#02 2022

NRF-SAEON continues to foster academic cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region as South Africa is endorsed as chair of the IORAG 2022–23

By Nicole du Plessis, Science Officer, SAEON Egagasini Node

South Africa is once again chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association Academic Group (IORAG), after this was approved at the 21st Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Council of Ministers and related meetings held in November 2021. The formal appointment of the IORAG Chair occurred at a bilateral meeting between South Africa and India (as the outgoing IORAG Chair) in February 2022, facilitated by the IORA Secretariat.  

Delegates at the 5th Indian Ocean Dialogue and 24th IORAG Meeting hosted by South Africa (DSI and NRF-SAEON) in Durban, 2018.

The meeting was chaired by Mr Selby Modiba, the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) Deputy Director: Multilateral Cooperation, and chair of the SA IORAG Steering Committee. The SA IORAG Steering Committee approved Professor Juliet Hermes, manager of SAEON’s Egagasini Node, to represent South Africa as the IORAG Chair.

One of the highlights of the Chair period of India was finalising the IORAG reform process started during the previous Chair period of South Africa (2017–2019) to strengthen academic cooperation among IORA Member States.  

Launch of IORA-GIZ research study 

One of the first activities as Chair of the IORAG was facilitating the finalisation of the application process for an IORA-GIZ Research Study on COVID-19 and Climate Change: Prospects for a ‘Green’ Recovery in the Indian Ocean Region. The aim of the study is to strengthen IORA in the Blue Economy, with a focus on the nexus between climate change and security. Research topics are broad and include socio-economic aspects, the natural environment, and overall impacts on climate change and opportunities for solutions.

It is envisaged that the successful research consortium will undertake the research from June to December 2022. Prof Hermes will chair the project evaluation committee.

South African delegates at the 6th Indian Ocean Dialogue hosted by India in 2019. From left: Mr KGame Molope (NWU), Prof Juliet Hermes (NRF-SAEON), Mr Selby Modiba (DSI), Ambassador Anil Sooklal (DIRCO), Ms Ernesta Swanepoel, Ms Nicole du Plessis (NRF-SAEON) and Mr Mzwanele Langa (DIRCO).

Prof Juliet Hermes, manager of SAEON’s Egagasini Node, was selected to represent South Africa as IORAG Chair.

New SA IORAG Chair selected 

With Professor Hermes selected as IORAG Chair, SAEON’s Ms Nicole du Plessis was selected as Acting Chair until the steering committee finalised the selection of the new SA IORAG Chair.

The steering committee approved the appointment of Mr KGame Molope as SA IORAG Chair in mid-March 2022. Mr Molope is a lecturer at North-West University in the Department of Political Science and International Relations, while previously being an assistant director at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), where one of his areas of responsibility was IORA. Mr Molope therefore brings a wealth of experience to the position of SA IORAG Chair.   

South Africa’s priorities as IORAG Chair 

With the recent changes in the procedures of IORA, Member States are now invited to self-nominate to lead on IORA functional bodies for two-year terms – previously the IORA Chair also chaired all other functional bodies. The objectives of South Africa becoming IORAG Chair was to build on the activities during the Chair period 2017–2019 to further academic cooperation in the region, especially to strengthen African engagement with IORA. This opportunity will also be used to facilitate better science-to-policy engagement to leverage the IORA platform for interaction between academia and government officials, at national and international levels.

South Africa is leading on the development of the IORAG Work Plan 2022–2027, whereby all Member States may propose activities to implement the objectives of the IORA Action Plan 2022–2027 and will play an active role in ensuring the success of the action plan’s academic objectives.  

Water science and marine science focus areas within IORA 

During the first (virtual) ad hoc subcommittee meeting of the Working Group for Science, Technology and Innovation, held on 22 March 2022 to discuss the development of the group’s work plan, water science (focused on water security and sanitation) and marine science were approved as priority areas of collaboration. The working group is comprised of government officials to create a common platform for policymakers from the Member States in charge of science, technology and innovation domains, to work together in implementing the agreed work plan through which cooperation in science, technology and innovation can be facilitated.

South Africa’s priorities within this working group are to find ways of leveraging opportunities through technical exchanges on innovation to provide support for grassroot innovators, incubators, tech professionals, SMMEs, etc. The SA IORAG Secretariat supports the DSI on this working group.

Going forward, the SA IORAG Secretariat will continue to be a national platform for academics to engage with policymakers and disseminate research- and policy-related information from IORA, as well as assisting, where relevant, other government departments involved in the IORA portfolio.