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South Africa hands over chairship of the IORAG to India after a successful two years as Chair of IORA

By Nicole du Plessis and Juliet Hermes, SAEON Egagasini Node
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The 25th Indian Ocean Rim Association Academic Group Meeting (IORAG) and 6th Indian Ocean Dialogue (IOD) was hosted by the Government of India in New Delhi from 12 to 13 December 2019, alongside the first Expert Group Meeting on Academic, Science and Technology Cooperation (EGMASTC).

The meeting was attended by representatives from 19 of the 22 IORA Member States.

South Africa led IORAG as Chair from October 2017 until November 2019 under the theme “uniting the peoples of Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Middle East through enhanced co-operation for peace, stability and sustainable development”. The United Arab Emirates is the current Chair of IORA under the theme “promoting a shared destiny and path to prosperity in the Indian Ocean”.


South African delegation to the IORA meetings in India. From left: Mr KGame Molope (North-West University), Prof Juliet Hermes (SAEON), Mr Selby Modiba (DSI), Ambassador Anil Sooklal (DIRCO), Ms Ernesta Swanepoel (environmental lawyer), Ms Nicole du Plessis (SAEON) and Mr Mzwanele Langa (DIRCO).

As per the updated IORA Charter, Member States may nominate themselves to lead on the various IORA mechanisms and working groups, with India the coordinating country for academic, science and technology cooperation, and therefore India proposed to host and chair the IORAG as well.

The IORAG and EGMASTC meetings had a joint inaugural session on 12 December, before breaking up into separate meetings.

Activities and achievements during South Africa’s chair period

Professor Juliet Hermes, manager of SAEON’s Egagasini Node, represented South Africa as the outgoing chair of the IORAG and handed over to Ms Nutan Kapoor Mahawar from India. In her handover statement, Professor Hermes highlighted activities and achievements that took place during South Africa’s chair period.

These included,  

  • The establishment of the IORAG Reform Subcommittee to provide guidelines and terms of reference for the activities of the IORAG. 
  • South Africa undertaking an outreach programme to Tanzania, Seychelles and Mauritius to promote academic engagement through IORA. 
  • South Africa hosting special sessions on IORA at the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) Symposia in 2017 and 2019. The 11th WIOMSA Symposium special session was hosted in collaboration with the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) Early Career Scientists Network, with the participation of the IORA Secretary General Dr Nomvuyo Nokwe. 
  • The publication of The Blue Economy Handbook of the Indian Ocean Region edited by Professor V.N. Attri, Chair in Indian Ocean Studies and Professor Narnia Bohler-Muller, the IORAG Chair for South Africa. SAEON’s Prof Hermes and Ms Nicole du Plessis contributed a chapter to the handbook along with a number of academics in the region. 
  • A memorandum of understanding being signed by the Water Research Commission (WRC) of South Africa and the IORA Regional Centre for Science and Technology Transfer (RCSTT) to coordinate the Water and Sanitation Research and Innovation Centre among the IORA Member States. 
  • The establishment of the Blue Carbon Hub hosted by the Government of Australia, which provides knowledge sharing and training within the region. 
  •  The approval of WIOMSA as an observer within IORA.

In her incoming remarks as Chair, Ms Mahawar noted the importance of the role of academics to help shape policies within IORA. She indicated that India would take forward the work of the previous Chairs to strengthen the IORAG.

The opening remarks were followed by a discussion session on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing; issues around marine litter and debris; and harnessing the seas for water security, with project ideas on the topics put forward.

The final session of the day was a joint valedictory session with the EGMASTC at which feedback on the two meetings was shared. This was followed by a welcome dinner.


Delegates attending the first Expert Group Meeting on Academic, Science and Technology Cooperation consisted of government officials responsible for research and academic cooperation in the region and senior university staff. The meeting was held to discuss the terms of reference for the group and decide the initial priority areas already identified during other IORA meetings to focus on – to enhance collaboration and cooperation on science, technology and innovation in the region.

Indian Ocean Dialogue

The IOD took place the following day under the theme “Indo-Pacific: Re-imagining the Indian Ocean through an Expanded Geography”. This comprised three panel discussions: 

  • Indo-Pacific: Seamless and Collective; 
  • Maritime Connectivity and Infrastructure; and 
  • Delivering Public Goods at Sea.

Two members of the SA IORAG participated in the IOD – Mr KGame Molope, the group lead for Trade and Investment Facilitation, and Ms Ernesta Swanepoel, the group lead for Disaster Risk Management.

The past three and a half years that SAEON has been hosting the SA IORAG Secretariat has allowed us to expand our collaborations with other Indian Ocean countries and to influence policy within the Indian Ocean region.

Post the South African IORA chair period, the SA IORAG Secretariat will continue to coordinate academic activities related to IORA within South Africa, as well as supporting regional academic engagement with other IORA Member States. The Secretariat will also continue to provide a supporting function to the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO).

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