Different regulations, financial constraints and poor infrastructure are seen as major stumbling blocks to the realisation East African Community (EAC) plan to promote science, technology and innovation.
A meeting of members of East African Science and Technology Commission (EASTECO) in Kigali agreed on commitments to promote integration using science, technology and innovation but decried glaring challenges that might prevent full achievements of the plan.
According to the commission, bodies on science and technology and stakeholders focus on national priorities which make it hard for the EAC to co-ordinate.
“Other challenges stem from countries that are developing at different pace due to regulations and we are likely to face problems of infrastructure,” said Edith Nsaija Mwanje, Permanent Secretary in Ministry of the EAC Uganda and chairperson of the commission.
Ms Mwanje asked member states to fast-track regulations taking into considerations developments in the area of science and technology whose awareness among citizens in the region remains relatively low.
Reports from the commission also indicate that there are no clear and harmonised targets to measure the attainment of science technology and innovation in the region and that decisions made by governments are not always supported by scientific evidence.
The strategic plan (2017-2022), according to Ms Mwanje can only be attained if member states agree to increase allocated budget to $22 million (Rwf18 billion) or a number of projects will stall.
According to the plan, the targeted sectors for application of science technology and innovation include increasing value addition in agriculture; promotion of technological solutions in energy and environment; enhancement of bio-technological initiatives and support for export-oriented industrial development and trade.
Reports from the commission further indicate that unless member states understand the relevance of the commission’s mandate, they are still faced with low level appreciation of the potential benefits of science and technology due to lack of tangible benefits.
“To mainstream science, technology and innovations, there is a need to promote research mostly through private sector and raise awareness of STI among citizens of the EAC,” reads a part of the five-year strategic plan.
On the other hand, members of the commission look to the plan for a common point that works for every country by strengthening EASTECO’s institutional framework and improving collaboration and partnerships in science technology and innovation.
“We won’t change everything but there will be some common areas that enable us to achieve something. So far the challenges evolve around being able to convince each other,” added Ali Idi Siwa, High Commissioner of Tanzania to Rwanda.
EAC member states allocate the commission at least $200,000 (about Rwf168 million) annually, a budget that will need to be increased to finance the plan to the tune of $22 million (about Rwf18 billion) by 2022.
The commission says it is only able to finance its activities to about 30 per cent while the remaining budget is expected to be covered by well-wishers.
Lack of financial resources for research is due to fragmented research funding and competition between researchers in different countries and institutions.
According to the plan, EAC member states are not meeting their commitments to funding research and development whose share as a percentage of GDP still remains below one per cent due to competing priorities in national development.
Reacting to the issues John Nshunguyinka, the Director of Social Affairs at the Rwanda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated the country — which is the home to the commission — has an important role to advocate the implementation of the 2022 plan but can only rely on the will of other member states.
“Hosting EASTECO here is an opportunity for a country that has made science and technology a priority, thus the commission is very key in this quest, especially to encourage the youth to be more active in science and technology,” he said.
Ms Gertrude Ngabirano, the Executive Secretary of the commission, said the proposed plan was approved by the Council of Ministers and it was the turn of Permanent secretaries to decide implementation model.