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Kenya: Developing Science Technology and Innovation

Kenyatta International Conference Centre

“We need to use results of researchers and innovations in solving the many and varied challenges that confront our society”, Professor Hellen Sambili, Minister for Higher Education Science and Technology (MoHEST) has said.

Professor Sambili who was opening the 4th national conference on dissemination of research results and exhibition of innovation at Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) said Vision 2030 is a call to invest in the Kenyan people as we “integrate science, technology and innovation into national production systems and process for sustainable development.”

She called upon institutions of research to open their doors for the incubation of young innovators to develop their talents. She said they are in the progress of developing Mzalendo Science and Technology Park for science, technology and innovation (ST&I) activities and the incubation of entrepreneurs. The project is being pursued in collaboration with UNESCO, the World Technopolis Association, and the Korean International Corporation Agencies as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Fabrication Laboratory (MIT Lab) at the University of Nairobi.

The minister pointed out that interaction between the government, research and industry is the key to innovation and growth in a knowledge based economy.

MoHEST has developed an ST&I medium term plan and a strategic policy to mainstream the application of ST&I in all sectors and processes of the economy to foster global competitiveness for wealth creation, national prosperity and high quality of life for its people.

The ministry, through a consultative process has generated an ST&I bill which is before the cabinet. The bill is intended to promote, coordinate and regulate research, in line with the socio-economic development of Kenya.

The ministry is proposing to increase the research grant to between $ 4.44 million and $ 5.56 million during the next financial year. So far the MOHEST has funded 318 research and innovation projects. The grant also supports postgraduate research in local universities at both masters and doctorate levels. To encourage young women scientist and researchers, the grant has dedicated a specified portion for women.

Professor Sambili called upon parents and teachers to nurture the innate talents of their young people. “As we develop the school curriculum we should be keen to tap the innovation of our young people,” she said.

Professor Cyprus Kiamba, Permanent Secretary, MoHEST, said research should be translated into innovations and to market products.

Professor Kiamba said that the National Council of Science and Technology (NCST) research grant should not exclude anybody, even school dropouts, so long as one has an idea for innovation.

He said the teaching of mathematics and sciences should be fortified from the formative years of primary and secondary schools because they are the bedrock of science, technology and innovation.

Deputy Chief (Minister) of the Embassy of Japan, Yoichiro Yamada, said science and technology holds the key to many questions that are faced by governments and communities all over the world and Kenya in particular.

Mr Yamada said “Japan and Kenya share common features in one respect. Neither country has natural resources to rely on for the development of the national economy. In both countries, developing human skills, and in particular, advancement of science and technology, is the key to national development.”

The Ambassador said Kenya’s rapid population growth, urbanization and climate change – in which Kenya is the most vulnerable in Africa – are long term challenges that require long term solutions of scientific orientation and research based policies.

He called upon Kenyans who have benefited from the Japan and Kenya co-operation to put into use the best practices, knowledge and expertise that they have acquired to move the country forward.

Professor David Some, chairman, NCST, said without embracing ST&I Kenya will be providing shops for other nations to sell their products.

Professor Shaukat Abdulrazak, secretary and CEO, NCST said “we recognize that the future prosperity of Kenya is the knowledge economy, adding value. That is, coming up with new products, new processes, new services; and new ways of solving problems.”

Professor Abdulrazak said without harnessing ST&I Vision 2030 is a mere pipe dream. He explained that innovation and creativity are essential for sustainable growth and economic development through the effective enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR) – which is a way of creating wealth; a strong and sustainable fundamental research and development (R&D) infrastructure; sound policies and mechanisms to promote the science, technology and innovation interface; and a strong emphasis on quality education at all levels.

“Unfortunately,” he added, “Kenya is weak in most of these areas. There is a need for effective partnering of research and educational institutions with local and international industries and entrepreneurs. NCST is keen on supporting young innovators in the preparation of prototypes. We hope that through this forum, the innovators can interact with entrepreneurs with a view to finding ways of developing products for the market”.

The absence of National Research Policy and low funding for ST&I and R&D which is less than 0.5 percent of GDP is another challenge, the CEO said. The low R&D budget is reflected in the low number of publications and patents. According to the UNESCO Science Report 2010 Kenya produced only 6.6 percent of scientific publications in the sub-Saharan Africa compared to 46.4 percentage and 11.4 percent of South Africa and of Nigeria respectively.

“There is an urgent need to invest in the development and commercialization of ST&I products and services as well as tapping indigenous knowledge into ST&I”, Professor Abdulrazak said.

About Robert Okemwa Onsare

Robert Okemwa Onsare
Robert Onsare is pursuing Electronics Technology at the University of Eastern Africa, Baraton. He is a Cluster Strategy trained facilitator by Kenya's National Economic and Social Council (NESC). Mr Onsare has been an incubation student at the University of Nairobi, School of Engineering, FabLab, a venture project of the university and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is a member of the African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS) and a published poet. Mr Onsare is based in Kenya.

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