Thursday, December 29, 2011

Vision 2030, Biotech and the Two-thirds Rule.

Larry Summers, when he was the President of Harvard University (2001 to 2006), suggested that the under-representation of women in science and engineering could be due to a "different availability of aptitude at the high end," and less to patterns of discrimination and socialization. The Economist recently ran a special report on the rise of women in the workplace and noted that though the numbers of women in the sciences and engineering were on the rise, they still trailed far behind those of men. It is thus, with great satisfaction that in the recently released results for the KCPE more girls did well in the science exam than boys. One can only hope that they carry on with this stellar performance in the KCSE and take science-based courses at university and pursue science-oriented careers 

Kenya is in the process of implementing Vision 2030 that aims at turning the country into a middle-income economy. One of the pillars of Vision 2030 is the development of a manufacturing sector that does more than just assemble cars or manufacture fast moving consumer products. For the attainment of the objectives of this pillar, it is imperative that we nurture and develop the scientific talents of our youth, giving them the scientific skills necessary to compete against other 'knowledge-based' economies, especially the Asian Tigers and the Eastern European nations rising out of the ashes of the Iron Curtain. It is time that we discounted the notion that girls are not well-suited to the sciences or engineering and instead, encouraged more of them to take their rightful places as the engines of scientific innovation and development.

By necessity, our secondary, tertiary and university systems must be re-jigged to give more emphasis on the sciences than is the case currently. More importantly, higher education must be reformed to take advantage of the hundreds of thousands of potential students in order to identify and nurture the scientific talents of those who will make it out of our dismal secondary system with their scientific talents intact. It is the innovators who will be the linchpin of the Vision 2030; without them, the armies of lawyers, bankers, accountants and salesmen will have nothing to do. For this nation to advance economically, it can no longer be an exporter of raw material alone but it must begin the process of exploiting the natural resources available with an eye to capturing a major share of the global knowledge industry.

While Kenya may not be blessed with abundant reserves of coal, iron ore, precious metals or oil (yet), we are rich in biodiversity. Our shambolic policy thus far has been to allow the West to access this rich biodiversity by paying us a nominal fee, and selling to us at exorbitant rates the products of whatever innovations that arise from them. This is a policy that must be changed. Even with the meagre resource at our disposal, our scientists have made significant strides in exploiting our rich biodiversity; all that is required is a clear policy on how we can develop an industry around it. An idea that should be explored is the role that universities and Kenya's private sector can play in exploiting this biodiversity, especially through partnerships and increased investment. Our state universities, especially the University of Nairobi, the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Moi University and Egerton University each have a slice of the skills needed to become powerhouses in biotechnology. It is time that they reviewed the way they are managed, especially the hide-bound rules from the Nyayo Era that have all but guaranteed their rising degree of mediocrity.

We are not going to become exporters of heavy machinery like China or India, nor are we going to challenge the domination of information and communication technology by the US and India, but we can make a dent in biotechnology given our rich biodiversity. If the Vision 2030 were hinged upon success in this area, then Kenya can claim to be the first economy to rely on scientific advancement in Africa. It is not inconceivable to make the leap to biotechnology, skipping heavy industry, especially today when scientific knowledge is known and disseminated widely. We did the same with mobile telephony, abandoning land-lines and adopting en masse mobile phones, developing innovations that have left competitors in the West and the rest of Africa scratching their heads in incredulity at our successes. The same can be accomplished with biotechnology; we only need to sieze the opportunity and exploit it to our advantage. If this is done, I can see the Two-thirds Rule being upended, with women dominating the field and men coming a pale second.

No comments:

Listen to what Gen Z is saying. Hear them.

Kenyan Gen Z seized the moment that was made for them and threw down the gauntlet at the feet of the Kenyan State. With the memory of the bi...