[NAIROBI] Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki swore in a new government last week (13 April), appointing a new science minister and announcing the creation of a new science ministry.
The existing Ministry of Science and Technology has been merged with the Department of Higher Education — previously under the Ministry of Education — to form the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology, bringing together scientists and university researchers.
And the formation of the grand coalition cabinet — made up equally of loyalists to Kibaki and new prime minister Raila Odinga — saw Sally Jepng'etich Kosgei, a career diplomat with extensive experience in public service, given the post of minister of higher education, science and technology.
According to communications officials in the new ministry, priorities are already set. These include the passing of a biotechnology bill in Kenyan Parliament (see Kenya approves a national policy on biotechnology) and the establishment of at least four technical universities.
Though Kosgei has no science background, she is one of the most senior women in public service in Kenya's history.
Miriam Kinyua, an associate professor of biotechnology at Moi University, says Kosgei has proven herself as a shrewd strategist in her earlier appointments and all she needs is an effective technical team to guide her.
She says it is desirable to have a minister who is a scientist, "but if the technical teams she will work with know what is required, then she doesn't have to be a scientist". Kinyua added that having a female science minister could boost the role played by women in science and agriculture in Kenya.
Stephen Agong, the deputy Vice Chancellor of Maseno University and a former executive director of the African Academy of Sciences, says that the merged ministry will make it easier to coordinate research in Kenya.
He believes that the minister should also focus on increasing research and extension funding in public universities to boost science development in the country.
Calestous Juma, director of the Science, Technology and Globalization project at the US-based Harvard University says, "[Sally Kosgei's] extensive knowledge of the wider functioning of government and international connections will help elevate the importance of [science and technology] in future efforts to shape Kenya's economic policy."
Noah Wekesa, the previous minister for science and technology, has been made minister of forestry and wildlife, and there are also reports that Romano Kiome, former director of Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, could be appointed as head of public service and secretary to the cabinet.