From 24 to27 February 2020, Dr Dominique Mystris (Senior Researcher, SA SDG Hub) attended the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (ARFSD) 2020 in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The ARFSD considered the 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and African Union’s Agenda 2063 through the themes of people, prosperity, planet, peace and partnerships.
Monday 24 February was the start of the African Regional Science, Technology and Innovation Forum (ASTIF), which highlighted the need to tackle the technology gaps across the continent and the lag between innovation and policy. The need to address sustainable energy, the climate crisis and the energy-water-food nexus was identified as pivotal due to the impact of these factors in Africa. The strategic advantage of Africa was identified as the ability to skip the carbon-dependent infrastructure and instead pursue new energies and eco-friendly and sustainable infrastructure. Calls for investing in research and development where echoed throughout the day, without limitation to any one field or specific area.
The keynote speech, favourably received by participants, was delivered by Hon Prof Amon Murwira (Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development, Zimbabwe), who called for the redesign of the education system. He argued for education which ensures a high skill level and addresses the shortcomings of the inherited colonial education systems, which discourages innovation. Investment in education was emphasised, with the focus of research to be on addressing and solving our societal challenges.
A highlight of the ASTIF was the announcement of the 2020 Innovation in Action Competition winners, showcasing their innovations. A range of solutions were offered, from enabling farmers to monitor the moisture levels of their produce and an app for buying and selling livestock and consulting with veterinarians in real time, to an app facilitating the upskilling of healthcare workers, to name a few. Additionally, stands exhibiting various innovations and work being done to tackle the SDGs were displayed throughout the week.
On Tuesday, the ARFSD 2020 was officially opened by the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa. Over the next three days African state, United Nations, and African Union delegates and participants from across the continent considered how to improve the attainment of the 2030 Agenda and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
It emerged that, based on the current trajectory, the picture is not positive. All states are unlikely to attain the SDGs. While collectively and continentally Africa is lagging behind, North Africa is strong in terms of indicators and Rwanda is good on the technology side. Central Africa is the weakest region within Africa. Overall, poverty rates are not declining to the extent that it should, nor is there adequate progress on social development. Despite the stable growth across Africa, it is not inclusive, with women and youth being left behind. In terms of Agenda 2063, comparatively, the peace aspiration had done the best, explained by the existence of a relatively well-structured African Peace and Security Architecture.
Each of the forum’s five themes were individually addressed and the key messages emerging in multiple panel discussions, roundtables and side-events were the need for disaggregated data, the closing of data gaps in general, the benefits of – and need for – quality infrastructure, and the advantages derived from inter-African trade and good governance. The importance of stable and adequate funding was also discussed, especially given the current $1,3 trillion investment gap, necessitating the alignment of priorities and monies. The impact of illicit financial flows and corruption was routinely emphasised and the need for better management and prioritisation.
There was a general feeling that home-grown solutions were best, given our understanding of our own problems, with this needing to be actively pursued instead of waiting for others to do it for us. Finally, the best method for implementation of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063 was identified as occurring in National Plans instead of by either the UN or AU.
Dr Dominique Mystris (right) with conference participants