FEATURED: Invest in inclusive infrastructure for Rwanda’s Sustainable development- Dr. Lee Yee Cheong

Dr. Lee Yee Cheong says it is very important for governments in Africa to invest in inclusive infrastructure. (File)

The National Engineering Conference was held last week, in Kigali under the Theme, Engineering in Rwanda’s Economic Development. The two-day conference that was graced by Infrastructure Minister Ambassador Claver Gatete, attracted over 500 delegates in the engineering profession from Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Malaysia.

Among the delegates was Dr. Lee Yee Cheong, President, Malaysia, Academy of Engineering and Technology who presented a paper on the need to invest in inclusive infrastructure for the sustainable economic development of African economies.

As Rwanda aims at becoming a middle-income economy by earliest 2020, The New Times Jean d'Amour Mbonyinshuti caught up with the Malaysian thought leader to explore his presentation in Rwanda’s national context. Below, are excerpts.

 Africa has been at the receiving end when it comes to engineering and infrastructure projects, what do u think should be done to change the status-quo?

There is need by all stake holders to work closely with institutions of learning including universities to enhance capacity building.  Currently the continent experiences high cost of engineering services mostly procured from foreign companies with very limited participation of African engineers in huge projects. Dealing with this is part of countering the big challenge affecting the industry’s sustainability.

What should emerging-economies in Africa including Rwanda do to achieve sustainable economic development?

 It is important to first note that the key driver has been economic growth through consumption in industrialized countries. This has eventually resulted into to colonization or semi colonization of less developed countries and regions for raw materials and cheap labour. It is therefore very important for governments in Africa to   invest in inclusive infrastructure. This is because building inclusive infrastructure like energy, water, waste water, transportation, housing, education and health facilities as well as virtual connectivity through ICT is key to economic sustainability. It is also very important that governments in Africa invest towards nurturing indigenous small and medium enterprises (SMEs) especially in the natural resources extraction and manufacturing sectors.

You just participated in a conference discussing the role of engineering in the economic development of Rwanda, in your view, what role do they have to play?

They do have a key role to play because without the infrastructure you don’t have development. Therefore, it is very important for the engineers to understand the needs of the country and have them aligned with their own interests as a profession to be able to contribute sustainably.

Secondly, they must embrace ICT to boost their competitiveness because the world is becoming digital and needs digitally well-engineered solutions. They must also work closely with institutions of learning including universities to boost capacity building but also ensure they tap into the opportunities brought by the increasing power of digital technologies. Particularly the institution of engineers here must facilitate mobility of engineers across borders as one way of sharpening skills and expertise.

What is your take on the analogy that technology is contributing to massive job loss around the world?

While this is true, it is also important for economies especially in Africa to note that in the next five years, there will be 2 million new jobs created in digital industrial and services sectors.  But there will be roughly 7 million jobs lost in the traditional industrial and services sectors, leading to a net loss of over 5 million jobs. This is why we are encouraging merging economies like Rwanda to invest in inclusive infrastructure such as roads, schools, water, sanitation irrigation, hospitals, telecommunications and energy among others. This is because without the above pre-requisites, indigenous industries cannot upscale, economy cannot uplift and foreign direct investment (FDI) will not come.

What can Rwanda learn from economies like Malaysia to better its engineering profession?

There is a lot to learn and share especially on the accreditation and mobility of engineers, innovative technologies and the need for the engineers to embrace green growth to be able to achieve economic sustainability.

What is your take on the trade imbalance between Africa and Asia especially China; can it be corrected?

Africa is now the fastest growing continent in economic terms with average GDP growth of 10 percent annually and in my opinion, this is due to massive investment in inclusive infrastructure throughout Africa; and in this endeavor, China’s engagement has been predominant. There has been much grumbling that in managing infrastructure projects, China imports everything from its market, not only construction materials but even basic foodstuff, this at the expense of the local economy which critics say, don’t benefit from the projects. It is therefore most important that African countries take urgent steps to assure that their engineering education qualifications are substantially equivalent to international standards leading to an adequate pool of indigenous engineering expertise to regulate and uplift their engineering industry