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Canada and South Africa launch African research chairs initiative

The governments of South Africa and Canada have teamed up to fund 10 African research chairs at sub-Saharan research-intensive institutions.

The OR Tambo Africa Research Chairs initiative, named after Oliver Tambo, the South African liberation hero whose birth centenary fell last year, was announced on 11 December in Pretoria.

The scheme aims to retain research talent in Africa, to boost postgraduate training, and to encourage research in areas that are important to the continent.

Institutions in 15 countries can compete to host the chairs: Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

These countries are all members of the Science Granting Councils Initiative that aims to boost the capabilities of science councils and other national research funders in sub-Saharan Africa. It is backed by Canada, South Africa, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Public research institutions with a strong research track record can apply to host chairs. In the first phase of applications, ending on 21 February, institutions should work with their local science-granting council to put together expressions of interest for hosting. Institutions can each submit only three expressions of interest in phase one, identifying a maximum of two potential chair-holders for each post.

The second phase will invite specific expressions of interests to develop full proposals for the five-year duration of the chair.

Naming the scheme after Tambo is “a good way to honour the legacy of a leader who dedicated his life to the liberation of our African continent,” said Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, South Africa’s science minister, at the launch in Pretoria.

She added that 60 per cent of the chairs would be earmarked for female researchers. Science should not be a preserve of any race or any gender; it should be an inclusive enterprise,” she said.

The minister emphasised the need for science in Africa to be useful: “[Tambo] would have insisted that the pursuit of truth in science should not be for its own sake. Instead it should be aimed at alleviating poverty, disease and conflict in Africa.”

Commenting on the scheme on 12 December at the launch of the Science Forum South Africa in Pretoria, Naser Faruqui from Canada’s International Development Research Centre said: “I want to applaud the government of South Africa for taking this step of investing in science outside South Africa.”