Keynote Address by Deputy President Paul Mashatile at the UNESCO Ninth Africa Engineering Week and Africa Engineering Conference, CSIR International Convention Centre, 25 September 2023
Minister for the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure – Mr Sihle Zikalala,
Deputy Governor of Ogun State in Nigeria, Her Excellency Engineer Noimot Salako,
Representative from the African Union, Ms Sophia Ashipala,
Deputy Chief Secretary in the Office of the President in Zimbabwe, Engineer Amos Marawa,
UNESCO Regional Director: Professor Martiale Zebaze-Kana,
Conference Chair and FAEO Past President Southern Africa – Engineer. Martin Manuhwa,
ECSA President – Ms Refilwe Buthelezi and members of ECSA,
President-Elect of the World Federation of Engineering Organisation (WFEO): Engineer. Mustafa Shenu,
President of the Federation of African Engineering Organisation,
(FAEO): Engineer. Papias Kazawadi Dedeki,
Presidents and Registrars of Engineering Organisations,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure that I address you today on this highly anticipated Ninth UNESCO Africa Engineering Week and the Africa Engineering Conference, where we join to celebrate and advance engineering excellence in the African region.
I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Federation of African Engineering Organisations Executive Board for allowing the Engineering Council of South Africa to organise this week-long programme.
We would also like to warmly welcome renowned experts and thought leaders from the public and private sectors who will share sectoral knowledge and experiences, as well as ground-breaking research and innovative ideas. Your valuable insights and expertise will drive discussions on shaping a more sustainable and brighter future for Africa through engineering excellence.
The theme for this year’s conference, “Celebrating and Growing Engineering Excellence in the African Region,” resonates deeply with Agenda 2063, which harnesses the potential that lies within the continent and uses it as a lever for change in the continent and globally.
The conference, aligned with its designated theme, aims to convene individuals from the engineering field to recognise and comprehend the developing technological advancements and industry patterns in the African continent. It further seeks to celebrate engineering excellence in the African continent, which boasts engineering innovations that are researched, designed, created, and maintained by the same professionals in this continent.
Africa’s vast land mass and rich natural and mineral resources make it strategically important and an increasingly significant global player. It is also a dynamic and young continent, with around 40 percent of the population aged 15 years and younger, compared to a global average of 25 percent in 2022. Thus, as a continent, we must leverage this enormous potential by strengthening efforts towards attaining the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063, which includes elevating Africa through improved education and applying science and technology in development.
Ladies and Gentlemen, engineering is the backbone of any society and plays a role in shaping our world. As a scientific practice, engineering drives technological advancements, infrastructure development, and economic progress. Behind every remarkable architectural achievement, whether towering structures or intricate technological devices, is the profound expertise and innovative thinking of highly skilled personnel.
In the African continent, our engineering capabilities exhibit remarkable breadth and depth. Throughout history, African engineers have left an indelible mark on our continent, from the Pyramids to the Great Mosque of Djenné. Today, African engineers play a crucial role in shaping our future. They are at the forefront of ground-breaking projects, addressing pressing challenges in the energy, water, transportation, freight and Logistics and communications sectors.
Over the past 50 years, there has been massive infrastructure development in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has had and will have much impact on Africa’s economy and the well-being of its people. According to the Africa Infrastructure Development Index, South Africa ranks in the top five countries in Africa with the best public infrastructure alongside Seychelles, Libya, Egypt and Mauritius. This is a crucial development index because infrastructure development plays a key role in ensuring fast economic growth and alleviating poverty and must be prioritised across the region. We still need to do much on this development index as a continent.
We must remember that infrastructure investment has always been a crucial step for development, leading to many nations changing the trajectory of their economies during economic turmoil. Since the 1930s and after World War II, economies have recognised the need for innovative and sustainable interventions to kickstart economic growth. Developing nations have long argued that investing in infrastructure has a positive socio-economic impact, which remains vital to economic recovery efforts.
Considering that our continent is plagued by numerous socio-economic challenges, such as access to water, food and energy, among other things, it is necessary that we also emphasise the importance of infrastructure as a way to address some of these. Investing in world-class infrastructure contributes significantly to the quality of life of citizens as well as the competitiveness and attractiveness of countries, regions and cities.
State-of-the-art infrastructure is the veins and arteries of any modern economy and prosperous society. Equally, sustained investment in public infrastructure can also serve as a stimulus to growth, employment creation, spatial transformation and social integration by connecting communities and linking producers to markets.
Significant support already exists through the African Development Bank, specifically the recently signed Africa50 Infrastructure Acceleration Fund, the Development Bank of South Africa and governments across the continent have committed to achieving growth through an infrastructure transformation agenda that creates possibilities for the African Continental Free Trade Agreement to thrive.
Thus, as you deliberate over the next few days, ladies and gentlemen, it is prudent to consider how, as leading engineers in the continent, you can contribute to the African Union’s shared vision of economic integration and transformation in specific and more compelling ways.
Perhaps it may be vital that you think about ways to fast-track developments in the rail network and role infrastructure to quicken the efforts towards the ease of movements of products from Cape to Cairo. For example, this conference also allows us to collectively explore the avenues for integrating economic activity across the continent.
This, of course, requires, among other things, acknowledging the strides made in engineering but also considering a more robust and global approach to cultivating excellence in this field.
In the vast continent of Africa, engineering education has encountered numerous formidable challenges that have hindered its progress and development. These challenges encompass a wide range of issues, including but not limited to insufficient funding and resources in quantity and quality.
Various reports in academia and public discourse have highlighted the limitations in diversity and inclusion, particularly regarding the inclusion and retention of women and other marginalised groups. The engineering industry still struggles to retain its female workers, although there have been notable changes in the consulting engineers’ industry to drive more inclusivity and diversity.
The underrepresentation of women and other marginalised groups within the sector is a global phenomenon that is primarily structural and calls for strategic interventions that respond to challenges that marginalised groups face, such as unconscious bias, a lack of workplace flexibility, unclear promotion paths and limited roles for women.
Additionally, the scarcity of adequate facilities has further exacerbated the situation, making it even more difficult for aspiring engineers, especially those among the underrepresented demographic groups, to receive the necessary training and opportunities within the sector.
It is, therefore, essential to bridge the gaps in our education systems, promote research and development, and foster an environment that enables inclusion and professional growth for engineers already in the field. Allowing not only engineering practitioners but also academic and training pipeline of trainers.
One of the key ways to achieve this is through collaboration and knowledge sharing. We must strengthen partnerships between academia, industry, and governments to create platforms for engineers to exchange ideas, learn from one another, and collaborate on innovative solutions. Events like this conference provide networking opportunities, showcasing best practices and discussing strategies to promote engineering excellence.
Furthermore, we must inspire and empower the next generation of engineers by instilling a passion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in our youth. Most importantly, we need to change the mindset of Africans by training them to create African solutions for African problems. This may involve establishing specialised engineering training programs tailored to the continent’s unique challenges.
Making the necessary shifts in this regard calls for significant investments in quality education, especially in underserved areas. We can unlock the potential of talented young Africans by ensuring they have the necessary skills to contribute to our continent’s growth.
We must, as such, foster an environment that supports innovation in several ways, such as research and development, industry partnerships, and, most importantly, creating policies and regulations that incentivise innovation.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are unable to fulfil our energy requirements. This reality has adversely affected our economy due to prolonged load shedding diminishing accessibility to essential social services, including healthcare and education. As the government, we are addressing this issue by increasing maintenance requirements on existing and ageing infrastructure, high investment and capital required for new energy assets, and social and economic implications for a Just Energy Transition.
In this regard, we welcome the pledges supporting South Africa’s Just Energy Transition, which now stands at $11.9 billion. The country is mobilising additional finance, including grants, to facilitate the shift from fossil fuels to clean energy. This will help reduce the impact of load shedding while keeping our environment clean.
Hence, we should not transition in the dark as other nations are beginning to transition, but it will be done on our terms, which are informed by our objective conditions.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as the South African government, we have committed to prioritising investment in infrastructure across the public sector. Together with better infrastructure maintenance, we are determined that these investments will make a big difference in people’s lives and draw more investment in our country and continent.
I am pleased that during the Federation of African Engineering Organisations Annual Conference in Kigali, Rwanda, on the 27th of January 2023, there were notable resolutions taken to closely lobby for partnerships with the African Union (AU) and its organs, the AfCFTA Secretariat and national governments of all 54 African countries towards the implementation of the AfCFTA and Agenda 2063 of the AU.
The coordination and collaboration with the above partners towards the implementation of the AfCFTA and the development of robust frameworks for engineering education and practice are informed by accurate data on engineering capabilities, quality and quantity of human capital that will be critical to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030, AU Agenda 2063 and other developmental aspirations.
One notable benefit of implementing AfCFTA is harmonising standards and regulations within the engineering profession by the Federation of African Engineering Organisations (FAEO). This initiative aims to facilitate the digitisation of the database for engineering practitioners, thereby establishing a dependable and credible source of engineering services data through professional engineering institutions across Africa. The digitisation of the engineering practitioners’ database will facilitate business transactions within Africa by promoting market access to products and services by all the stakeholders and mobility of engineering personnel.
This initiative of creating a single market of engineers is a strategic imperative of Agenda 2063: the Africa We Want and calls for partnership models, robust frameworks for engineering education and practice informed by accurate data of engineering capabilities, quality and quantity of human capital needs, developmental aspirations and economic development.
For South Africa, this entails ECSA strengthening its partnerships with its stakeholders, including voluntary associations, industry bodies, academia, and government, to actively contribute to creating the ideal African continent.
We can make AfCFTA’s vision of a borderless Africa a reality by working together to eliminate tariffs on most products, standardise customs procedures, promote free movement of people and capital, and inspire entrepreneurialism and foreign investment.
Ladies and gentlemen, as we embark on this week-long celebration and conference, let us renew our commitment to engineering excellence in Africa. Let us harness our collective expertise, creativity, and determination to address our continent’s unique challenges.
Together, we can pave the way for a future where engineering is central to Africa’s growth and prosperity. As the government, we believe you will emerge from this conference with mechanisms to inform better, direct policy, and collaborate with us to identify more efficient ways to fund projects in your sector.
Let us seize this opportunity to celebrate our achievements, learn from one another, and forge a path towards a brighter future through engineering excellence in the African region.
Issued by: The Presidency