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Opinion - The philosophy of Ubuntu

In July 2009, iSGTW reported that the South African academic community was to be supported with a new high-speed research network: SEACOM, a 15,000 kilometer undersea fiber-optic cable along the East African coastline, providing broadband speeds of 1.28 Tbs (terabits per second). In December 2010, two events were held to enable African and European stakeholders, and policy makers to update each other on projects like SEACOM, share ideas and make new contacts. These were the 2010 Euro-Africa Week on ICT Research and e-Infrastructures and 2010 Euro-Africa e-Infrastructures Conference, held in Helsinki, Finland.

Funda believes in building stronger ties with other countries in helping to develop South Africa's ICT infrastructure. This concept of working in partnership for a common goal is related to the African philosophy of Ubuntu. Image courtesy Flavio Takemoto stockexchng.

One of the delegates at the event was Funda Mpanza, the Scientific Technical Advisor of Science, Technology and Innovation department for the SADC (Southern African Development Community) Secretariat in Gaborone, Botswana. One perk of his job requires him to travel all over the world to investigate how other countries approach scientific and technological challenges. His outlook is aligned with the African philosophy of Ubuntu (not the operating system), which focuses on human relationships and that in unity lies strength.

Mpanza managed to take time out of his busy schedule to explain what he does on a day-to-day basis; why he thought the Euro-Africa Week was important and why he feels like a one-man army.

I am responsible for coordinating science & technology cooperation in the Southern African region. My job as Technical Advisor entails interacting with various stakeholders within and outside South Africa. I attended the meeting in Helsinki in order to network with potential partners who may support my region in establishing a full-fledged science & technology program. My attendance there was also to share information and experiences on what we are doing, as well as to learn about developments that are taking place in other parts of the world. Stronger partnerships on ICT mean stronger ties in other areas such as climate change, biotechnology, medical science, energy, etc. ICT enables us to exchange knowledge in real time.

It is my belief that the socio-economic challenges we are facing in the SADC region cannot be addressed in isolation. It is imperative that we form strong partnerships with other regions and the international scientific community. Therefore, some of the challenges we are facing may have been addressed by other countries. Engaging with people from these regions can help us learn how to replicate and adapt models that have assisted them to deal with such challenges. Forums such as Euro-Africa are critical to strengthening science and technology for the benefit of developing regions such as mine. Through these forums we are able to network, initiate partnerships, share information and learn about innovative developments.

Mpanza highlighted that his department's key development goals are:

  • Policy development and harmonization.
  • Cross-cutting support intervention (exchange programs, seminars, etc).
  • ICT and space science technologies (including earth observation).
  • Biotechnology and Indigenous Knowledge.
  • Materials science, manufacturing and laser technologies.
  • Energy, water and agriculture technologies.

    Funda Mpanza, scientific advisor of the South African Development Community (SADC). Image Courtesy Mpanza.

As a coordinator, I am tasked with the responsibility of enabling the SADC region to work together on a number of science and technology areas, with particular emphasis on the key priorities mentioned above. I am therefore in constant contact with SADC Member States and institutions in order to keep this cooperation vibrant. Our focus is not just on ICT, but the broader science & technology landscape. Right now, I am finalizing a regional strategic plan on science, technology and innovation. I believe it will be instrumental in producing critical frameworks such as a regional research agenda for the sector.

But, I currently face a number of challenges. The major one is that my department is understaffed. Therefore, my immediate task is to get additional personnel to increase our capacity. There is also an enormous task ahead of us as a region. Poverty, malnutrition and disease are some of our burdens in this part of the globe. How to move together in addressing these challenges will be a hard nut to crack.

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