Cablegate: South Africa - National Academy of Science Visit On

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12948: N/A

Sensitive but unclassified-please handle accordingly.

1. (SBU) Summary: The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has
begun to evaluate potential partner countries for an
initiative to develop science academies in Africa. The
Gates Foundation-funded initiative seeks to build science
academies' capacity to provide independent scientific
analysis and advice to governments, particularly on human
health issues. A U.S. mission team advised members of a
recent NAS delegation to South Africa that some resistance
to the initiative was likely, and encouraged NAS to obtain
as much political support from government, academic and
private sector institutions as possible. The involvement of
prominent South African Dr. Mamphela Rampele in the NAS
effort should facilitate broad acceptance of the academy
strengthening initiative. End summary.

//Background and introduction//

2. (U) Health Attache, Econ Minister-Counselor, USAID Health
Adviser, CDC Deputy Director and ES&T Officer met on August
4 with three members of a visiting National Academy of
Sciences (NAS) delegation to discuss South Africa's
potential to participate in "The African Science Academy
Development Initiative," funded by the Bill and Melinda
Gates Foundation. The initiative will receive USD 20
million over ten years.

3. (U) NAS was tapped by the Gates Foundation to implement
the initiative, which seeks to build the capacity of
Africa's science academies to provide independent, evidence-
based advice to their governments on science, particularly
health-related matters. NAS has identified seven countries
for engagement: Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon,
Ghana and South Africa. NAS will select three countries for
"intense" partnering, and plans to hold annual meetings with
all seven countries during the life of the initiative. NAS
expects to make a preliminary decision on the three partner
countries by November. Early next year, NAS will support an
initial workshop in selected countries, after which it will
make a final decision on partners. Next steps will include
holding a forum on evidence-based policy-making to
"illuminate" issues in a non-threatening way, followed by
joint policy studies carried out by host country scientists
in conjunction with training and support by the NAS, after
which studies are to be carried out entirely by the local
academies. These activities will be largely funded by the
Gates Foundation initiative, but NAS will also increasingly
require the local academies to raise supplemental funding.
The three partner countries will also receive funding for
physical infrastructure, communications equipment and

4. (SBU) Director of the Board on African Science Academy
Development Dr. Patrick Kelley led the discussion and
provided a summary of the initiative. He was accompanied by
Board members Dr. Michael Clegg, a UC-Irvine professor who
serves as Foreign Secretary to the NAS, and South African
Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, Senior Advisor to the President of
the World Bank and member of the Institute of Medicine. The
visiting delegation also included Barney Cohen from the NAS
and Dr. Narciso Matos of the Carnegie Corporation. The
group arrived on August 1 and the Academy of Science of
South Africa (ASSAf) organized a full schedule of meetings
with numerous government departments, parastatal research
councils, a science advisory body, a national association of
university Vice Chancellors, and the Academy of Engineering.
Kelley, Clegg and Ramphele reported that they had had
excellent meetings and received a very positive reception
almost everywhere. They requested Embassy Officers'
perspectives, based on local engagement and experience.

//Academy Weak, Political Acceptance Critical//

5. (SBU) ESTOff told the delegation that the relatively new
academy of science was not well engaged with the government,
or influential in policymaking in South Africa. The visit
of the NAS delegation had in fact prompted unprecedented
communication and collaboration among ASSAf and government
authorities and research councils, a welcome development.
6. (SBU) The Health Attache noted that while establishment
of an independent, credible academy of science was
desirable, many obstacles -- such as underlying racial
tensions linked to the past, challenges posed by the
Department of Health including a desire for control over
research findings, and even past perceptions of
mismanagement at some science institutions -- could impede
acceptance of the initiative. Health Attache encouraged NAS
to engage with and seek support from the influential South
African Cabinet, the National Treasury, as well as
Parliament, private sector companies and academic
institutions. He and USAID Health Adviser noted that
several research institutions, the parastatal Human Science
Research Council (HSRC) and Medical Research Council, along
with the non-governmental Health Systems Trust, would likely
feel threatened by the initiative. Kelley conceded that one
"reluctant" interlocutor was Mark Orkin, President of the
HSRC. Health Attache noted that none of the research
organizations had the capacity to play an "umbrella" role,
as ASSAf could. Using the initiative to enable ASSAf to
generate research and advice could provide scientists with
additional political protection to release reports that
might not be well-received by some parts of the government.
Ramphele noted that SAG Department of Science and Technology
officials had acknowledged the value of independent analyses
that the initiative would promote.

7. (U) Embassy officers pointed out that the NAS initiative
complemented Mission initiatives to promote evidence-based
policy decisions in the science area and linkages between
U.S. and South African science institutions. NAS and
EmbOffs also discussed human resource challenges facing all
of Africa, in science, health and other sectors. Kelley
noted that South Africa proposed the theme of "How to
address the human resource shortage in health?" for its
first workshop under the initiative.

8. (SBU) Comment: With sufficient buy-in and support from
government, research councils and academic institutions, the
Gates/NAS project has the potential to build the ASSAf into
an influential and independent institution that critically
informs government decision-making, a very desirable
outcome. The involvement of the highly-respected and
influential Dr. Ramphele will likely play a key role in
assuring support from South African stakeholders. Officials
at the Department of Science and Technology are solidly in
support of the initiative.


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