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EU-Africa Summit: A preview of the role of Science

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AERAP Africa-Europe Science Collaboration Platform will organise a roundtable discussion on 8-9 December 2021.

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AERAP Africa-Europe Science Collaboration Platform will organise a roundtable discussion on 8-9 December 2021 to consider the contribution of science to the priorities for the EU-AU Summit on 17-18 February 2022 in Brussels under the French Council Presidency of the European Union.

The purpose of the meeting will be to promote awareness of the contribution of collaborative research and development as a critical aspect of EU-Africa relations and collaborations while recognising the context of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which provides a critical narrative.

AERAP is a response to the European Parliament Written Declaration 45 on Science Capacity Building in Africa. This call was repeated by the Heads of State of the African Union through their Decision Assembly/AU/Dec.407 CXVIII. AERAP encourages policymakers to understand the need for an enabling policy and regulatory environment for science cooperation with Africa and championing leadership in Africa and Europe to demonstrate science's contribution to society and address shared global challenges.

The draft programme is available here.

The meeting will draw on a range of processes, including AGENDA 2063, Africa's blueprint and master plan for transforming Africa into the global powerhouse; the AU Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024 (STISA-2024); the European Commission; Communication Towards a Comprehensive Strategy with Africa which foresees future cooperation built on five partnerships: green transition, digital transformation, growth and jobs, peace and governance and migration and mobility. All of these will rely on science and innovation cooperation.

The meeting is intended to promote a greater understanding amongst policymakers, decision-makers, legislators, regulators and other decision-makers of the need for an enabling multilateral environment. Policy fragmentation does not help anybody: regularly fragmentation promotes discord and lack of trust where needed most. Therefore the outcomes of the G20 meeting on 31 October 2021, developments at COP26 and the critically important narrative of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals will be a key part of the discussions in December.

In anticipation of the EU-Africa summit, the virtual meeting on the 8th-9th of December will consider EU-Africa science collaboration in a wider context, including how science is part of all areas of policy-making from agriculture to climate to health as well as taking stock of the opportunity for multilateral cooperation collaboration with Africa cooperation as part of a global context. Current public policies by and large don't consider this broader context. Therefore, there is an opportunity for new ways of approaching long-standing challenges. Science needs to be considered in tandem with discussions on legislation and regulation. For example, how will the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), with its Extraterritorial Application, impact the use of and access to data in Africa and by Africans? How will it impact health research and medical science and sharing of this data globally? Other examples of regulations include the Clinical Trials Regulation (CTR), the Medical Devices Regulation (MDR) and the In-vitro Diagnostics Regulation (IVDR). This issue of regulation is typically not considered in the context of EU-Africa Relations. This needs to change.

Over the past decade, Africa's economic achievement created a new vibrancy on the continent, among the world's most rapidly growing economic regions - before the pandemic affecting economies globally. While momentum is widely recognised, longer-term growth depends on sustained investment in an innovative workforce to advance a knowledge economy. Investments in science and technology are attributed to more than half of the gains in gross national product among high-income countries and up to 85% of the gains in per capita income over the past several decades.

African nations are starting from a modest baseline in realising these potentials, representing 15% of the globe's population and 5% of its gross domestic product (GDP), yet just 1.3% of global investment in research and development (R&D). The scientific workforce deficits are acute: the continent possesses 198 researchers per million inhabitants (by comparison: Chile: 428; UK: 4000). Enrollment rates in tertiary education are low, 7.1%, compared to the global average of 25.1%. African countries spend well less than the agreed African Union (AU) target to reach R&D investment of 1% of GDP.

However, there are compelling grounds for optimism as public and private sectors ramp up scientific investment in the coming years. Scientific innovation in Africa is on the rise, and momentum is building for new measures to strengthen and sustain the capacity of African universities and research institutions to become an effective force for economic growth and develop local solutions to development challenges. The STISA-2024, Agenda 2063, and the SDGs compacts all point to a commitment for action. Catalysing sustainable and effective change, however, calls for a unified vision of collaboration and development. The prime driver will be African governments investing in their future.

The timing truly is opportune. A new generation of African political leaders is technically trained. New private sector investments are fueling substantive R&D projects in Africa. Moreover, by 2034 the continent will possess the world's largest working-age population (1.1b), larger than that of either India or China – a potent "demographic dividend" and valued asset in an ageing world. An expanding working-age population is associated with strong rates of GDP growth. However, the challenge will be to ensure that its economies create enough skilled jobs for the many millions entering the workforce.

The draft programme is available here.

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