Kenya poised for major science commitment

Kenyan scientists may see funds increase as early as July 2013 Copyright: Flickr/CIMMYT

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[NAIROBI] Kenya will aim to quadruple its investment in science from 0.48 per cent to two per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) if a new policy bill is passed by parliament later this year.

In July, Kenya’s cabinet approved the funding hike in the draft science, technology and innovation (STI) policy bill to accelerate economic growth towards becoming a middle-income country by the year 2030.

The draft acknowledges that integrating STI in national development strategies cannot be achieved without increasing funding to the sector.

"It is a big victory for STI when the government approves not just what we had asked for — one per cent — but raised it to two per cent [of GDP]," Margaret Kamar, Kenya’s minister for higher education, science and technology, said at the Africa Science Journalists Conference in Kenya last month (20–24 August).

Kamar said the extra funding would start next July (2013) if parliament approves the budget.

"Then the treasury will be obliged by law to devote two per cent of GDP to the STI sector," said Kamar.

Currently, Kenya commits only 0.48 percent of GDP to science, which is below the one per cent target agreed by African heads of states at a meeting in Addis Ababa in 2006. Only South Africa has made a substantial progress toward that, with funding for research and development (R&D) standing at around 0.9 per cent.

Shaukat Abdulrazak, head of Kenya’s National Council for Science and Technology (NCST), told SciDev.Net: "It can be practical with good political will. I think one per cent is possible. In the long term two per cent is practical too; we have no option if we are to attain Vision 2030 [Kenya’s development blueprint], and be globally competitive.

"We have started gradually with limited resources, so funding will boost and speed up development in the STI sector. If we move from 0.48 to two per cent in two years, that would be great."

The move will reduce dependence on donor funding and help set the national R&D and STI agenda, Abdulrazak said.

He added that the bill will also help strengthen university research, which is currently underfunded; enhance capacity for postgraduate and postdoctoral training; and promote partnership with the private sector.

The bill will be scrutinised by the parliamentary committee on education, science and technology, which may suggest amendments, before it is sent to parliament for debate.