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Science in diplomacy along with science for diplomacy and diplomacy for science promise to offer alternative solutions, specially in conflict-zone areas, over issues related to refugee crises, border managements, trans-boundary water decisions, bridging the East-West-North-South divides; networking across international science organizations, data-sharing and creating transnational research facilities, and reducing impacts of the spread of diseases, to name a few. Gordon Brown, a former British Prime Minister, once said: many of the challenges we face today are international and require global solutions. That is why it is important that we create a new role for science in international policy making and place science at the heart of the progressive international agenda. The question that begs for an answer, especially in the context of Africa, is: How? In other words, 1) how can scientific engagement assist diplomacy, advance science and help deliver public good in a better and faster pace? And 2) how can scientists help facilitate this engagement? Despite increasing recognition of the importance of science and technology, a disconnect still exists between science advancement and foreign policy. The disparity of political agendas and the lack of mechanisms to enable effective dialogue between scientists and policy makers at a domestic level impacts, and undermines, the ability of science to adequately inform foreign policy objectives. Overall, there are many factors, including policy disagreement between parties, which can result in science diplomacy being overlooked as a serious diplomatic tool.

One of the key challenges for diplomatic activity is the way in which states set their foreign policy objectives and the funding they make available for the associated activity. A change in government or shifting domestic priorities, by extension, impacts the international science diplomacy agenda. Before even being able to interact on a global level, science faces impediments from ‘strategic’ political goals and resource limitations on the domestic stage. A critical step for science diplomacy is the framing and contextualizing of science and technology priorities within domestic foreign policy. Practices and approaches to science differ greatly between states; domestic governments tend to define science objectives and its application according to national interests. A 2012 survey of science diplomacy across six countries by Tim Flink and Ulrich Schreiterer revealed a skew in underlying rationale of states to engage in science diplomacy. Expansion of political influence was a key-driving factor for the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (USA). In contrast, it was shown that Switzerland, France, Germany, and Japan primarily used science and technology as a way to access new markets and innovative developments in R&D, and to produce and promote their high-tech products, in the process, emphasizing higher education and research. Understanding where Africa stands in the midst of this requires time, collective engagement, and daring institutionally leadership models.

 Institutional designs as well as leadership modes and function, in this regard, can serve as alternatives that bridge the gap between scientists and policy makers. At one level, the extent to which and the manner in which institutional design may represent an instrument to overcome obstacles to science–policy interaction. The causal pathways through which institutional arrangements are assumed to affect the outcome of processes of science–policy interaction are identified as the capacity of the institutional apparatus to serve four main functions: to maintain the scientific autonomy and integrity of scientists participating in the process; to provide a sufficient level of integration between science and politics; to ensure the geographic representation of scientific bodies; and, to provide mechanisms for conflict resolution. At another level, leadership models adopted by both scientists and politicians could have tremendous impacts on the collaborative process the two parties eventually have to engage in. Modes of leadership, though, need to be looked at from two main bodies of knowledge: the role of leadership in negotiations and the role of scientific elites in the generation of new knowledge within scientific communities.

Three modes of leadership are identified: leadership functions directed towards the development of knowledge base – particularly with regard to the scientific community’s evaluation of the adequacy by which state-of-the-art knowledge is represented; leadership functions directed towards the transformation of the knowledge base into premises for decision-making; and, boundary–role leadership directed towards the provision of communicative links between scientists and policymakers as well as the development of institutional arrangements. Leadership modes, in this regard, will affect the level of policy acceptance of the knowledge observed, based either on a function of the configuration of political interests of parties (governments) in the policy area; or, at the level of a function of the state of knowledge in this field of research. Scrutinizing these three modes of leadership within the context of Africa, a pressing question floats on the surface: is there any African country whose science leadership mode promises to perform a jump-start and be an inspiring, if not duplicated, model for other African nations, and maybe beyond Africa?

Africa needs to define, not necessarily a unified but at least, a coherent and comprehensive policy for pursuing science diplomacy across the continent. Despite the existence of good will and intentions motivated by the bulk of young and energetic generation of young African scientists inside Africa and in diaspora, efforts in this area remain fragmented, underfunded and thus less than the sum of the required parts. The assets of Africa in this regard are considerable, residing, for example, within Africa’s scientific Diasporas, departments of science and technologies, the African Union Leadership, Senior and Young Academies of Sciences, and the African Bank, among others. These organizations are assets of Africa and they need to be vaporized, brought into concert, and be involved in the endeavor of uprising continental science and technology for global cooperation and peace. The focus of a better-integrated effort should be on improving education and fostering the scientific and technological infrastructure that will bring about genuine economic gains and social and political progress.

One way to build human capital in science, for example, would be to support the establishment of centers of excellence in science and technology that can serve as educational hubs for talented students throughout the continent. Such centers would play a critical role in instilling continental pride and creating the institutional basis for forward-looking, knowledge-based economies. They would serve as tangible evidence of continental and intercontinental commitment to partnership and would help promote peace and stability throughout the world. A living model of excellence-building hub is the “Future Africa Project[1]” whose mission is to empower Africa’s human capital through inclusive enterprise and active citizenship.

At national levels, South Africa might serve as the flagship model that should inspire many, if not all, African countries. Two years after completing its democratization process, the government mandated a paper that placed the role of science and technology as essential instruments not only for economic growth and competitiveness, but also for social development and poverty alleviation, in 1996. To put the spirit of the paper into life, a newly created national Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, which was succeeded in 2002 by a full-fledged Department of Science and Technology (DST), was entrusted the task. This move did not only speed up the country’s overcoming of the impact of the international isolation during the apartheid years, but also helped it leverage international partnerships and investments in support of national programs and capacity building.

Now, the department has three international offices, located at South Africa’s diplomatic missions in Tokyo, Moscow, and Brussels, dedicated to promoting cooperation with Japan, the Russian Federation, and the European Union (Pandor, March 2012). It also has seconded an official to the secretariat of the Southern African Development Community in Gaborone, Botswana, and has in the past seconded an official to the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Thanks to its determination and actions, the country is taking the leadership in R&D in Africa: international cooperation is a core component of major South African policy documents such as the Ten-Year Innovation Plan and the National Research and Development Strategy, providing local researchers with additional resources for national projects, and by ensuring that South Africa stays in touch with cutting-edge global developments, it is a powerful vehicle for developing, attracting, and retaining human capital. “The growing importance of the science content of critical foreign policy issues has necessitated that the South African government pursue a concerted science diplomacy strategy[2],” says Naledi Pandor, S.A.’s Minister of Science and Tech. In short, the answer is YES; and South Africa has proved it!

Science diplomacy is not easy and by itself will not solve the world’s problems. But it is an important and underutilized resource that must be tapped on more energetically for the benefit of global prosperity. In today’s post-modern societies, terms such as “geographical borders”, “national sovereignty” and “resources self-sufficiency” have become void, if not misleading, because the peace and security of every society depend heavily on that of its neighbors’. Fruitful international relations, accordingly, become a must for advancing and diffusing scientific innovation, and vice versa. It is a must because; first, some fields of research cost so much that they flourish only with cooperation to build and manage shared international facilities, to coordinate decentralized research projects, and to conduct clinical trials. Certain fields also need access to sites, specimens, and patients around the world – arrangements that require governmental understanding and often approval. Second, the Internet and other technological innovations have sharply increased the ability and appetite for global scientific collaborations based on open access and cooperation. Third, and finally, leaders of research argue that success hinges on unobstructed international circulation of scientific information and scientists.

In conclusion, even in the absence of mechanisms to evaluate the impact of science diplomacy, future areas of vast potential for the application of science primarily lies in the governance of international zones and the spread of science through innovative solutions to Africa. This more strategic approach will allow science diplomacy approaches to maintain their relevance in a contemporary globalizing world while ensuring actions are targeted and effective. One more equally important point is that when the infrastructure for collaboration exists, there is always hope. Science diplomacy provides that infrastructure and points the course to sustainability. Whether it is furthering nonproliferation goals by encouraging civilian science and technology, fostering scientific collaboration between scientists of regions with historical tensions, or developing virtual science labs to bring under-privileged scientists into a global community, foreign policy is and should be designed by and for international science

[1] – Detailed information about the project can be found on its website: http://www.thefutureafrica.com

[2] – Naledi Pandor, “South African Science Diplomacy: Fostering Global Partnerships and Advancing the African Agenda,” Science & Diplomacy, Vol. 1, No. 1 (March 2012).  http://www.sciencediplomacy.org/perspective/2012/south-african-science-diplomacy