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Pan African University helping realise continent’s development agenda

COMMENTARY
By Adhere Cavince | May 4th 2016
Pan African University graduands with JKUAT, PAU and African Union Commission officials shortly after the conferment of degrees in 2014.

Rising from the shackles of colonialism in the 1960s, African countries have had a strong desire to foster social, economic and political integration. To achieve this enviable dream, the Heads of State through the African Union (AU) resolved to prioritize higher education, scientific and technological research to revitalize the continent’s development and global competitiveness.

This led to inauguration of the Pan African University (PAU) in November 2011. The continental graduate training facility is being actualized through a network of excellent universities drawn from five regions of Africa.

In 2013, the AU launched a development blueprint christened Agenda 2063; a policy instrument that paints a globally competitive, integrated, peaceful, secure and prosperous continent with: booming economies, strong cultural identities, values and global influence. The document further emphasizes scientific and technological research as key plank in achieving this ideal Africa.

As an intermediate plan to actualize Agenda 2063; as well as provide direction to the PAU, the AU in 2014 adopted a 10-year Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024). The strategy does not blink on the place of investments in education, science, technology, research and innovation as a driver of sustainable growth and development.  

Looked at closely, the PAU can be a formidable organ in the realization of Agenda 2063. Indeed, great progress has been made since PAU came into being. The Institute for Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation (PAUSTI), arguably the most successful, graduated 54 pioneering students drawn from 11 African countries in November 2014.

Hosted by Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), it is from the East African hub that the continent hopes to hone endogenous technologies and innovations in areas like biotechnology, molecular biology and engineering that can be tapped to transform the continent.

Three other PAU Institutes: Institute for Governance, Humanities and Social Sciences; Institute for Life and Earth Sciences; and Institute for Water and Energy Sciences are currently operational in Central, West and Northern Africa respectively. The PAU institute of Space Sciences, is slated to open its doors in Southern Africa.

The five thematic areas assigned to each region were identified as holding immense potential for socio-economic and political progress of the continent. Indeed, a look at the Africa reveals a landmass plagued with myriad hurdles which directly threaten development models being piloted in the continent.

Violent extremists have, for instance, infiltrated our living and working spaces with terrorist outfits like Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab meting inimical attacks on innocent souls in many parts of the continent.  

WHO further indicates that 437,000 African children died of malaria, before their fifth birthday in 2013. In addition, nearly half the population live below the poverty line, with adult illiteracy still holding sway over 185 million Africans.

Then comes decades’ long push for equal opportunity in global politics by Africa. The continent accounts for a paltry 3% of global trade volumes. Furthermore, even with such dismal presence, the balance of trade is heavily skewed in favour of developed world. Intra-Africa trade currently stands at 12% only compared to 40% in North America and 60% in Western Europe.

On the intellectual property front, the continent has over the years maintained a weak showing. The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) statistics indicate that of the 2.6 million patent applications in 2013, Africa's best performer, South Africa, filed only 7,295 followed by Egypt at 2,057. Comparably, China filed 825,136 patents while United States of America (USA) and Japan filed 571, 612 and 328, 436 patents respectively, taking the top three slots.

As AU Commission Chairperson, Dr. Nkozozana Dlamini-Zuma articulated during the PAU inaugural graduation at JKUAT in 2014, the best resource towards sustainably tackling Africa’s challenges remains her people. The continent must therefore do all it can, through PAU and other training and research institutions, to equip the over 1 billion citizens with relevant skills, competencies, attitudes and values commensurate to its social economic and political aspirations.

It is therefore incumbent upon the PAU Council to create a globally competitive institution that is alive to the challenges and dreams of Africa. It will take careful deployment of quality manpower, and infrastructure to spur academic and research rigour for PAU to emerge as a truly excellent continental university.

With heavy political backing, host countries also need to go the extra mile to supplement African Union efforts to see this Pan-African dream come to fruition. The move by the Government of Kenya to construct teaching and research complex at the JKUAT based PAUSTI is laudable.  

In the mix of all other attendant factors towards realization of Agenda 2063, the Pan African University is one player whose contributions the continents profoundly needs.  

The Writer is graduate student of International Studies at the Institute of Diplomacy & International Studies, University of Nairobi. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @Cavinceworld) 

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