5 June 2017

Uganda: Makerere University's Less Toxic Tear Gas Innovator Roots for Funding

Photo: The Independent
Samuel Mugarura testing his teargas.

The university is considered the final stage of education where students are expected to come out conversant with effective and efficient skills. However, only brave students harvest success that sets them apart from their peers.

Samuel Mugarura, 23, a fourth-year student of Bachelor of Science (Chemistry and Botany), currently enjoying his tear gas innovation limelight, is one man who has already reaped success from his education.

ROAD TO INVENTION OF TEAR GAS

Mugarura says 2013/14 is a year he will live to remember, not because he joined one of Africa's top universities, but because it's a year he came up with the idea of inventing a less toxic tear gas.

During the 2013/14 academic year fees strike at Makerere University, Mugarura picked up a worn-out tear gas canister that was used by the Uganda Police Force to rein in the angry students.

He picked it out of curiosity but to his surprise, he discovered that the ingredients used such as phenacyl chloride, bromoacetone, synpropanethial-S-oxide and pepper spray are dangerous to the eyes. He thus embarked on developing a simple way of making tear gas with trouble-free products like salt, hot pepper and sugar.

His explosive-making formula, he says, is intended to develop less toxic ways Uganda can improve its security.

CALL FOR MORE FUNDING

Mugarura has called on Makerere University and the government, especially the Directorate of Industrial Training, to push for increased funding to student research, practicals and innovations rather than theory as a means to boast students' skills and talent. He argues that this would enable new innovations and research to make a positive impact on the science and technological developments in the country.

"Government should come up and invest in innovation because it influences strategic planning which leads to wealth creation for the students and the economy," Mugagura said, adding that in so doing, it would allow the country to improve on technological developments.

It would also be a good possible tool of skills for job creation that will meet Uganda's big dream, Vision 2040, of a transformed society from a peasant to a modern and prosperous country.

He also roots for greater support from students, family members and lecturers, noting that most superpower countries like America, China and Russia have greatly transformed partly because of the input of widespread support to innovators like Leonardo Da Vinci, Bill Gates and Nikola Tesla who helped change the world.

Mugarura says his greatest dream is to not only change the world but also become an inspiration to the young generation. Despite objections by some people and claims that his works are insecure, Mugarura insists that those views instead affirm the justification for more funding. He says funding and support play a key role in contributing to efficiency and development of one's work and enable the recipient cover their budgets, leading to great developments.

"As a country, once you do something, people structure it into politics, yet in order to meet the middle-income status as the president plans, we should embrace the sciences and innovations. One chemical plant in Russia employs over 5,000 people and it generates almost three quarters of the budget of Uganda. Such a project can boost our economy and we could sell our products all over Africa," he said.

Mugarura says people should make scientific research viable because innovations such as explosives are needed by the state and private entrepreneurs alike. Government spends billions of shillings importing explosives from Russia and America. These funds could be used to invest in human capital here in our country.

He intimates that financial constraints are the biggest hindrance to his projects. He narrates this ordeal with a pale smile. His little savings of Shs 3.4m over the last two years were used to locally buy the ingredients, yet sadly risking his life for the good of the country.

"People like us who are willing and have the ability to venture and risk our lives in such toxic and expensive projects are very few. Dealing with such toxic and risky chemicals with no money cannot be sustained for long," he notes.

He, therefore, stressed that government should, besides financial assistance and support, provide safety measures and embrace its innovative citizens.

Mugarura's projects use chemical byproducts that can be used as manure, residues like pesticides, herbicides, fumigation chemicals, and chemical acaricides for spraying domestic livestock. He remarks that the chemical byproducts can offer a lot for the country in terms of reduced import dues.

He says his target is far bigger; including generating energy for a millennium and making a nuclear bomb that will make Uganda great and gain a place as a world superpower.

He sees himself as one of the few students who have defied the tag of 'African mentality'; by which non-Africans stereotype Africans as stupid and incapable of inventing anything. This mentality has endlessly led to reluctance of those who could have tried and succeeded. Worse still, this negative mentality makes Africans believe they can import whatever they need, yet they could manufacture them.

WHAT AUTHORITIES SAY

Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson Emilian Kayima has on several occasions claimed that Mugarura's tear gas innovation is a threat to the country's security. However, recently he said the police is willing to work with him if only he follows correct procedures.

"For security purposes, tear gas is a great danger to society because once a canister of tear gas goes into wrong hands, it can wrongly be used; but Samuel is having a great idea and as police, we shall provide support where possible like safety measure guidelines," Kayima said.

MAKERERE'S FUNDED INNOVATIONS

Makerere University, buoyed by science research funding under the Presidential Initiative on Science and Technology fund, rolled out the Kiira EV car and Kayoola EV bus as flagship innovations on the campus.

Mugarura says he is another outstanding innovator that the university or the president should help. His lack of assistance particularly raises questions because it's once in a lifetime that a student finances his own projects and it harvests success.

According to Makerere University fees structure 2015/16, students are mandated to annually pay a fee of Shs 20,000 towards research. These little funds can be supplemented with other donor funds to support the financing of his projects just like the others' projects he argues.

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