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[NAIROBI] Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki has appointed two of the country's top scientists as government advisors.

Last week, Calestous Juma, a renowned scientist and Harvard University professor, and Romano Kiome, director general of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), joined the government's national economic and social council, which is chaired by the president. Their role will be to guide Kibaki on the role of science in reducing poverty.

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua says the two scientists were appointed because of the immense knowledge and experience of both science and poverty reduction that they have acquired over the years.

"They will be a source of knowledge that we need to use for scientific development and poverty alleviation," he says.

Mutua told SciDev.Net that Juma's high standing as a consultant on scientific issues to foreign governments and United Nations (UN) agencies was the deciding factor in his appointment by president Kibaki.

Juma currently heads a special UN task force on science and technology, and holds a dual role at Harvard University in the United States, acting as director of the science, technology and globalisation project at Harvard's Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs, and senior associate at the Centrer for International Development.   

Rising from humble beginnings as a science teacher and a science journalist in Kenya, Juma has become a leading light in science policy development. He was responsible for setting up the African Centre for Technology Studies in Nairobi, a science policy think tank.

As director general of KARI, Kiome is head of one of the more well-established research institutes working on agricultural and scientific issues in Kenya. His appointment is expected to lead to the development of new scientific approaches in agriculture.

Many see the appointments as a big step on the part of Kibaki to recognise the role of science and scientists in Kenya's development. When opening a bio-safety 'greenhouse' early this year, Kibaki called for more cooperation between the government and scientists, both nationally and internationally.

Last month, a motion to increase funding for researchers both in the public universities and government-funded research institutes was passed in parliament (see Kenyan parliament calls for university research fund). The development was widely applauded by Kenya's scientific community.

"Scientists in Kenya have been given support by the government in the past, but the co-operation has been so poor," says Mutua. "This is why we are reaching out to them to plough back the knowledge for national development."

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