Science, technology and innovation (ST&I) are important drivers for socio-economic development. The level and quality of research undertaken by any country depends to a large extent on which government policies underpin effective development of robust research and innovation systems in those countries.
How then can Kenya harness its ST&I potential to leapfrog into the middle class economy? I want to propose for the establishment of a Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST). The proposed allocation of 2% GDP to science, technology and innovation presents new avenues for advancement of the sector in the country.
The ministry will basically reorganize and bring under one umbrella the fragmented dockets currently in existence in many other government deparments.
Rapidly developing BRICS economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have become so by leveraging this sector. These countries have established a Ministry of Science Technology and Innovation to drive their national development programs on research and innovation.
According to the global competitiveness report (2012/13), these countries proportional share of the global Gross Domestic Product is huge when compared to Kenya. For instance, China claims 14.32 per cent of the global GDP with a GDP investment on science, technology and innovation of 1.6 per cent compared to Kenya's lowly 0.09 per cent and a GDP investment of 0.4 per cent.
Russia, Brazil and India have made impressive investments in this sector which have significantly contributed their overall development pacing them at the frontline of advanced and emerging technologies in biotechnology, nanotechnology, space science and nuclear science.
Kenya cannot afford to remain in its present state but have to take cue from the BRICS and move forward by setting pace for other players in the East African region and other countries in the continent.
The proposed Ministry of Science and Technology will not only coordinate and promote matters of science and technology but will also provide a strong enabling environment to key sectors of the economy such as agriculture, health, education, transport and communication.
With the recently discovery of viable deposits of oil, coal, and other minerals in the country; the high potential for green energy such as wind and solar energy and in the long term nuclear power, we only need strong programs and coordination to tap into such resources. This can be offered by a substantive Ministry of Science and Technology.
The ministry would be responsible for coordinating the activities of all other stakeholders in the sector including National Commission for Science and Technology, the National Research Foundation and Kenya National Innovation Agency.
The country will be able to effectively exploit and generate new knowledge for transformative socio-economic impact through programs that will ensure that Kenya develops a skilled human population, dynamic information and communication infrastructure and an effective innovation system.
Development of these critical components requires strategic policy planning and implementation, substantial national budgets with clear milestones that can only be coordinated from a substantive Ministry and not a department.
Already, Kenya has taken off very well in the ICT sector with products such as MPESA and the Konza Technology City, the proposed standard gauge railway, and the LAPPSET project to mention but a few, to transforming Kenya into a modern, globally competitive middle income economy move towards knowledge based economy ST&I must be given priority.
Prof. Shaukat Abdulrazak is the CEO of the National Council for Science and Technology.