The importance of science, technology, research and innovation in shaping the socio-economic transformation of nations cannot be overstated, President Paul Kagame has said.
In sub-Saharan Africa, he said, these “critical enablers” can drastically improve standards of living.
Kagame was speaking in Kigali yesterday at the closure of a two-day forum on higher education for science, technology and innovation.
The forum, which attracted senior government officials and other players from around the continent and beyond, was organised by the World Bank and Government of Rwanda.
Kagame, however, said there was need for the continent to build a critical mass of skills in these areas.
“To unlock this potential, Africa must have well-trained science and technology professionals,” he said.
“I am told only around 25 per cent of tertiary education students in Africa are enrolled in science, engineering and technology. In fast growing countries such as Korea, China, and Taiwan, this figure is close to 50 per cent.”
Kagame recalled that to address the gap, the Connect Africa Summit, held in Kigali in October 2007, recommended to establish five centres of excellence in each sub-region of Africa.
“These centres would support the development of a critical mass of science and technology skills required for the continent’s advancement,” Kagame said, explaining that for Africa to utilise and benefit from global scientific research, it needs scientists who communicate and collaborate with their peers around the world on specific regional and international projects.
He challenged Africa’s higher education sector to play “a unique and important role” in resolving the existing skills gap in Africa.
The Rwanda style
Sharing Rwanda’s experience, the Head of State said over the last two decades, his government has put in place governance and physical infrastructures to develop national science, technology and innovation.
“We know that harnessing their potential and integrating them into Rwanda’s development plans is critical to achieving our national goals”.
He cited the Kigali-based ICT Centre of Excellence, as well as the establishment in the capital of a Carnegie Mellon University campus that operates a master’s degree programme, including at its Kigali campus where it is expected to graduate students this year.
Kagame said these steps gave his government the belief that these seemingly difficult undertakings would deliver intended results.
The President also cited regional collaborative efforts in enhancing science and technology, singling out the partnership among the five East African Community partner states that has resulted in the establishment of the East African Science and Technology Commission, which is based in Rwanda.
“Leveraging opportunities in science and technology contributes to the building of capacity across many sectors, including health, agriculture, trade and industry, infrastructure, environment, and ICT, all of which are key to development,” he said.
“They will help us fight against infectious diseases, increase food production, promote industrialisation, add value to natural resources and arrest degradation of the environment.”
Participants at the conference resolved to strengthen and mobilise resources for building capacity in science and technology in pursuit of Africa’s socio-economic transformation.
Kagame called on the participants and stakeholders to follow up on their commitment, and hailed Brazil, China, India, and Korea for supporting this World Bank and AU-backed effort.
Jessica Alupo, Uganda’s education minister, said they had resolved to adopt a strategic investment in science and technology to accelerate Africa’s development to a knowledge-based society and also harness science and technology job-creation potential.