The 31st Meeting of AFRA Representatives (MoR) was for the first time held virtually on 11 September 2020 from 10:00 to 11:30 am due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions and lockdown.
The AFRA management was represented in the meeting by Mr Zizamele Mbambo, outgoing AFRA Chair (South Africa), Prof Pascal Houngnandan, Incoming AFRA Chair (Benin), Mr. Mr Mohamed Mezghani (Amb. Tunisia), Chairperson of the Vienna African Based Group, Chairs and Members of AFRA Committees, AFRA National Coordinators, representatives of partners and donors.
The IAEA was represented by Mr Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General, Mr Dazhu Yang, Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Technical Cooperation and Ms Najat Mukhtar, Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications. The Division for Africa was represented by Mr Shaukat Abdulrazak, Director of the Division for Africa, AFRA Focal Point and staff of the Secretariat.
The AFRA Chair, Mr. Zizamele Mbambo welcomed all participants to the meeting and thanked them for the great support he had received. He also thanked AFRA Management and AFRA National Coordinators (NCs) for the innovative ways taken to ensure that AFRA activities continue to be implemented with some adjustments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He emphasized that it is important that AFRA continues to play its role in promoting safe, secure and peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology among AFRA Member States. He commended the efforts and good work done by the 3 AFRA Management Committees and AFRA National Coordinators in enhancing peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology in the continent. The Chair also encouraged State Parties to pay their contributions to AFRA Fund in full and in a timely manner to ensure sufficient funding for the AFRA programme.
The Incoming Chair from Benin, Mr. Pascal Houngnandan also thanked all participants for accepting Benin to Chair AFRA from Sept 2020 to September 2021. He promised to work with all to advance the AFRA mandate and vision. He informed the meeting that following consultation with South Africa, it had been agreed that South Africa will continue to Chair AFRA to give time to Benin to address the pending issues before they can assume the AFRA Chairmanship.
H.E. Ambassador of Tunisia, Mr Mohamed Mezghani, Chair of the Vienna-based African Group, also addressed the meeting and encouraged AFRA State Parties to involve the youth and women so that they can take advantage of the training opportunities provided by IAEA and AFRA thus contributing to the regional self-reliance in nuclear science and technology. He urged AFRA State Parties to take ownership of the AFRA programme to enhance application of nuclear science in the region.
Mr Shaukat Abdulrazak, Director Division for Africa, Technical Cooperation Department, in his opening statement welcomed all participants to the 31st Meeting of AFRA Representatives organized virtually in the margins of the 64th IAEA General Conference. He thanked the AFRA Management, the IAEA Secretariat for organizing the meeting and the AFRA Representatives for attending which is a demonstration of commitment to ensuring that Africa continues to maximize the benefits of the peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology. The Director commended AFRA for the high implementation rate of 83.28 % achieved in 2019. However, he encouraged all Member States to fulfil their financial obligations by paying their shares of AFRA Fund in a timely manner to support the AFRA programme. He also highlighted that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, AFRA adopted innovative ways including the hosting of virtual meetings and training courses for the implementation of the planned AFRA events for the year 2020. He commended AFRA State Parties for continuing to take ownership of the regional AFRA Programme to drive its development agenda. This is demonstrated by the developed Regional Programme Note for TC cycle 2022-2023 which is aligned with the mid-term Review of the AFRA RCF 2019-2023. Finally, the Director thanked the Government of South Africa and in particular Mr. Zizamele Mbambo for his demonstrated dedication and commitment for successfully chairing AFRA since September 2019.
Ms Najat Mukhtar, IAEA Deputy Director General, Head of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications (DDG-NA) informed the meeting that It is a pleasure for her to join the AFRA meeting of Representatives and that the meeting was a great opportunity to acknowledge the contributions that AFRA makes towards ensuring that the benefits of scientific research can reach millions of people across the continent. She highlighted the fact that the two Departments: Nuclear Sciences and Applications and Technical Cooperation are closely entwined. This is due to the fact that the 12 laboratories that support the Technical Cooperation programme conduct research and development, provide training, and deliver products and services that translate into tangible results for Member States. She also expressed her appreciation to AFRA Member States for contributing to the ReNuAL project and specifically thanked the four AFRA Member States that contributed to the project funds amounting to over €39 million Euros. Finally, she thanked AFRA member States for recognizing the important role of nuclear science and technologies in development.
Mr Dazhu Yang, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Technical Cooperation, the Director of the Division for Africa in his remarks, commended the AFRA State Parties for their continued commitment to the AFRA Programme in spite of the challenges being faced due to COVID-19. He appreciated the dedicated work and effort of both Member States and the Secretariat in enhancing the effectiveness of AFRA by ensuring that it continues to play a leading role in furthering regional development and self-reliance. in furthering regional development and self-reliance Mr Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the IAEA stated that he was privileged to address this thirty-first Meeting of AFRA Representatives, which was for the first time being held virtually. He stated that due to the unprecedented circumstances of the world grappling with COVID 19, the IAEA has had to adjust its way of working to ensure its operations continue with minimal disruptions. Specifically, the Agency had to adjust to the lockdown introduced in March 2020 by the host country, Austria that has resulted to hosting most of our meetings and training courses online. He informed the meeting of the IAEA initiative to help its Member States countries to contain the COVID-19 pandemic which received strong extrabudgetary backing from some Member States, so far totalling to about € 22 million.
The meeting reviewed the AFRA Annual report for 2019 to highlight the key achievements and recommendations to improve on future delivery and performance of the programme. The AFRA programme in 2019 included a total of 24 active projects approved under the biennial programme cycles, 2016-2017 and 2018-2019 and covers priority areas in food and agriculture, human health, water resources management, sustainable energy development, industrial applications, radiation safety, human resource development and nuclear knowledge management.
The report highlighted that in 2019, twenty-eight (28) regional training courses were held with fifty two (52) experts from the region and twenty three (23) outside the regional.; Eight hundred and fifty five (855) scientists from AFRA State Parties participated in these training courses. Thirty-seven (37) regional meetings/workshops were also held and attended by six hundred and thirty-seven (637) participants. In addition, one hundred and seventy-five (175) expert provided advisory services and technical assistance to support counterpart institutions in States Parties.
The meeting also discussed and endorsed the key recommendations and resolutions of the 31st TWGM regarding the AFRA Regional Cooperative Framework (RCF) 2019-2023, Regional Programme (RPN) for the TC Cycle 2022-2023, AFRA Fund, Human Resource Development Strategy, Regional Designated Centres, AFRA-AFCONE MOU and Annual reports for AFRA NCs, RDCs and PSCs.
In his closing statement, Mr S. Abdulrazak, Director of the Division for Africa thanked the DG, DDG-TC, DDG-NA for their support to AFRA programme. He also expressed his gratitude to Representatives of AFRA States Parties, donor countries and the Vienna-based African Group for their continued collaboration and for a productive and effective meeting. He also thanked the Secretariat for its continued commitment and support.
The Chair closed the Meeting at 11:30.am.