Trieste, 6 October 2014
I would like to thank Professor Quevedo for the invitation to join you in marking this important anniversary. My congratulations.
I will not go too much into these technical areas, but I want to state that it takes scientists to study and understand more deeply, but it takes all of us to understand the importance of science, and the many fields associated with it, which affect our lives everyday.
Like you, we in Rwanda are working all the time, following your lead, to find ways of improving humanity’s well-being through mathematics, science, and technology. We always seek to understand more and better.
For fifty years, the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics has been at the forefront of scientific cooperation with the developing world. Thousands of young scientists from Africa, Asia, and Latin America have benefited from ICTP’s programmes.
In fact, of the first three post-graduate students at ICTP in 1964, one was an African, Professor Daniel Akyeampong of Ghana.
The tools pioneered at ICTP, which have since been adopted more widely, aimed to stem the “brain drain” by bringing young scientists from developing countries into top-notch research networks.
This made the beneficiaries better able to build scientific communities in their own countries, and helped to reduce the isolation that caused precious talent to be wasted.
The ICTP’s strategy also recognised that, at the end of the day, what is important is to use science to speed up social and economic transformation in the developing world.
So, from the beginning, ICTP has maintained a research agenda that prioritises topics of particular relevance outside the industrialised nations.
By attracting prestige and funding to such questions, the ICTP, and institutions like it, enable a scientist from Africa to make important contributions back home, even as she pursues her career in the world’s leading laboratories. In this way, the problem of “brain drain” can be turned, in part, into an opportunity.
In this connection, I would like to applaud a new research programme recently inaugurated at ICTP, on Energy and Sustainability. Research on green energy offers the greatest promise of breaking the current political stalemate on climate change. Scientific discoveries are already closing the gap between renewable energy and fossil fuels, in terms of cost.
With continued effort, we will no longer have to face a choice between the environment and economic growth.
The significance of this anniversary goes beyond the mission of ICTP, which is physics. This is because its founding soon attracted, here to Trieste, many other institutions dedicated to scientific cooperation with the developing world, renewing this city’s vocation as an international centre of knowledge.
This Trieste System, as it came to be known, is a unique ecosystem whose wider impacts deserve to be better understood, so that it can be emulated and scaled up.
Securing long-term funding for these initiatives was, and remains, a challenge. The strong support over the decades from the Italian Government and key UN agencies, notably UNESCO and the IAEA, must be acknowledged. It is all well appreciated.
In this context, the Italian Government’s recent decision to focus its relationship with Africa on scientific cooperation can only be welcomed and applauded.
This anniversary is also an occasion to reflect on the vision of the ICTP’s founders, Abdus Salam and Paolo Budinich, so that we can re-commit ourselves to deepening it in the years ahead.
I have in mind, in particular, the human and moral factors that motivated these two engaged scientists. But first allow me to say a few words about what this topic means to us in my country.
In Rwanda, we put science at the very centre of our national development strategy, starting from 1997, when urgent questions of national reconstruction still, of necessity, consumed almost all of our attention.
But it was clear, even then, that our pathway to prosperity lay in investing in the productive capabilities of our people, which until then had not been given adequate attention.
Our attachment to scientific exchange goes beyond that, however. Our tragic history had nearly robbed us of our dignity, and the necessary work of national renewal sought to restore it. Connecting our young people to the scientific mindset not only makes them effective workers, we believe it can also help them be better citizens.
In this regard, the ICTP’s commitment to establish its East African regional centre in Rwanda is of great practical and symbolic importance to us as a nation. We look forward to working together with the rest of the region and ICTP to make this venture a success. You can count on our strong support.
The values that animate scientific inquiry are the same as those that animate our struggle for prosperity in Rwanda: reason, truth, a hunger for practical solutions, and ultimately, a principled rejection of the arbitrary and irrational divisions that have caused so much destruction across the world.
The effort that began with the founding of ICTP, fifty years ago, goes to the heart of the most profound divide between the developing and developed worlds: recognition of our common dignity.
On this point, I cannot do better than to quote Paolo Budinich himself, who said:
“The goal is not only to provide scientists with the skills and training that they need to participate effectively in the global scientific community, but also to instil the sense of dignity and confidence that they must have to build their own scientific communities.”
The work that Abdus Salam and Paolo Budinich started here in 1964 is far from complete. Indeed, it has never been more urgent. The world today is more interconnected and interdependent than ever before. Global problems can originate from anywhere, but so can solutions to those problems.
That is the promise of ICTP’s next fifty years, which it is up to us to seize.