Speakers of the EU-AU Summit Side Event organized by DLR in partnership with the Alliance 

On 18 February, the EU SD Alliance organized a side event at the AU-EU Summit 2022, led by member DLR Projektträger. The online event was entitled ‘Using Science Diplomacy as a powerful instrument to foster European-African cooperation’. Read about the key takeaways below. 

Science can play an important role in providing a basis for political decisions and can build bridges between science, society and politics – including science policy and development policy. Covid-19 pandemic made this very clear to us: never before had so many research activities to be mobilized internationally so quickly, which became the basis for international political action.

This EU-AU Summit Side Event was the occasion to raise awareness of the potential of Science Diplomacy (SD) as a tool for African-European cooperation and to cast a light on it in the future cooperation of the two continents. The DLR Projektträger in partnership with the EU Science Diplomacy Alliance gathered policy-makers, scientists and stakeholders for an interactive exchange around the questions: How can Science Diplomacy be strategically implemented in African countries and the continent? How can Science Diplomacy help to address the challenges posed by the endeavour to enable a sustainable and green African and European development while addressing the SDGs? How can Science Diplomacy support the development of the AU-EU partnership?

In her keynote, Nienke Buisman (Head of Unit, Global Approach and International Cooperation in R&I, DG Research and Innovation, European Commission) highlighted examples of Science Diplomacy in the EU-AU context. The EU-South Africa cooperation on Research Infrastructure on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Project can be counted as one example for ‘Science for Diplomacy’. She further presented the AU-EU High-Level Policy Dialogue on Science, Technology and Innovation and the ‘Africa Initiative’ in Horizon Europe as key elements of the SD dimension ‘Diplomacy for Science’. As for ‘Science in Diplomacy’ and the importance of evidence-based policymaking, Ms Buisman pointed to the Advisory Group on R&I for Africa-Europe Cooperation report (Recommendations on how to make R&I a driver for sustainable development in AU-EU relations – Publications Office of the EU (europa.eu)) that fed into the joint AU-EU Innovation Agenda, on which the public consultation has just started and is still ongoing.

Hambani Masheleni (Ag. Head of the Division for Science and Technology, African Union Commission) underlined in his keynote speech that the African Union regularly convenes its Ministers of Science in order to jointly tackle the continent’s challenges. These kinds of platforms are crucial elements to Science Diplomacy. To him, COVID-19 is a reminder of the high relevance of Science Diplomacy, and climate change, food and nutrition security and the digital divide are further global challenges where we need a strong interface of science and international politics. For that, the role of science advisors to ministries and capacity-building in Science Diplomacy is key.

In the vivid panel discussion – enriched by questions and statements from the audience, including more than 60 participants stemming from all around the globe – further important aspects were highlighted.

Maria Cristina Russo (Director for Global Approach and International Cooperation, DG Research and Innovation, European Commission) stressed that one important element of Science Diplomacy, and in EU relations with Africa in general, is getting people together. The EU–Africa cooperation in Science and Technology, based on mutual ownership and responsibility, is one of the best examples of the Global Approach to R&I that the European Commission wants to enhance. The Declaration of the EU-AU Summit is recognizing R&I as a key element of EU-AU relations. The importance of Science Diplomacy and the cooperation with Africa will also be discussed in a conference on the Global Approach under the French Presidency of the Council of the EU, in Marseille on 8-9 March.

Jean-Pierre Bourguignon shared his insights on the African Research Initiative for Scientific Excellence Programme (ARISE) Pilot Project, where he is a member of its Scientific Advisory Board. With 34 African countries taking part in ARISE-PP and a full ownership by African organisations, this diverse programme is focussing on young researchers and will fund 40 projects across all African countries and disciplines, without pre-defining its foci. The ARISE-PP can support Science Diplomacy activities as it will provide space for people to get to know each other better, learn how to work together and to give hope to scientists to be ambitious and develop research at the highest level. Transparency plays a crucial role for its success, and all project results will be made available widely in order to ensure pick-up by policy makers.

“Trust is the oil of diplomacy” stated Mobolaji Oladoyin Odubanjo (Chair of INGSA African Chapter, Nigerian Academy of Science) in his intervention. He highlighted that Science Diplomacy is already a well-established practice in Africa and between Europe and Africa. It might not have been labelled as such, but that is yet to come. When asked about the need for a dedicated African approach to Science Diplomacy he stated that countries and the continent would rather benefit from putting Science Diplomacy further in to action and thus tapping its potential. The conceptualization would be appreciated, but not as a precondition for successful execution.

Daan du Toit (Deputy Director-General of the International Cooperation and Resources Department of Science and Technology, Republic of South Africa) highlighted that science makes a difference in the quality of life, and the generation and application of new knowledge is crucial to respond to societal challenges. Co-responsibility and co-ownership are key for science to progress. Furthermore, science has the impact of bringing the world closer together. Thus, international cooperation in R&I and using science in speaking to key societal challenges is the day-to-day business of the Science Diplomacy work in the government of South Africa.

“The Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management is an illustration of a positive impact of Science Diplomacy coming from partnerships between 5 countries in SADC and Germany”, highlighted its Executive Director Jane Olwoch. SASSCAL has so far funded over 100 projects and students exchanges and contributed to producing data on climate change in Africa that is highly needed. To make Science Diplomacy work at a practical level, there is a need to prioritize equity and fair balance in partnerships, to ensure sustainability of a cooperation and be able to create strong networks that accelerate innovation. The inclusion of indigenous knowledge in science advice is key for the African partners as well as long-term programming periods to sustain cooperations, she concluded.

Jackie Kado (Executive Director of the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC)) explained that NASAC does not use the label Science Diplomacy but applies the concept in its activities. Science academies have strong convening power, a crucial element of Science Diplomacy. Also, to be able to make meaningful contributions as evidence-informed policy advice, which need to be co-produced and co-designed. To foster this, the Science Academies have to be involved in non-scientific work, to get a seat at the policy-making table and have a say. Building trust is a key element for that, but it takes time.

The panellists reiterated that further exchange on Science Diplomacy as a tool for European-African activities would benefit the cooperation and are looking forward seeing the topic being taken up in future discussions and strategies.

AU-EU Summit: Science diplomacy as a powerful instrument to foster European-African cooperation