Africa: South African Engineering Scholar Takes United Nations University’s Helm

Renowned South African engineering scholar and artificial intelligence expert Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala assumed office today (Wednesday) as the seventh rector of the United Nations University, the first African to hold the post.

The former principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg carries the title of UN Under-Secretary-General in his role at the Tokyo-based UNU, a position with extensive overseas travel, the university announced.

Marwala succeeds Dr David M. Malone of Canada, who served as UNU rector from 1 March 2013 to 28 Feb. 2023.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced Marwala’s position in July 2022.

Before going to UNU and prior to leading the University of Johannesburg, Marwala taught at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand.

UNU works with leading universities and research institutes, bridging the international academic community and the UN system.

“I am delighted to be succeeded by such a distinguished university leader and inspiring scholar,” the outgoing rector, Malone, said of his successor.

UNU was established in 1975 as a global research and training organisation with institutes and programmes in 12 countries.

It focuses on research, training, and policy-relevant advisory services.

As a UN system think tank, it links with other UN system entities and leading research institutions.

–       UNU Charter

The Charter of UNU stipulates that its research is devoted to “the pressing global problems of human survival, development, and welfare that are the concern of the United Nations”.

From 2001‒2003 Marwala was executive assistant to the technical director at South African Breweries, and from 2000‒2001, he was a post-doctoral research associate at London’s Imperial College.

He holds a doctorate in Artificial Intelligence and Engineering from the University of Cambridge, a Master of Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pretoria and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University in the US.

A registered professional engineer, Marwala is a Fellow of The World Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Science of South Africa, the African Academy of Sciences and the South African Academy of Engineering.

Marwala has been a visiting scholar/professor at universities in the US, the UK, China, and South Africa.

He has served on various global and national policymaking bodies and worked with UN entities such as UNESCO, UNICEF, WHO, and WIPO, completing management and leadership programmes at the Columbia and Harvard Business Schools.

Marwala is the author of more than 20 books, including Leadership Lessons from Books I Have Read (2021) and Leading in the 21st Century: The Call for a New Type of African Leader (2021).


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