March 8th, 2024

Accelerating Development & Diffusion of STI Solutions for a Green, Inclusive & Resilient East Africa

From 6 to 8 March, the 3rd East African Community Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) Conference took place in Nairobi, Kenya, with an appeal to all stakeholders to work together to enable the Community to tap into and benefit from STI opportunities and accelerate their diffusion. Making the appeal, Ms. Hendrina C. Doroba, the Division Manager in charge of Education and Skills Development at the African Development Bank (AfDB) East Africa Regional Office, noted that accelerating the development and diffusion of STI in East Africa will not only lead to the growth of innovative solutions to regional challenges but also drive the commercialization of such innovations for industrial development.

Ms. Doroba emphasised that there is still much to be done to harness its full potential and accelerate socio-economic transformation as outlined in the EAC Vision 2050 and Agenda 2063 of the Africa we want. “Today, East Africa’s innovation level is insufficient to reach ambitious levels of inclusive growth and development due to prevailing technological and innovation constraints, which include financing, and information asymmetries that need to be addressed to harness STI full potential fully,” said Ms. Doroba, adding that the situation had been worsened by the slow global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing Russian-Ukraine war. “A critical pathway in responding to these challenges and ensuring that STI works for East Africa is the urgent need to train the next generation of scientists and innovators, who should take the lead in driving the region’s development agenda,” she added.

Ms. Doroba, who represented AfDB East Africa Director General Nnenna Lily Nwabufo at the conference’s opening session, said that any inclusive growth and sustainable development call for the growth of innovations to promote the creation of new enterprises, increase productivity, support new jobs, and drive economic prosperity. She observed that the slow progress in building the skilled workforce in STI has adversely affected the Community’s ability to transform its economies and increase productivity and competitiveness. “It is essential to note that the quality of learning at all levels of skills development, particularly in science, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), is low compared to other regions. For example, for Africa as a continent, of all students that graduated from higher education institutions in 2021, those in STEM fields were on average 21.7% compared to 25.6% in other regions,” she highlighted.

“Addressing this could be made possible by combining our interventions with the power of science, technology, and innovations through enhancing the capacity of our high education and research institutions and promoting multi-stakeholder partnerships for homegrown solutions to our development challenges,” noted Ms. Doroba.

The AfDB official said that harnessing science, technology, and innovation requires deliberate investments in human capital development tailored to the changing socio-economic development ecosystem.

Ms. Doroba said that to promote STI solutions for a resilient East Africa and enhance value addition and competitiveness in the region, the Bank is working with other partners to train scientists and innovators through quality and relevant STEM skills. “The Bank has done this through our Skills for Employability and Productivity for Africa (SEPA) Action Plan (2022-2025), guiding our investments, operations, and strategic engagements in science and innovation in Africa,” she added.

“The Action Plan aims to develop a skilled and competitive workforce capable of increasing productivity and spurring innovation for access to decent jobs and improved quality of life for the people in Africa,” said Ms. Doroba.

Officially opening the conference on behalf of Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Education, Hon. Ezekiel Machogu, the Director General of the National Council of Science and Technology, Prof. Walter Oyawa, called for increased efforts in science diplomacy and science communication to enhance appreciation of STI by various stakeholders. Prof. Oyawa noted that there was a need for scientists and innovators to communicate more with politicians about the need to allocate more resources to investments in STI, noting that this would yield immense benefits for the region, as has been the case with developed countries.

He observed that mistrust in science and technology had escalated among members of the public, adding that the reduction in trust was responsible for the rejection of vaccines and genetically modified organisms, among other technologies.

Speaking at the event, the Executive Secretary of the East African Science and Technology Commission (EASTECO), Dr. Sylvance Okoth, disclosed that EASTECO has developed STI policies, strategies, and regulations to operationalize various aspects of various EAC policy instruments in its quest to promote the development, management, and application of science and technology in Partner States. “This STI conference is therefore one of the interventions through which science and technology promote the EAC integration agenda, as it accords stakeholders an opportunity to come together to exchange scientific information and, in the process, create new linkages and strengthen bonds of collaboration,” said Dr. Okoth.

“Through these interventions, the commission aims to enhance production, dissemination, and adoption of new and emerging technologies and innovations to spur social and economic enterprises in the region,” added the Executive Secretary.

In his remarks, the Executive Secretary of the Inter-University Council of East Africa (IUCEA), Prof. Gaspard Banyamkimbona, urged conference participants to engage in open dialogue, build new connections, and forge collaborations that will propel scientific advancements and contribute to sustainable development in the region.

“Let us use this platform to foster cross-disciplinary exchange, challenge existing paradigms, and collectively seek solutions that address the most complex problems facing our communities,” said Prof. Banyankimbona. “Together, we can harness the power of science, technology, and innovation to build a brighter future for East Africa, one where scientific advancements translate into tangible benefits for our citizens and where collaborative RDI initiatives pave the way for a more prosperous and sustainable future for generations to come,” he added.

On his part, Mr. Bjorn Richter, the EAC GIZ Cluster Coordinator, noted that GIZ had supported STI since the establishment of the Community in 1999, adding that the aim of this support was to bring innovation to drive intra-regional trade and economic growth in East Africa.

Mr. Richter further added that Germany’s aim was to foster a digital skills innovation ecosystem with universities to develop joint investment pipelines with the private sector.

He disclosed that his country’s current priority was digital transformation and green transition, adding that the focus was shifting more towards digital e-commerce to power trade and GDP growth while mitigating the negative effects of climate change.

Find more information on the EAC-GIZ support on this topic here.