The need for ICT research in Africa
Software & Web Development

The need for ICT research in Africa

Research and development is the backbone of any industry. Now Africa is waking up to the fact that it needs to boost its research activities backed by a sound ICT foundation and this is slowly bearing fruit.

ICT tools can help researchers and scientists get faster results to their hypothesis. This requires the input of relevant technology in research institutions. Research on the other hand can help come up with relevant technology.

In Kenya, the IBM Research Lab situated at the Catholic University in Nairobi was a one of its kind in the region. A similar initiative has since been opened in South Africa.

According to IBM, such research facilities in Africa will open up an opportunity for cognitive research methods where the computer starts to learn and adapt to patterns. This has been pushed by its cognitive system, Watson.

For example, the company said, “IBM scientists are developing cognitive learning approaches to transform cancer reporting, prevention and precision medicine in Africa.”

IBM hopes that cognitive computing implementation will see the countries in Africa come up with commercially viable solutions in healthcare, education, water and sanitation, human mobility and agriculture.

In terms of sanitation and human mobility, the research lab fitted several garbage trucks with sensors that could map out the road conditions around Nairobi.

“By fitting garbage trucks with mobile phone trackers that monitor their movement, scientists enabled fleet supervisors to monitor data on location, altitude and speed in real time. This meant they were aware of problems on the road as soon as drivers experienced them and could plan more efficient routes through better sections of road. As a result, garbage collected in Nairobi has increased from 800 to 1400 metric tonnes per day,” IBM said during the project implementation last year.

Back in South Africa, the IBM research team used data from Twitter and TomTom to analyse the traffic situation in Johannesburg.

“Commuters in the City of Johannesburg currently spend 35 minutes extra travel time per day due to traffic congestion, according to the TomTom Traffic Index. Unreliable traffic light infrastructure provides challenges to traffic light management in the city,” IBM reported.

“Using real time anonymised traffic data from TomTom combined with Twitter, IBM scientists have developed a traffic optimisation recommendation tool which can help city officials dispatch traffic volunteers, known locally as pointsmen, to the intersections where they are most urgently needed.”

Government support in research and ICT

Several governments across Africa have committed to implement research programmes that use the power of ICT. Countries like Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia have dedicated resources to ensure that research is done well in collaboration with governments.

“We are trying to coordinate initiatives that support research and innovation in the country. This is through the new ministry of science and technology,” Hon. Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation in Uganda said at the recently held Innovation Africa Summit in Nairobi Kenya.

“We’ve been supporting scientists in universities through the ministry of science and technology. We have been supporting individual scientists even if they are not in the universities, but if they have innovative ideas,” he said.

Tumwesigye added that the government has put up a US$100 million fund to support youths who have initiatives that can increase knowledge and create employment and wealth. This fund is targeted at those aged between the ages of 18 and 30 years.

Zimbabwe has a similar fund to the tune of US$25 million that the government has not yet launched to benefit innovation in the country.

“Going forward in the new ministry we are going to have various windows in this plan. We are going to have a window that supports research. We are also going to have a window of technology development, transfer and adaptation,” Tumwesigye said.

Under his ministry, scientists and researchers are going to have access to intellectual property support if their ideas are unique and can be a potential product.

He said that the government has engaged lawyers and institutions to ensure that the ideas are protected in the country and beyond by registering their patents internationally.

“In my new ministry I am going to have a whole department that is dedicated to innovation registration,” he said.

Dr. Shumete Gizaw the Director General, Ministry of Science and Technology in Ethiopia supported the establishment of the Science and Technology Research Council.

“We have policies on science and technology that were recently developed.  In order to properly implement these policies we have established The Science and Technology Research Councils. The Research council is responsible for the science and technology, information technology researches in the country,” Gizaw said.

The ministry of science and technology has a budget to support research in the country. They can be professors, researchers in the country based on certain criteria and certain timelines.

The ministry has partnered with universities to develop its ICT research programmes. He said that the country will promote and fund research within learning institutions to grow innovation.

“We are in the second year of the GTP2 (Growth and Transformation Plan) which has priority areas and in the sixth priority area is promoting science technology and innovation research, so that we can achieve what is in the growth plan,” he stated.

The Kenyan government has signed a deal with the South Korean government to establish the renowned Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (Kaist) in the country, an institution that has a strong foundation in science and technology research and development.

Present development challenges that Africa faces offer a great opportunity for startups and organisations to use ICT based research to monitor, evaluate and come up with solutions for the continent.

More government organisations need to partner and empower higher education institutions to deliver programmes that deal with research and people who are competent to spearhead the programmes.

Well coordinated research centres might help governments also cut costs before implementing large scale projects and ensure the countries’ they serve come up with solutions tailored specifically for their region.

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Vincent Matinde

Vincent Matinde is an international IT Journalist highlighting African innovations in the technology scene.

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