There is a strong political commitment to supporting science, technology and innovation in Rwanda.
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Especially strong political commitment on behalf of the country’s leaders, most notably President Paul Kagame, has fomented Rwanda’s transformation over the last two decades. (Global Knowledge Initiative, LINK Analysis Rwanda, 2012). The top level commitment in Rwanda is demonstrated by the vision and commitment of the President of Rwanda, His Excellency Paul Kagame, towards the value of Science and Technology for Rwanda’s development. Illustrations of this commitment include his address to 8th African Union Summit January 2007 where he emphasized how science and technology is synonymous with economic transformation. He stated that:
“It is about applying science and technology holistically – in all levels of education and training, in commercialising ideas, in developing business and quickening the pace of wealth-creation and employment-generation, in enabling government to provide better services, and indeed in providing basic tools to society at large for self and collective betterment”
Indeed, development of science, technology and innovation (STI) capacity is seen instrumental in meeting the “Vision 2020”, which envisages a modern, prosperous and united nation (Rwanda National Policy on Science, Technology and Innovation, 2006). The goal of the Science and Technology sector is to:
- Stimulate a steady growth in GDP;
- Advance the quality of life for all the citizens of Rwanda;
- Improve Skills and Knowledge among the population; and
- Integrate Technical Education with commerce, industry and the private sector in general.
In its 2011-12 budget, the Rwandan government again announced it would increase R&D spending, with a focus on constructing and equipping science laboratories and on health and agriculture research. Despite the increased spending, Rwanda’s scientific output has remained modest and the country only makes it to number 27 in a ranking of the number of publications in the 43 sub-Saharan countries (Nature Vol. 474, 2011). In addition to scientific output, investments of the private sector in research and development have remained modest. In order to increase private sector investments, the government has encouraged and supported public-private partnerships, for example under the Knowledge Transfer Partnership programme and the Rwanda Innovation Endowment Fund. The former establish linkages between academic institutions and specific industries. The public-private partnerships are promoted especially in the fields in which the businesses require external knowledge and skills to create commercial benefit. The Rwanda Innovation Endowment Fund grants funding to projects and services, which apply knowledge and create commercial or social benefit. (MINEDUC 2013)
The national Policy on Science, Technology and Innovation was approved by the Cabinet in 2005. One of the key goals of the policy is to help to overcome the challenges across all sectors of the economy, which are: improving skills and knowledge among the population – specifically to create “knowledge-based” economy, enhancing opportunities for growth in rural areas, and integrating technical education with commerce, industry and the private sector in general (Rwanda National Policy on Science, Technology and Innovation, 2006). Furthermore, the STI Policy has four specific objectives: (1) knowledge acquisition, (2) knowledge creation, (3) knowledge transfer and (4) innovation culture. Specific interventions highlighted in the policy against each of these objectives include the following:
- Knowledge acquisition - promoting Science and Technological education is an essential strategy to achieve the human development objectives. Rwanda has established Science and Technology institutions, regional Technical Colleges, post graduate courses in subjects such as Agro-forestry, soil science, and ICT as well as One University of Rwanda, under which all the public higher education institutions have been merged.
- Knowledge creation - the strategy includes the reinforcement of research units in Higher Learning Institutions coupled with the investment in training and development of international partnerships in high quality research to meet the development needs of Rwanda. Specific interventions include the establishment of a capacity building fund, establishing R&D units in major industries and technological companies within the private sector, and S&T Centres of Excellence in Higher Learning Institutions.
- Knowledge transfer - STI is a cross cutting issue and reinforcement of STI capacity will help many of the sectors in Rwanda achieve their objectives. STI capacity building is to train farmers, entrepreneurs, engineers, technicians, scientists, and teachers to find the appropriate knowledge, import it, adapt it to local conditions, and use it to solve local problems and produce and market higher-value, more knowledge-intensive goods and services.
- Innovation - systems need to be encouraged at all levels to help stimulate economic growth. Special attention is being paid to the available capacity at national level to process scientific and technological innovations or inventions that can lead to acquisition of Intellectual Property Ownership. A Rwanda Innovation Endowment Fund (RIEF) has been established to provide financial stimuli for Science and Technology innovation and a project entitled “Innovation for Education” to explore new ideas to improve the quality of education.
Rwanda’s STI policy outlines 13 different sectors in which science and technology should be used to increase productivity and enhance capacity: education, energy, transport, agriculture, information and communication technologies (ICT), geo-information, water and sanitation, biotechnology, industry, private sector, tourism, environment, and health. For each sector, the policy emphasizes research and development (R&D), creating national guidelines, procedures, and standards, supporting entrepreneurship, and promoting new technologies. Agriculture and ICT are the most important priority areas, as they are emphasized in both Vision 2020 and the STI policy. (Global Knowledge Initiative, LINK Analysis Rwanda, 2012).
Agriculture and animal husbandry is the single most important sector in Rwanda, and the sector has grown at an average of 4.9% over the past five years (World Bank, Rwanda Economic Update, 2011). However, agriculture has been affected by poor productivity for years due to low use of agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizer. One of the main aims of the STI policy in support of the agricultural sector is to transform the sector from subsistence farming to modern industrial practices. Innovation is therefore needed in agriculture including the shift from food to cash crops and to link sciences and agricultural growth including: improved disease control management, use of GIS for determining optimum crop management practices, gene technology, biodiversity, land degradation balance and environment and ecosystem problem.
The government of Rwanda has chosen ICT sector as one of the key enablers that will help achieve the goals of Rwanda’s Vision 2020. The goal is also to develop Rwanda as the ICT hub for the East Africa. In order to achieve this goal, high priority has been given for building world class infrastructure (including high level last mile solutions), developing a highly skilled work force and developing an efficient business, legal and regulatory environment is given the highest priority.
An evaluation study on the implementation of the national STI Policy was commissioned by DSTR in 2013. The outcomes of the study are intended to establish how well the objectives of the policy are being met, including any gaps and specific successes. The study will also review any necessary revisions to the policy. Following the completion of this study a revised policy will be drafted, together with a five year strategic plan for the implementation of the Policy in consultation with all stakeholders in Science, Technology, Research and Innovation in Rwanda. (MINEDUC 2013)
In last two decades, Rwanda has invested heavily in putting in place the governance as well as physical infrastructure for national STI. In order to create a strong governance framework to oversee the Science, Technology and Research Policy, a Directorate General of Science, Technology and Research (DSTR) has been established, within the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC). The DSTR has a mandate to coordinate all research activities in Rwanda and oversee the implementation of the STI Policy. The core functions of the DSTR are:
- To implement programs to strengthen scientific research and research capacity, the adoption of suitable and improved technologies, and promotion of innovation by the private sector.
- To integrate, promote and co-ordinate Government of Rwanda strategies for the advancement of Science and Technology.
- To provide a focal point for research activities taking place in Rwanda.
- To strengthen teaching of science and technology at all levels of education.
- Promote ICT education culture and to expand ICT infrastructure access.
A National Science and Technology Commission (NCST) was established in 2012, and it operates under the Office of the Prime Minister as an advisory body for science, technology and research.
In collaboration with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), MINEDUC has initiated activities which involve various stakeholders, including National Institute of Statistics and NCST. These activities aim at strengthening capacity building in the areas of STI Indicators mapping for efficient monitoring and evaluation of STI development.
The partner states of the East African Community (EAC) have set themselves an agenda for cooperation in STI. Operationalization of the East Africa Science Technology Commission (EASTECO) with headquarters in Rwanda is ongoing, and it is hoped that EASTECO will serve as a channel for STI integration in East Africa. Indeed, Rwanda is striving to play a leadership role in driving that integration through strategic joint initiatives.
Important players in the field of higher education are the University of Rwanda and Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda. One of the strategies to meet the challenge of ensuring the highest possible quality of Higher Education has been to merge all of the Public Universities into the University of Rwanda with a total of six colleges. This has been to help address the issues of duplication, sharing of resources and most importantly to address the issue of quality. The leaders of this institution have been recruited internationally to ensure the new University can work to globally recognised standards and with a focus as a research based institution. This took effect from September 2013.
With establishment of the One UNIVERSITY of Rwanda and the operationalization of Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda, consolidated investments in R&D and Innovation are highly needed to enable the formation of strong STI ecosystems capable of driving national socio-economic transformation, create an attractive environment for increased foreign direct investment (FDI), while sustaining competitive entrepreneurship and regional integration. (MINEDUC 2013)