Research excellence

AISA has been carrying out a number of interesting research projects with several outputs being produced in the process. These projects include:

(i)    Local voices within the African structural transformation paradigm: Lessons from Madagascar
One of the most critical challenges of the post-colonial state in Africa is its inability to shed its colonial character and to evolve along lines that are consistent with local realities. Indeed, the analysis of the current configuration of the state and national political institutions in Africa is complicated, considering the varied contested political interpretations of the foundation of the state in Africa, its development and its operations. Applying a multidisciplinary qualitative research approach based on engagement with and interrogation of the key actors, AISA researchers working on this project sought to assess the role of local voices in the resolution of inter-community conflict by implementing a pilot study in Madagascar. This also included assessing the legal parameters permitting African countries, continental and global multilateral institutions to intervene in Madagascar’s internal conflict. The study found out that Madagascar lacked an inclusive participatory approach to development thinking prior to the 2009 political upheavals. Its governance structures did not respond to local realities in building peace and confidence amongst local communities. Major challenges and opportunities created by the conflict include a need for investment to reconstruct and develop the country.  In addition, South Africa can lead this process, given its hegemonic position in SADC and experience in home-grown peacebuilding processes. A Policy Brief has been published and 3 journal articles have been completed and are awaiting peer-review. The study will be replicated in Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

(ii)    Socio-economic transformation through renewable energy
Substantive socio-economic transformation remains an ongoing challenge in Africa. Deploying a comparative perspective, AISA researchers working on this project investigated the role of renewable energies in the socio-economic and environmental transformation of communities in South Africa, the DRC, and Tanzania. The study was premised on the assumption that rural and urban access to energy is one of the key measures of poverty and inequality in Africa.  It is a common knowledge that in Africa access to electricity is a privilege reserved for urban areas. At the same time, renewable energies constitute a suite of new sociotechnical means to equitable access to energy by all communities. 

Specific objectives of the project included to: map the value chains of renewable technologies in use in selected countries; identify and evaluate the institutional and policy frameworks that inform the development and adoption of renewable energy technologies in selected countries; determine the social, economic and environmental spinoffs, that derive from the adoption of renewable energy technologies in the respective countries; and develop a theoretical framework (or model) that could inform future developments, and use of renewable energy technologies by African communities. The study established that in the selected countries, there are a number of enduring challenges to transformation through renewables. These include difficulties associated with attracting investment funds into the energy sector; existence of old infrastructure that is unreliable and inefficient; and physical terrain challenges that make it more expensive to install renewable energy infrastructure. However, in most cases, the appropriate institutional framework has been put in place to drive developments in the energy sector. The study will be replicated in Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, Egypt and Algeria.

(iii)    Chronic Violence project
The chronic violence project proposal is work in progress initiated in 2015 intentionally to: (i) Generate evidence-based knowledge, content, and experiences through innovative collaborative research incorporating new approaches to challenges of extant hybrid violence; (ii) Insert evidence-based policy-relevant knowledge from the continent into national, regional, and global discourse and policies on human security; (iii) Create a network of scholars and practitioners building capacity of new scholars and researchers to both support and advance the mandate of building new knowledge and taking that knowledge into the public domain; and, (iv) Advance a roadmap of principles for mutually addressing common developmental challenges. The efforts have brought together a team of experts as the principal Research Group (RG) for the project undertaking. They came from across Africa, Europe, and USA to a colloquy held in Pretoria on 20-23 March 2016. A policy brief emerged from this meeting and is under review with HSRC Press. This project undertaking employ implementation science as an innovative tool to address protracted poverty and inequality through scientific activity and policy interest focused on developing evidence-based programs for children, youth, families, and adults in need of support and services.

(iv)    Resources 4 Development project: Is China’s ‘Infrastructure Diplomacy’ Promoting African Dependency on China?
From January 26 to February 17, 2016, research was undertaken in Kinshasa and Kolwezi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The fieldwork was designed to assess the 2008 minerals for infrastructure exchange agreement between DRC and China.  Over the years, the mineral resources for infrastructure joint ventures have become widely practiced by China and several African countries.  The DRC-China agreement which is the largest on the continent is of critical interest particularly in reference to Agenda 2063.  Agenda 2063 maintains that Africa will not only engage the global economy as an equal partner, but prioritize infrastructure development as a contributing factor to the integration agenda and industrialization.  The objectives of the research was to determine whether the DRC-China mining infrastructure agreement for resources would promote African dependency on China. The dependency theory was utilized to determine how power is exercised between China and African countries on mineral trade, and whether the minerals for infrastructure model would inhibit or promote growth for the continent. 

The field work was premised on a qualitative and quantitative approach.  Data was collected through interviews with government officials in Kinshasa, and the mining community in Kolwezi. There were a total of 6 interviews with government officials, 5 interviews with mining management, 2 interviews with civil societies, and 4 focus groups, of 20 people each with mine workers and civil societies were conducted.  The questions posed in the interviews and focus groups asked the participants to relate their understanding of issues surrounding the 2008 DRC-China Agreement, and its impact on their communities. Key findings established that the minerals for resources agreement did not entirely benefit the country and would probably promote infrastructure dependency on the continent. Furthermore, if Agenda 2063 is going to be effective, African governments will have to restructure mining agreements with China to promote mineral beneficiation. In terms of information dissemination, given that South Africa currently has several mining agreements with China the output of the project has been shared with the Department of Mineral Resources, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, and mining communities in Limpopo, in particular in Burgersfort at areas such as Maroga and Drieskop.

(v)    Critical Skill Attraction Index Study
The shortage of skills needed for economic growth and development is experienced by many countries irrespective of economic status, whether developed, emerging or a developing country. South Africa like any other country worldwide, needs critical skills to augment the skill set of domestic labour in order to enhance economic growth and development. This study there seeks to explore factors that drive the flow of skilled migrants, which countries serve as the main migration destination for such skills and how South Africa compares in terms of its competitiveness and attractiveness to skilled migrants.  

A Critical Skills Attraction Index (CSA) will be developed out of this study, to be used to access progress or retrogression in South Africa’s attractiveness to skilled migrants, and what policy interventions are required to mitigate emerging challenges to South Africa’s relative competitiveness in attracting global talent needed for economic growth and development. It is envisioned that the findings of the study will highlight key challenges and critical aspects to consider in immigration-related policy formulation, legislation development, regulation, planning and management practices that would enhance South Africa’s ability to attract and retain skilled migrants deemed “critical” to South Africa’s development and growth. The findings of this study would also enable South Africa to assess its relative competitiveness compared to the preferred destinations for skilled migration both in African and around the world.

(vi)    Economic Policy Forum
The Economic Policy Forum (EPF) is a think-tank of experts on sustainable development. The Africa Institute of South Africa is a founding member of the EPF. The EPF holds think weeks annually to brainstorm with global experts on issues that need to be flagged for global attention in the quest to achieve environmentally responsible, inclusive and pro-poor development, especially in developing countries around the world. Joint research initiatives among participating institutions and experts are fostered at the end of each think week. AISA is leading two such Joint Initiatives which looks into “The role of MDBs/NDBs in ensuring sustainable infrastructure development especially in African countries, and “Designing measurement indicators for sustainability in infrastructure development”, which entails both ex-ante and ex-post sustainability indicators. The outcome of these research initiatives are peer reviewed scientific journal articles and policy representations to relevant international conferences to impact on development policy and programme assistance by international development partners.  

(vii)    African Hub on Sustainable Development (AhSD)
The AhSD aims to harness the voices of African Researchers in tracking and informing the implementation of development initiatives in Africa under frameworks such as the Agenda 2063, the Belt and Road Initiative (OBOR), Sustainable development goals, the blue economy and the BRICS initiatives in Africa. The AhSD will pay particular attention to initiatives that seek to alleviate the triple policy challenge of poverty, inequality and inclusive development on the continent. 

As an online platform it would serve as a medium for disseminating vital data and information on funding opportunities, capacity building networks and programmes, collaborative research calls and opportunities for joint research. It will also seek to foster sustained dialogue in the research community through blogs and social media platforms, interrogating Africa’s development challenges, progress and concerns. AhSD will add African perspective to the global discourse on development research in and on Africa.

The AhSD aligns with the South African Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) Africa Strategy of pro-development and pro-cooperation and would help to realise Strategic Outcome Oriented Goal 2 of the HSRC, which is to “contribute to the development and social progress in Africa”. The AhSD is also consistent with the spirit of Aspiration 1 (A Prosperous Africa Based on Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development) and 7, (Africa as a Strong, United and Influential Global Player and Partner) of the Agenda 2063 and SDG Goal No. 17 that aims to “strengthen the global partnership for sustainable development”. Through its interactive character, this online based platform could potentially help to create international networks for collaborative and comparative research on the SDGs, Agenda 2063, OBOR and their implementation challenges at national and regional levels, including showcasing lessons going forward. The AhSD will be a knowledge portal that integrates an expert directory, access to research resources, funding information and database, interactive media and a geoportal. It is basically a one stop knowledge shop.

(viii)    Sustainable energy for sustainable development: The case of biogas production in the Melani Village, Eastern Cape
Energy need is an important ingredient in the modern economy. Its supply and utilization determines the various measures of outcomes of economic development and growth that include improved standards of living, increased employment and equality. Energy supply deficits are at the core of the static to the very slow pace of economic development and human development in the majority of developing countries.  It thus is not surprising that considerable attention is focused on improving energy supplies particularly in Africa. In South Africa, the development of energy supplies has a dual focus; providing energy to spur economic development and growth on one hand and addressing the history based skewed energy supply particularly in rural settlements.

A caveat in modern energy supply is that not all forms of energy are desirable. This particularly pertains to fossil fuels whose use has been identified as the major driver to environmental degradation leading to climate change, perhaps the 21st Century’s biggest challenge.  Human ingenuity is tackling the climate change challenge under two broad approaches; (i) climate change mitigation whose focus is eliminating and/or minimizing the emission of greenhouse gases from the consumption of fossil fuels and (ii) climate change adaptation which is learning to live with the impacts of climate change.  South Africa has and indeed continues to rise to the challenge of climate change management.

The University of South Africa, University of Fort Hare, the South African National Energy Development Institute and the Africa Institute of South Africa are working in this space seeking to expand the use of biogas as an alternative and environmentally friendly energy source in rural South Africa. The group is in the process of constructing over 100 biogas plants in rural households in Alice, in the Eastern Cape. The plants will serve as experimental sites to test the gas production efficacy of different feed stocks (i.e. cow, pig and goat dung among other) under different conditions. They will also serve to understand the barriers to the widespread adoption of this long- established but neglected energy source in South Africa. The 1st of July 2016 marked the launching of 13 UNISA sponsored biogas plants in the Melani Village, Alice in the Eastern Cape Province. Officiating at the launch were Professors Mandla Makhanya, Principal and Vice Chancellor University of South Africa and Mvuyo Tom, Vice Chancellor, University of Fort Hare. Also invited and attending was Dr. Vuyo Mjimba (HSRC-AISA) who is a co-project Leader of this research stream as well as the wider UNISA led research programme titled: Bio-derived fuels -BDF and Solar Technology Transition under Climate change and Green economy/Growth in (South) Africa. He worked with Professor Godwell Nhamo to initiate and launch this research programme in 2014.

Dr. Mjimba’s research in the programme focuses on mapping value chains in the energy sectors as well as identifying and explaining the nature and determinants linkages in these value chains with a particular focus on socioeconomic and political contestations. Professor Nhamo the Overall Coordinator/Accounting Officer in the research programme has requested that Dr. Mjimba continues to be ‘part of the team on a medium to long term basis as a co-leader in the research both within and outside South Africa.

The biogas collection bag

Dr Vuyo Mjimba explaining a few details about the research

With launch done and dusted, the research continues and the research findings will be communicated through journal publications and an edited book.