’ capabilities to compete globally.

The SADC Deputy Executive Secretary responsible for Regional Integration, Dr Thembinkosi Mhlongo, emphasized that for the region to successfully achieve its goals and priorities, industrialisation and value chain development requires increased investment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills at all levels of education.

“This meeting is a great opportunity to refine and strengthen our commitment to grow economies using education, science, technology and innovation as tools; therefore let us do more work with less resources,” said Dr Tichaona Mangwende, ‎Head of Research & Statistics Cluster at the NEPAD Agency Science, Technology & Innovation Hub.

When everything has been said and done, the good news is that member states reaffirmed their commitment in achieving the 1% GERD by 2020 and the bad news is that history might not be so kind to inaction. This increase would boost infrastructure for science and technology, strengthen the existing capabilities – including skills development needed to innovate – to alleviate poverty, reduce the burden of diseases and improve food nutrition and security.

The Ministers also noted SANBio’s progress in implementing the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) 2015-2020 and are looking forward to more partnerships to improve the lives of the people of the region.