Five years of Future Africa: UP’s collaborative research platform looks ahead

Posted on July 08, 2024

The first five years have passed in the proverbial blink of an eye for the University of Pretoria's Future Africa, with stakeholders agreeing that the launch of UP’s collaborative research platform has helped facilitate dialogue across disciplines and bridge gaps between academics and ordinary citizens.

 Now, the question is what it will achieve next.

Future Africa’s mandate is to conduct transformative research that brings about deep systems change, not just in South Africa, but across the continent.

Breaking barriers

Deans and Directors who attended a special fifth-anniversary Future Africa engagement session applauded what has already been achieved. But they also had crucial feedback on their vision for the future and what could be done even better.

"Future Africa is breaking the silos," was one comment that had other participants nodding in approval.

"It provides a space to enable dialogue across disciplines," said another delegate.

A third observed: "Future Africa is a bridge between academics and ordinary citizens, as well as policymakers."

Looking ahead

As to what Future Africa should look like 10 years from now, the answers came thick and fast: audience members wanted to see it creating a "space for peace"; setting research agendas and building a critical mass of expertise; translating research for meaningful social impact; building the capacity of early-career researchers; and carving out a reputation as a premier knowledge hub.

As one delegate put it, "A president should be able to say, 'I got my evidence from Future Africa.'"

Someone who is sure to take note of the Deans and Directors' feedback is the new Interim Director of Future Africa, Professor Wanda Markotter, who took up the position on 1 July 2024, succeeding Dr Heide Hackmann.

Prof Markotter has been closely associated with the platform as the holder of the Future Africa Research Chair: People, Health and Places (One Health), while also serving as the Director of the Centre for Viral Zoonosis at UP's Faculty of Health Sciences.

Her appointment ensures the continuity of Future Africa's growth and commitment to advancing transdisciplinary research and collaboration across Africa.

Steps to transformation

Future Africa's immediate plans are exciting, and its medium- to longer-term plans perhaps even more so. To name a few:

Helping to re-energise SDG efforts

In September 2024, the United Nations (UN) will hold its Summit of the Future, aimed at putting the world back on track towards achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that form a key part of the UN’s Agenda 2030.

Future Africa and UP's Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences have been part of a UN project working on a policy framework for transformative synergistic action across Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement.

The evidence gathered and recommendations developed are being expanded and refined – just in time for the UN's September Summit.

United front for Africa's science leaders

Africa's science ecosystem is characterised by fragmentation and duplication, not to mention unproductive competition.

That could change if Future Africa and the International Science Council (ISC) succeed with their proposal to develop the African Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Leadership Forum to convene regularly and engage on priority STI issues on the continent. The final report on this will go to the ISC Governing Board and General Assembly in January 2025.

This process is expected to lead to the establishment of an African Science Leaders' Forum. The idea has been discussed with South Africa's Department of Science and Innovation, which has expressed enthusiasm about it.

Strengthening African research on agricultural GHGs

Future Africa, with the support of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, has developed a multi-stakeholder initiative to strengthen relationships among agricultural greenhouse gas research activities in southern Africa. Future Africa is establishing a dedicated programme management unit to support this $1m (R18.2m) project, which will run up to 2028.

Prof Dire Tladi to deliver second Future Africa Global Lecture

An event to mark on everybody's calendar should be Africa Week at Future Africa in May 2025. A highlight will be the Future Africa Global Lecture, to be delivered by Professor Dire Tladi of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), who will talk about ‘The transformation imperative’.

Before being appointed to the ICJ in November 2023, Prof Tladi was the holder of the Global Equity in Africa Research Chair and a UP professor of international law.

These plans, projects and events are just a fraction of the work taking place to develop Future Africa as a national and pan-African asset, attractor of African talent and neutral space for very big ideas.

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