South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will work towards the establishment of collaborative scientific and technological projects and programmes, jointly implemented by relevant experts from the two countries, with the aim of mutual socio-economic development.
The collaboration follows the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the sidelines of the World Science Forum, which was held in Cape Town in December 2022.
The South African Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, and the DRC's Minister of Scientific Research and Technological Innovation, Maître José Mpanda Kabangu, signed an agreement to develop and deepen scientific, technological and innovation relations.
The relationship between the two countries dates back to the support that the DRC provided in the fight against apartheid.
During the signing ceremony, Minister Nzimande said that investing in science, technology and innovation (STI) is the key to transforming the continent's socio-economic conditions. Africa has a population of approximately 1,3 billion, which is expected to grow to 2,5 billion by 2050. However, it only contributes 2% of global research output, accounting for 1,5% to 3% of research spending and 0,1% of global patents.
Minister Nzimande said that a lack of investment in STI had hampered Africa's transformation and that, without the necessary infrastructure for innovation, Africa would "continue to rely on the colonial developed model of resource extraction, which has been found to be the main contributor to debilitating poverty and aid dependency". He sees the signing of the MoU as a move away from that model.
The Minister indicated that the strategic areas of interest in the joint plan of action – agriculture, mining and geosciences, renewable energy, water, intellectual property management, technology innovation, high-performance computing, and space science and technology – would help to fast-track socio-economic development in both countries.
Agriculture accounts for an estimated 24% of Africa's GDP. However, Africa has the potential to triple its production with the right investment in agricultural research, development and innovation (RDI).
Minister Nzimande said that investment in agricultural RDI would result in greater yield and land expansion, improved post-harvest processes, and increased trade in agricultural commodities.
"It does not make sense for us to rely on European countries like Russia for simple agricultural commodities such as grains," he said.
In relation to mining and geosciences, bilateral cooperation between the two resource-rich countries could include not only geological mapping and mineral beneficiation programmes – carried out by institutions such as South Africa's Mintek – but also initiatives to empower Africans to determine the value of their resources.
At the signing ceremony, Minister Kabangu said, "I remain convinced that this type of win-win partnership, the practical terms and activities of which will be defined through periodic action plans, will result in fruitful exchanges between Congolese and South African researchers, as well as twinning between Congolese and South African research institutions."
He expects high-yielding activities in these research institutions, as well as research projects with visible effects on the long-term development of the two countries.
Minister Nzimande noted that the partnership could help to solve the continent's energy crisis, given the potential of the DRC's Inga Dam and South Africa's investment in hydrogen technologies as part of its renewable energy programme.
Although the two countries had identified infrastructure, technology and human capital as the most important areas for health cooperation, a bilateral programme could focus on strengthening the capacity of health institutions, particularly public health institutions.
Minister Nzimande highlighted the value of cooperation in space science and technology as, among other benefits, it would assist in detecting threats and providing technological solutions that would strengthen military and defence systems, fostering peace and security in African countries.
Intellectual property management, high-performance computing and technological innovation are three cross-cutting areas that will play a critical role in socio-economic transformation. For example, managing the intellectual property rights of innovations developed by Africans would secure ownership and facilitate commercialisation and the development of industry.
Minister Nzimande welcomed the fact that the Centre for High-Performance Computing (CHPC), one of the primary pillars of the National Integrated Cyberinfrastructure System and supported by South Africa's Department of Science and Innovation, will provide technical training to the DRC. This will help build the DRC's capacity to manage research big research data and strengthen the country's national system of innovation.
Minister Nzimande said that institution-to-institution collaboration was vital for activities carried out under the MoU, and stressed that the agreement should not be seen merely as a gesture of goodwill, but as an enabler of collaborative projects and programmes in response to pressing challenges.
This article was first published on 23 January by South Africa Department for Science and Technology.