Human Capital Development: Why it’s Important to Have Scientists

Dr. Cosmas Mwikirize – Superintendent Industrial Value Chains

Perhaps many of us are familiar with the landmark stories in science: Archimedes’ Eureka moment in a bathtub, which is at the heart of modern water-based navigation. The discovery of Penicillin.  The invention of the incandescent lightbulb. Einstein’s mass energy relation.  It is easy to take these discoveries for granted today, but evidently, the human race would be underdeveloped, perhaps even extinct without some of these advances. I have not even scratched the surface. Most of the science, technology and innovation work happens off the glare of the cameras, conceived and executed by people like you and me. 

Science enables us to understand the principles governing everything in our world and beyond, develop products and services that solve challenges like disease, and improve quality of life.   As we cycle through life, the challenges facing our world evolve as well. In Uganda, we need to reduce poverty and underdevelopment through industrialization, value addition to our raw products and the concomitant creation of high value jobs. This is the target of Vision 2040. Along the way, we need to build better roads, generate more energy, add value to our minerals such as iron ore, and develop our indigenous medicines, to mention but a few.

Human capital is a key component of our Vision 2040 ambition. A well trained and skilled human resource base will improve technical skills, norms, behaviors, and productivity and lead to the upgrading of our standard of living. We need a workforce that understands all aspects of the value chains that we have focused on as a country. It is only human capital development that will enable us to shift into a technology-generating economy, from the predominant technology importation, through Technology Transfer and Technology Development. It is only human capital development that will enable us to generate new designs/ideas/products to spur industrialization. Investment in human capital will thus enhance research and development, promote an increase in physical capital, and improve our economy.

 The NRM Government, under His Excellency the President, understands the need for this paradigm shift. This is the reason why we have emphasis for science-oriented institutions, curricula, and a higher pay for scientists. Not because they are more important, but because they will give us the launchpad for the economy.

Suffice to note, scientific learning and orientation does not happen only in schools. It happens in industry. It happens in the marketplace. In the garages. Downtown. In the media houses. What is important is not to lose focus of the scientific method. We solve problems by first understanding what the problem is, creating a plan, seeing the plan through, and looking back to learn from the solution. Good science does not teach what to think. It teaches how to think. It teaches how to sieve through data and arrive at evidence-based empirical decisions. To decide what works and what does not.

Therefore, anybody can be a scientist. One does not require a university degree, but it requires investment of time, effort and requisite infrastructure, to generate the necessary skills in novel areas, or upskilling to solve emerging challenges within areas we are already familiar with. Human Capital Development for Science is thus a staple for every citizen, because the scientific method is inevitable for success, not just in science, but need I say, life.  



The Cheap Milk Economy

By Dr. Monica Musenero Masanza
Minister, Science, Technology and Innovation, Office of the President.

Dr. Monica Musenero Masanza
Minister, Science, Technology and Innovation, Office of the President.

I have heard some Ugandans express offence concerning the “Cheap Milk Economy.” I fully understand your feelings. But allow me share a few thoughts.

Right now is not the time to be offended, it is time for strategy. It is time to be innovative!
Over the past months, I have analyzed the strategies used by Europeans in their dealings with Africans, and other developing nations, and I think we have great lessons to pick and emulate as we transform our economy.

When Europe built industries following the industrial revolution, they needed more people in the workforce. At first, they were using their own people to produce raw materials, but they soon realized this was not sustainable. So they established industrial schools (the origin of the current Education System we have) to skill their people to work downstream in industries and bought slaves from Africa as cheap labour to do the bottom tier grunt work of producing raw materials.

When campaigns against slave trade intensified, they fought it off as hard as possible, while knowing they couldn’t hold off the relovution forever. During that time, they shifted strategy to colonizing the nations from which they had got their slaves. The only change was now, the raw materials could be produced in the same place as the “slaves previously came from”. By the time slave trade ended, they had strategically shifted slave labour into colonies! Which no one at the time objected to.

When colonies started getting “big headed” and clamoring for independence, the Europeans once again fought off this change, well knowing it was yet again only a matter of time before the change would come. As they fought for their status quo, they continued strategically innovating ways to shift their economies away from industries that depended on raw materials from the colonies.

By the time they lowered the Union Jacks, they were already well into the implementation of the new plans for their economies. In the first few years, they kept the factories running on cheap raw materials willingly supplied by former colonies, still in slave mode. But knowing the education they had left for them, they knew it was a matter of time till raw materials run out or become valueless. On their own, former colonies lacked capacity to innovate and sustain productivity, combined with the clandestine shift to “knowledge based economies,” there would no longer be a ready market for African raw materials. But they needed to keep former colonies as markets for the products from their new knowledge based economies.

But how do you sell to bankrupt nations? To answer this question, European nations innovated Credit and Aid. Broke former colonies would soon need to borrow to stay afloat. So they set up new mechanisms to keep the former colonies working for them, this time by lending them money.

What are the lessons:

  1. Development is a value chain that unfolds in unpredictable ways. Be alert to follow it along the bends and turns, and work to turn each change into an advantage.
  2. Make the most of what already exists, while constantly innovating to keep ahead of the times. From my analysis, keep your Innovations at least 10 years ahead of the shift.
  3. Always be strategic. By the time they realize you have shifted, you should be far ahead, offering them the next product. Keep putting one leg ahead of the other.
  4. What offends you and your livelihood should serve to make you wiser, work harder, smarter and clandestinely. Don’t simply be annoyed, THINK! INNOVATE! ADAPT! PLAN! ACT!

Now back to cheap milk.
We have played ahead and achieved a huge feat – producing cheap milk. That is a good precursor to industrialization of the milk value chain. We should not destabilize the market by discouraging the buyers of the cheap milk. If we can make it cheaper, let’s do it. Income is not about price, it is about amount of money earned. But we must be in the middle of “our decade” of innovation!

We must now strategically focus on the next leg of the diary value chain. One day there will be no cheap milk out of Uganda. Not that it will become expensive, it is that we will be selling cheaper value added products. It is not price that matters, “Cheap is a business strategy”. China used it well.

What we need most now is the good will and confidence of Ugandans towards their Science, Technology and Innovation teams. Our recent goal with the National Science Week was to give you a glimpse of what we are upto. We don’t have to prematurely spill all the beans now. Keep thinking of the bigger picture.

Making Uganda the Best