Dr. Mamphela Ramphele: "Science for Society: Risks and Opportunities"
Dr. Mamphela Ramphele
South African physician and educator Mamphela Ramphele Saturday called on scientists in the West to build a new relationship with Africa, helping the troubled continent to develop the skills and technology that would bring increased independence.
In a plenary address at the 2005 AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., the former managing director for the World Bank said that much outside aid to Africa in recent decades had served to encourage dependence rather than strength. A new partnership, she told the audience, would allow Africa to develop its human and economic resources and in the interests of global stability.
"Doing things for poor countries leaves them perpetually dependent," Ramphele said. "But…there are enormous opportunities in forging mutually beneficial partnerships to address the challenges of harnessing the power of science and technology to make our world a better place for all."
Ramphele grew up in rural South Africa at a time of harsh apartheid. She was an early leader of the nation's black consciousness movement in the 1970s, and persevered in her education to become a doctor. She earned a Ph.D. in social anthropology from the University of Cape Town. The government banished her to a remote township from 1977 to 1984, but she continued health and social work with the poor people there.
As the nation emerged from apartheid, she joined the University of Cape Town as a research fellow in 1986, and in 1991 was named a deputy vice-chancellor. In 1996 she was appointed vice chancellor, becoming the first black woman ever to hold that position at a South African university. Today she holds 10 honorary doctorates and is chair of Circle Capital Ventures in Cape Town.
In her speech at AAAS, Ramphele listed some of the grave problems that often put Africa in Western headlines: poverty; malnutrition; high rates of HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases; maternal mortality that claims the life of one African woman every minute.
Such conditions assure that sub-Saharan Africa will meet none of the Millennium Development Goals that were approved by the United Nations as a way to promote human development and build social and economic progress. But none of those goals, she said, "can be met without the engine of S&T powering the process."
Ramphele stopped well short of blaming any specific country or government for hindering Africa's development. The Cold War made Africa a battleground for powers who sought to divide and conquer its people, she said, and after the Cold War, development policy was driven by the quest for Africa's natural resources.
"Others might argue," she said, "that the billions of U.S. dollars poured into development aid over the last 60 years have spawned an industry that thrives on providing opportunities for professionals in the North to service 'the needs' of the South." Individuals and institutions involved in providing aid "have much to lose from working themselves out of a job by encouraging the emergence of strong professionals and institutions in developing countries," she added.
But globalization is proving the inter-dependence of nations and people, Ramphele said. Shocks and disasters in one region inevitably have a wider impact.
Today, she said, it is essential that the developed world restructure its relations with Africa, offering medical, science and technology aid so that Africans can develop their full potential.
She cited the case of a colleague at the University of Cape Town, an obstetrics and gynecology specialist who sought to address the extremely high rates of cervical cancer among poor women in a local township. She worked from converted shipping containers on the grounds of a local health care facility, using locally trained nurses and community health workers. She tested 7,200 women between 2000 and 2003, with amazing follow-up results. But while she's "inundated with requests to roll out her model across South Africa and the rest of Africa," Ramphele said, "she needs much more resources to be able to do more."
Reports such as "Inventing a Better Future" by the InterAcademy Council spell out how S&T capacity can be built through international partnerships, she said. And even a relatively small amount of money, carefully targeted, could help build a sustainable foundation of health care professionals in poor countries, she added.
"The aging northern economies need to help the poor but youthful southern economies to invest in the human development of their people for the benefit of the total global market," Ramphele said. "It is not about charity, but about enlightened self-interest by all parties involved.
"As a scientist," she concluded, "you…have the opportunity of examining the way in which your institution currently engages globally. Are you prepared to be a catalyst for change toward more productive mutually beneficial partnerships with developing country institutions?
"AAAS has an opportunity to be a champion of a greater focus on a global perspective on promoting a new environment in which everyone can advance faster by employing S&T to make this a better world for all."
Read the full text of Mamphela Ramphele's speech here.
Edward W. Lempinen
19 February 2005