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THE SCIENCE THAT MAKES DEVELOPMENT
Dr. Monica Musenero Masanza
THE MINISTER OF SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION AT THE LAUNCH OF THE NATIONAL RESEARCH OUTLOOK REPORT
21st June 2023
SPEKE RESORT MUNYONYO
- Members of the Initiative Management Team,
- Representatives from the National Research Foundation of South Africa
- Representative from the Foreign Commonwealth Development Office
- Representatives from the International Development Research Centre of Canada
- Representatives from the Norwegian development agency (NORAD) and the Norwegian embassy
- Visiting Heads of Research Councils,
- The Representative of the Governing Chair, Uganda National Council of Science and Technology,
- All Collaborative Technical Agencies represented here,
- All representatives and coordinators of the 17 Science Granting Councils,
- Directors of Research from various universities in Uganda
- Stakeholders in Uganda’s Research eco-system
- Members of the Media
- Distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
It is a great pleasure for me to well come our delegates to Uganda, the Pearl of Africa and to this 2023 Science Granting Council Regional meeting here at Munyonyo. I hope that your stay so far has been more than what you expected. Munyonyo is a Luganda word which means enjoyment! Since Monday when this conference begun, I hope you have had time to move around and enjoy this wonderful lakeside environment.
This is a timely meeting both in its content and focus. Science Granting Councils have different roles in different countries, acting primarily as catalysts for driving science and its core role of socio-economic transformation. The theme of this particular conference is appropriately titled: “The Role of Science Granting Councils in Africa’s development.” This is not only atimely theme, but the discussion of it is taking place in the right context here in Uganda. Because we have been asking very loud questions, what is the role of Science indeed in our economic development? It is my hope that the discussions you have held so far have been fruitful enough to provide some critical inputs in our thinking so far so that the great benefits of Science, Technology and Innovation do not continue to elude us.
I would like to begin my remarks by focusing on the context of the African continent. As of yesterday, Tuesday, June 20, 2023, the population of Africa, based on the latest United Nations figures, was estimated at 1,435,731,848, now equivalent to 16.72% of the total world population. Africa ranks number 2 among regions of the world (roughly equivalent to “continents”), by population, with a median age of 19.7years.
Most of this population, 56% of it is rural. The same UN projections, show that sub-Saharan Africa’s population will nearly double to more than 2 billion by mid-century and if they are accurate, by 2070, Africa will become the most populous place globally, surpassing Asia.
Now different experts have different interpretations of this population growth. While some predict it as a disaster projected to worsen poverty, other foretell a boon for the continent, with a key input in the algorithm being how countries leverage this young population for economic growth.
I have titled my speech today, The Science That Makes Development, so I can make some specific contribution to the ongoing discussion during this conference.
I started serious engagement on the continent beyond Uganda about 20 years ago. My engagement was mostly about building capacity and responding to disease epidemics. This brought me in direct contact with the application of science on the continent. As I interacted with Universities, governments and development agencies, I began to see patterns. Whereas there was seemingly a lot of knowledge, Africa systematically lacked the systems and organization to apply the knowledge to protect her people from preventable diseases. And this was often reflected in very painful national experiences such as disastrous cholera epidemics which brought national economies and dignity to its knees, the Ebola Epidemic in West Africa and Congo, Hepatitis E outbreaks here in Uganda, etc. I also observed that while Africa continued to export raw materials, a legacy of colonization, her shops, up to the deepest village were filled with imported high valued imported goods compared to what we produce. And this goes with squalor, joblessness and sometimes, sadly to hunger and poor-quality life, which has been summed up in the terms: Poverty and Underdevelopment.
My tour of the continent also put me through many airports and visits to almost all continents, except South America, and I witnessed a version of science that seemed to do the reverse. Majority of products in supermarkets made at home, vehicles on the road made at home, laboratory reagents and equipment made at home. There are functional systems and disease threats are responded to with finality of solutions. Actually, most of the things we were learning about control of epidemics were not applied in the developed countries! Majority live in good environments: summed up as Prosperity and Development.
My tour also brought me to many conferences like this, in beautiful airconditioned conference rooms, where African scientists participated in the discussion of science as if they were part and parcel of the global community. They present pie charts, chi-squares and p-values, making inferences and recommendations they very well knew were not going to be applied in their contexts. Most of the bibliography of their publications were in scientific journals their policy makers will never read since they are not subscribed to the high impact journals. The mantra in their academic institutions were “Publish or Perish.” The research topics were either detached from the needs of the communities outside the wall of their institutions or so miniscule to have any significant impacts on the development of the communities they serve; The Scientific regulations were copy and paste from the western counterparts, making it almost impossible for local scientists to do applied research. Generally resulting in what was termed: The Ivory tower phenomenon.
The reconciliation these three general contexts, which I have been privileged to be part of, brought disturbing immiscibility of thoughts about Science that makes development. To me there seemed to be two distinct versions of Science: The one which makes development and the one which doesn’t. And it appears, on the larger part, Africa, and probably her granting councils, which have been on the whole at the forefront of science, adopted.
The climax of my disturbance came when I found myself at three critical moments for us as a continent and Uganda as a country. The Ebola Epidemic in West Africa, the Ebola Epidemic of DRC 2018 and Covid-19 Pandemic. While the first two were viewed as remote problems, Covid-19 brought a very loud gong of a wake- up call.
Ladies and Gentlemen, although the Government of Uganda has always tried to be intentional in our path towards being a science-led country, this has taken on a new urgency since the advent of the of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a 360 – re-assessment of the role Science Technology and Innovation (STI) must play in our development, the form it must take and the measures we must apply to ensure it results in development. I know that this is similar for many African Countries. If not Covid-19, there must have been a situation which has ignited that in your own countries. And if not yet re-awakened, then take this conference as a wake up call. So, if I was to reword the Theme of this Conference, it would be: “Re-designing Science Granting Councils to implement Science that works development in Africa.”
What should that science consist of?
- Thinking: Africa must stop delegating thinking. We must know that not all knowledge is written in books and publications, the biggest deposit of knowledge is still in our heads. And given that most of what is written and taught has either not worked or minimally worked for us, we must be ready and willing to think ourselves out of what does not work and into what works. This means having the audacity and will to think deep enough to identify faulty molds and trojans we may have adopted. And always remember, it is the responsibility of citizens to take on the complex task of thinking for their nation.
- Purpose: The purpose of Science, Technology and Innovation is to help nations address their challenges of poverty and underdevelopment. Science and technology remain at the focus of Uganda’s development roadmap. More recently, we have embarked on a Value-Chain approach through selected value chains. These value chains include: the pathogen economy, Mobility, Infrastructure Innovations, Industry 4.0+, Aeronautics and Space Science, Productivity Acceleration, Import Substitution and Export of Value-added goods. It is our plan to use these value chains to provide the necessary impetus especially in accelerating Uganda’s leapfrog to middle income status.
- Goal: Science must have a clear goal to deliver development. The three components of Science (Knowledge), Technology (Development of Tools) and Innovation must be clearly directed towards a well-articulated goal aligned with development
- Process: Understanding the processes by which science translates into development is critical. A pregnancy only results into a viable baby if it follows the pathway of baby development. Africa has been rather lazy to do the hard work of defining how science actually works to make development. Any investments have been made randomly without a clear process, often as part of research consortia, whose agenda is unknown to us.
- Systems: We must have the right systems to ensure that Science translates into development. It is not only the intervention, but the quantity and quality of it.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it is only through STI that we can solve the challenges of underdevelopment and poverty in Africa and in Uganda; from meeting the basic needs of our people like food and shelter, creating wealth for our nations and improving the quality of how they leave and do their business. It is important to note that no country has really ever developed fully without investing a considerable amount of resources in advancing sciences, innovation, and industrialization.
In Uganda, there has been a lot of progress made in developing STI under the guidance of H.E President as a champion for STI. Among the many endeavors for advancement of STI, was the establishment of the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology in 1990 and subsequent establishment of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation in 2016. More recently, the Science, Technology and Innovation Secretariat has been established under the Office of the President to provide leadership in Uganda’s transformative journey.
Today, I’m delighted to launch this National Research Outlook Report (Uganda) that highlights some of the key imperatives of our growing system. The Report highlights a number of issues defining Uganda’s research landscape at the time. It identifies the drivers, opportunities and challenges. The Report touches of key issues that are defining our systems – like infrastructure, human resources in research and funding among others. While tremendous progress has been registered in STI, research funding in Africa is still inadequate to drive the STI agenda and the investments so far have not yielded the desired outcomes. I must however put a disclaimer that because of the time which has since past and the impetus brought by Covid-19, a number of things in that document may be a bit outdated.
At this point I want to turn to our researchers represented here. We have a big job at hand! Whilst the catalytic role of research is indispensable, we need to do more. I therefore encourage you that at STI-OP we are building a system and we want you to be part and parcel of this journey. Let us look at how we can use STI to unlock the vast opportunities that God has given us to steward over. I look forward to the conversations that this report will most likely catalyze.
I thank you very much.
FOR GOD AND MY COUNTRY
Hon. Dr. Monica Musenero Masanza,
Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation-Office of the President of the Republic of Uganda