A primary assignment of mine is to help change the face of science in South Africa so it reflects the population. The first students are now entering the ACCESS program at honors (most similar to a non-thesis master’s program in the U.S.), master’s and doctorate programs and they look like South Africa.
Science alone will not solve Africa’s problems such as adjustment to climate change but, without science, they cannot be solved. And if not produced by Africans, those produced by others will be used and the results are almost sure to be sub-optimal.
South Africa has the strongest higher educational infrastructure in Africa, with the scientific equipment and its maintenance needed for much of today’s scientific research previously available mainly outside the continent.
A prime example is the country’s high-speed computing center. South Africa is increasing it black scientific faculty and attracting students from all over Africa who previously would have tried to go to the U.S. or Europe. Being in South Africa makes it more likely that they will continue to work on Africa’s issues.
One of the programs being incorporated in ACCESS combines work in non-African universities with work in Africa to address brain drain. For the present, outside universities need to be involved to be able to educate the number of scientists required.
I met students from Uganda, Zimbabwe and Nigeria. This is the new generation of working Pan-Africanists.
The students helped staff the ACCESS booth in the South African exhibit area of the climate change talks and it was exciting to see the large number of visitors from the community and their interest in all of the areas of climate change.
The predominance of black South Africans running exhibits was important to the impact on the attendees and is something that needs to be given more attention in South Florida.
Several graduate students also participated in an ACCESS side event in which they made presentations about their work before an audience of senior officials of the U.N. and government (South Africa, Japan and Norway). Another session brought several students to be briefed by a South African climate scientist involved in the negotiations’ Science Committee which sets the scientific parameters for the negotiators to use in their deliberations.
These new scientists beginning their efforts to create new knowledge cover the spectrum of the areas involved in climate change issues, such as oceans, agriculture, social science climate modeling, and policy. The old saying “give a man a fish and he eats for a day but teach him how to fish and he eats for a lifetime” is not operative. In Africa, experience would teach us that if you increase capability to catch fish (after all, people have fished for thousands of years), the profits will end up mostly outside the continent and the fish stocks will become depleted.
I am privileged to be working with the continent to produce young scientists such as those I met in Durban who will develop the appropriate mechanisms for managing the entire environment for sustainable development.
That is the future.
Brad Brown is first vice president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. He is a retired National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist. He continues to work as a consultant on African coastal and marine projects and scientific capacity development. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Brad Brown