Kenya’s presidential candidates ‘failing to prioritise science’

ballot box
Kenya’s presidential elections are just around the corner

With the general elections just around the corner, Kenya’s presidential candidates and main political parties have come under fire for failing to recognise the role science can play in the country’s socioeconomic development.

According to scientists, neither of the two main political coalitions — the Coalition for Democracy and Reforms and the Jubilee Alliance, and their candidates, Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta respectively — have prioritised the role of science, technology and innovation in solving developmental challenges facing the East African country.

“There is no talk of science in public among the candidates and it is just briefly mentioned in their manifestos,” says Hannington Odame, a founding member and interim executive director of the Centre for African Bio-entrepreneurship in Nairobi.

“The current electioneering debates offer a unique opportunity for parties and candidates to place science on their agenda but they are not doing that,” Odame says.

While the political candidates have been talking about equipping the country’s youth — who comprise 60 per cent of the 40 million-plus population — with technical skills to create employment and reduce poverty, none of these suggestions mention the role of science and its links with national development.

Odame says those going for the country’s top leadership ought to put science and sub-sectors such as information and communications technology on their agendas rather than advocating mere trade skills.

Daniel M’reli, an agriculture specialist at the Nairobi based Sumitomo Corporation, a corporate organisation that aims to help solve global environmental and social problems, says that Kenya needs more than traditional trade skills.

“The world has changed rapidly — the youth needs innovative skills more than they need raw traditional trade skills if they are to be meaningfully self-employed.”

He adds that politicians have lost the opportunity to explain, among other things, how they will increase Kenya’s science funding from the current 0.48 per cent of its GDP (gross domestic product).

Many African countries spend on average 0.3 per cent of GDP on research and development except South Africa that has been pursuing the continent-wide goal of reaching one per cent but is at 0.95 per cent currently.

Lusike Wasilwa, assistant director in charge of horticulture and agricultural crops at Kenya Agriculture Research Institute, says that the question of funding is of one of the single most important issues that any incoming government must address.

Increased funding for science to at least two per cent of GDP is essential if Kenya wants to join middle-income countries, she says.

“The current amount of funding is too little to spur any meaningful growth in science and research,” says Wasilwa.

“However since the law [the Science, Technology and Innovation Act passed last November] now has decreed that science funding must be at least two per cent of GDP we should start huge changes beginning June when the next budget is tabled in parliament.”

Source: SciDev.Net – Sub-Saharan Africa desk – 1 March 2013

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