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SA IORAG takes its academic networking programme into Africa*

By Nicole du Plessis, SAMREF Project Officer, SAEON Egagasini Node
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The South African Chapter of the Indian Ocean Rim Association Academic Group (SA IORAG) embarked on a whirlwind tour of three African countries within the space of a week to spearhead its academic outreach programme.

The South African Department of Science and Technology (DST), through the Directorate: Multilateral Cooperation, supported the establishment of the SA IORAG as a vehicle for South Africans to pursue academic cooperation and technology transfer within the region and to support South Africa’s priorities as Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) for the period 2017 to 2019.

As few African countries have so far attended the annual Indian Ocean Rim Academic Group (IORAG) meetings, and moreover to ensure that the programme has the desired impact, the programme coordinators decided to approach the African States first. Invitations were sent to all eight African IORA Member States. Favourable responses were received from Tanzania, Mauritius and Seychelles.

The South African delegation consisted of SAEON’s Ms Nicole du Plessis, Prof. Narnia Bohler-Muller (Human Sciences Research Council; representing South Africa as the regional Chair of IORAG), Mr Selby Modiba (DST) and Ms Karabo Mphogo (DST intern).

Background and purpose of meeting

In March 2017, the IORA Action Plan was welcomed by the Council of Ministers Meeting and acknowledged at the Leader’s Summit in Jakarta. A number of flagship initiatives for the IORAG were approved in the IORA Action Plan 2017-2021. These include:

Short term:

Strengthen the Indian Ocean Rim Academic Group (IORAG)

Medium term:

  • Strengthen cooperation with universities in the Indian Ocean, including the University Mobility in the Indian Ocean Region (UMIOR);
  • Strengthen the Indian Ocean Rim Academic Group (IORAG) through the sharing of information and knowledge; and
  • Implement training and capacity-building programmes.

At the 23rd IORAG held in Durban in 2017, member states expressed their support for South Africa’s proposal for the institutional reform of the IORAG. This included strengthening and improving the coordination and performance of the academic group.

South Africa subsequently proposed to undertake an IORAG Outreach Programme (or Roadshow) to showcase the structure of the SA IORAG and gain support from member states to have more robust academic engagement within IORA. The meetings were also proposed to encourage academics to attend the Indian Ocean Dialogue (IOD) and IORAG meeting to be held in South Africa in August 2018.

Outreach meetings

The first meeting, which took place on 2 July 2018, was hosted by Mzumbe University, Dar es Salaam Campus. Prof. Honest Ngowi led the proceedings, facilitated the introductions and outlined the purpose of the meeting.

Participants included representatives from various Tanzanian universities (including students) and research institutions as well as the media. The welcome and opening address were delivered by Prof. G. Nyamsogoro on behalf of Prof. Lughano Kusiluka, Vice Chancellor of the Mzumbe University. Presentations by the SA delegates were followed by a presentation by Dr Francis Mwaijande on the research priorities of Tanzania.

Key outcomes of the meeting include:

  • A commitment to establishing a Tanzanian Chapter of IORAG ((IORAG-Tz) modelled after the South African structure, led by Mzumbe University in collaboration with the other universities.
  • Prioritising the publication and dissemination of research and knowledge about the Indian Ocean Rim Association and Academic Group.
  • Promoting intellectual dialogue between academics and policy-makers and strengthening of the Tanzanian knowledge economy.
  • Prioritising youth involvement/graduate participation in research related to IORA.
  • Prof. Ngowi and Dr Mwaijande to attend the 5th IOD and 24th IORAG Meetings in Durban, South Africa.

Participants at the Tanzanian Outreach Meeting hosted by Mzumbe University on 2 July


The second meeting took place on 4 July and was hosted by the University of Seychelles. Mrs Kelly Hoareau facilitated the welcome and introductions.

Participants included the National Institute for Science, Technology and Innovation (NISTI), academics and postgraduate students from the university and various research organisations. Presentations by the guest speakers were followed by a brief introduction by Mrs Hoareau to the programmes of the university and the James Michel Blue Economy Research Institute (BERI), including the work of the three research institutes dedicated to issues relevant to the region - the Blue Economy, Creole Language and Culture, and Peace and Diplomacy.


The University of Seychelles hosted the Seychelles Outreach Meeting on 4 July

It was noted that due to various priorities and commitments, formal government structures do not always enable wider collaboration that could advance the research agenda of the institute (and the country), and that this was where the IORAG and the establishment of national academic focal points could play a role.

Mrs Hoareau also showcased the IORA Special Fund project undertaken by Seychelles in response to questions around project funding within IORA - WIO-net: A Network of Environmental Research in the Western Indian Ocean. This is an online platform for facilitating collaboration among organisations within the region. The pilot phase included the Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles.

In future, other IORA members could be included in the network and the Seychelloise team are investigating the potential for hosting a regional conference led by project partners.

Cultural Conservation was raised as an issue of concern as it was felt that the history of the Indian Ocean was losing its value. Prof. Bohler-Muller indicated that Tourism and Cultural Exchanges was a priority area within IORA, which was being addressed through the new Core Group on Tourism.

The sustainability of having a national academic group was also raised. It was indicated that by engaging with government entities, the political will to engage fully with IORA could be secured. While South Africa had elected to form groups on each of the six priority areas and the two cross-cutting areas, other member states could focus on those areas of most importance to them and for which they had capacity.

Key outcomes of the meeting include:

  • BERI would investigate the possibility of establishing a national chapter of the IORAG in Seychelles.
  • BERI would distil the list of key research ideas discussed during the meeting and communicate this (through Foreign Affairs) to the relevant entities/counterparts of IORAG to strengthen regional cooperation in research.
  • BERI would liaise with the Seychelles national focal point to discuss the inclusion of Mrs Hoareau in the delegation to the 5th IOD and 24th IORAG.

After the meeting the South African representatives met with Mr Xavier Estico, the CEO of NISTI, for an information-sharing discussion.


The final meeting, which took place on 6 July, was hosted by the University of Mauritius. Prof. Suress Bhagwant led the proceedings. Participants included faculty members, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Academia of the University, Mr Graham Anderson (IORA Secretariat) and Prof. V.N. Attri (Chair in Indian Ocean Studies).


The Mauritian Outreach Meeting was hosted by the University of Mauritius on 6 July

The discussion focused on the research being undertaken by the university and their areas of interest. These include:

  • Maritime safety and security, as piracy is a problem in the region;
  • Disaster risk management as a particular issue for small island states due to climate change, and the need for these states to work together to address this challenge;
  • Increase student mobility;
  • The need to develop partnerships for the conservation of culture and language in the region; and
  • How the university was being proactive in its approach to teaching and adapting to new skills needs, for example in marine sciences.

It was also noted that while the university has strong research capabilities, there was a lack of ability to consolidate the research. Creating a national structure similar to the South African Academic Group could therefore help facilitate this. Prof. Bhagwant indicated his intention to attend the 5th IOD and 24th IORAG meeting in Durban, South Africa.

Since the IORA Secretariat is hosted in Mauritius, the South African representatives took the opportunity to visit the Secretariat’s office. This included meeting the IORA Secretary-General, Dr Nomvuyo Nokwe, and other members of the IORA Secretariat. Discussion focused on a summary of the outreach meetings and their outcomes, as well as a brief discussion on the upcoming IOD and IORAG meetings which were to be hosted by South Africa for the final time.


The SA IORAG delegation met with the IORA Secretariat at their office in Mauritius

Future actions

The outreach programme was very well received in each of the three countries. Building on these relationships and keeping the momentum going will be imperative.

However, while it is recognised that there is value in academics engaging within the IORA platform, the lack of clear pathways for engagement was seen as a limiting factor. The positive responses received, especially the commitment to involvement of more academics within the IOD and IORAG, led to the suggestion that a second leg of meetings be organised later in 2018 or early 2019. This could either follow a similar format to the pilot event or be held in partnership with the other IORA member states.

* The full meeting report is available on the SA IORAG website.

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