Rwandan innovations cry for support

The good news was tucked away in the letters’ page of The New Times. Few people noticed it – except the few who scan the page to get a pulse on what people think about various issues. Even then the news came courtesy of a reader who had got it from the internet.

The good news was tucked away in the letters’ page of The New Times. Few people noticed it – except the few who scan the page to get a pulse on what people think about various issues. Even then the news came courtesy of a reader who had got it from the internet.

The news was about a Rwandan graduate student in Scotland who had beaten his classmates to a prize for the best Master of Science in Software Technology dissertation.

For this feat, eHands Health Safety Software awarded David Dushimimana a prize for overall achievement.

Dushimimana’s winning dissertation was about a mobile application he had developed which exploits telephone infrastructure in Africa to support farmers in getting optimum prices for their crops.

His database-driven dissertation, as Maureen Uwase wrote in The New Times, highlights crop prices and demand in local markets helping farmers decide when to harvest and transport their crops to maximise sales and prices.

This software, with high practical application potential, ranks among very useful innovations by Rwandans and is bound to improve the lives of farmers and traders in Africa alike. For this reason it deserves support.

Dushimimana’s software application is one of many innovations by Rwandans. Graduate students in our universities and others abroad are busy developing usable technologies that could transform our economies and radically change the lives of Rwandans. But like the latest one, they remain just dissertations, however brilliant and applicable, for academic records in university libraries. 

Or when reported, they are hidden away in obscure pages where they remain unnoticed.

Rwanda has put great store on ICT. These days the word innovation drops from the lips of most people at every opportunity. Rwandans are urged to be innovative. We pride ourselves with adopting innovative methods to drive our politics and economics. And there is evidence that this is not bragging and posturing. It is happening.

Now here is an example of both – innovative and ICT development. It should be sending our people in the ministries of agriculture and commerce, and in industry rushing to Dushimimana with offers to help him translate his invention from a product designed for academic purposes into a readily usable commercial and industrial product. They would not be doing him a favour, either.

It is in their interest as well. It would be a lot cheaper than buying a similar programme from established companies or hiring a foreign consultant to develop one.

Besides it would boost Rwandan inventions. And if they cannot get it, others will.

If they did this, they would not be the first ones. Developed countries reached where they have got partly they recognised the role of academia in research and development. As a result strong partnerships developed between governments, academia, individual inventors and industry.

Governments and industry poured money into universities to increase their research capabilities, funded specific research programmes or recruited into their establishments people whose ongoing work was on the cutting edge of new developments.

If they did not do this, they would not have a competitive e advantage over their competitors. In liberalised markets and in the race to have the best product and keep ahead of the competition, this is normal practice.

We have to start looking closely at what our students are doing for their research projects if we are to avoid paying lip-service to innovation, or using it as merely an attractive catchword. We are bound to find real innovative answers to our development needs in their dissertations and our leaders would do well to adopt and develop some of them.

One Rwandan attitude might prevent this, however. We are not famous for publicising our achievements, individually or collectively. We are content (foolishly as it turns out) in the knowledge that a good thing will inevitably be noticed.

This attitude is carried by the Kinyarwanda saying, “akeza karigura” (a beautiful or valuable thing markets itself).

No, it does not. It must be taken to the market and displayed, which in the modern world means it must be advertised and actively promoted.
What others would die to shout from the rooftop, we take for granted.

Take for instance our impressive standings in such matters as the corruption and doing business indices.

There is more coverage of these in the foreign media than in our own. More people outside Rwanda know more about this than Rwandans. We do not adequately use these figures to trumpet our success and silence our critics.

A new report that shows that Rwanda’s competitiveness is on the rise has been published, but we have not seen much of that in our media. The World Economic Forum has released the Global Competitive Report for 2010/11 which places Rwanda first in East Africa and seventh in Africa. The report is based on a survey of 139 countries.

According to the Global Competitive Index, Rwanda earns plaudits for several things. Out of the 139 countries, Rwanda is ranked second as least wasteful in government spending and is considered transparent in policy making.

It is highly commended for the manner in which it manages public and private institutions, an excellent security environment and the lowest levels of corruption.

We earn high marks for high public trust in politicians and female participation in the workforce. All this in addition to having the shortest and fewest procedures to start a business.

This is immense capital that could be used to sell our country and earn enormous business. But to do that we must be prepared to make loud blasts on out trumpet. It is not bad manners to make beautiful tunes from a good trumpet. Else, what is a trumpet for?

This is also true of the inventions of our scholars. We should grab and use them, and be proud of what we have gained from them. That can only add to our impressive resume. It will do us no harm.

jorwagatare@yahoo.co.uk

 

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