Prof. Walter Oyawa – Director General, National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) held a bilateral meeting with Dr. Richard Leakey and a team of researchers, from the USA on Friday, 8th October 2020. In attendance was Dr. Stephen Karimi – Director of Research Accreditation and Quality Assurance and Mr. Boniface Wanyama – Deputy Director for Registration, Accreditation and Quality Assurance. The USA team comprised of Lawrence Martin and Prof. Nengo, working for Turkan Basin Institute, a research institution in Kenya supporting scientific projects in human pre-history, sustainability, climate change and modern human culture and diversity.

Richard Leakey

Dr. Leakey raised concerns majority of Kenyans were yet to appreciate the critical role of science, technology and Innovation (STI) in national development. He pointed out that the African continent lacked competitive research universities. Only four African Universities were currently ranked in the top 500 in the world and all these were in the Republic of South Africa. Given that Africa hosts about 14% of the world’s population and with the fastest growth rates. He further observed that many of African scholars who studied and earned PhD degrees abroad never return to their respective countries for lack of adequate incentives to do so. There are no concrete measures to ensure that brain drain was reduced. Inadequate facilities and funding hindered leading scholars on the continent to maintain a scientific programme of excellence; he proposed a series of alliances between African and non-African universities starting with the world’s leading organizations for research universities to address the problem for mutual benefit. Currently, discussions had been initiated with the deans from the Association of American Universities (AAM) about ten years ago. The potential partnership will be used to illustrate a broader alliance that could rapidly be extended to include the Russell Group in the UK, the League of European Research Universities, the C9 in China as well as leading universities in Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Asia and South America. In this regard he called upon NACOSTI given its research mandate to explore the possibilities of facilitating this process at the national level.

Dr. Leakey further stated that evolution of life is a fact and observed that every single past and living human being share a common ancestor. Kenya was very strategic and holds a unique place globally that could unravel the origin of human species. Dr. Leakey together with other partners were set to establish Ngaren museum where the world will come face to face with the forces of change that brought about the existence and imagine the changes needed to sustain it. The construction work of Ngaren museum which is located in Rift Valley is scheduled to start in 2024 and end in 2026. The museum will have the capacity to host over 1 million visitors annually.  Ngaren will: have the only all -digital Planetarium in Africa; be the only African museum to display real-size dinosaurs; create, teach and promote science, sustainability, imagination and equality; and inform, inspire and empower with the realization that we are all one human family and part of the planet we call home. 

Prof. Oyawa briefed the team on the role of NACOSTI in regulation, quality assurance and advisory on matters of STI. He stressed that the Science, Technology and innovation Act had assigned NACOSTI seventeen (17) functions which could be summarized as: regulation, advisory, promotion and coordination of STI.  He stated that NACOSTI was on a mission of strengthening research in the research institutions and universities. National research priorities for 2018-2023 were now being operationalized through establishment of a National Steering Committee Chaired by the Principal Secretary for the State Department of University Education and Research as well as establishment of research consortium. Other initiatives of strengthening research in universities will be through establishment of University research chairs in strategic areas taking cognizance of the success of the two university research chairs in health system and technology innovation in manufacturing being implemented at the Moi University and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.   

In his concluding remarks Prof. Oyawa thanked Dr. Leakey and his team for the warm welcome and promised to support the work that Dr. Leakey was doing in conservation and further that NACOSTI will work with the team, and other stakeholders to establish a science museum as envisaged in the STI Act.  He invited Dr. Leakey to support the establishment of a research chair in his legacy as a champion of science globally. It was agreed that another formal meeting would be held to firm up some of the proposals made during this discussion.