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BRIEFING NOTES FOR THE VICE PRESIDENT ON BUILDING BASIC SCIENCES IN AFRICA: THE TANZANIAN PERSPECTIV

BRIEFING NOTES FOR THE VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED REPUBLIC OF TANZANIA, DR. MOHAMMED GHARIB BILAL ON BUILDING BASIC SCIENCES IN AFRICA: THE TANZANIAN PERSPECTIVES  26 SEPTEMBER, 2011

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The Vice Chancellor
University of Uppsala,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentleman,


It gives me great pleasure and honor to be given this opportunity to participate  in the occasion to celebrate 50 years of the International Science Programme at the Uppsala University in Sweden.  I am also delighted to be here in Uppsala  a wonderful city with great tradition and a home of many scientific grants.  The University of Uppsala on its part had initiated 50 years ago a unique science programme.  A programme which has put great emphasis on the development of Basic Sciences in the developing world.

All over the world, Basic Sciences play a crucial role in the promotion of socio-economic development.  Basic Sciences enable individuals and communities in general to acquire capacity to understand and mold the environment we live in:  Basic Sciences contribute to inventions which in turn lead to increased productivity.

But because many developing countries have a weak base in basic sciences they are unable to exploit fully the potentials in Sciences, technology and innovations and hence realize only minimal benefits from recent advances in Science and technology.  Consequently the application of basic science have contributed, ironically, to widenind the gap between developed and developing nations.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
As many of you know more than 40 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population (that is roughly 300 million people) continue to live in extreme poverty.  Africa is the only continent where it is worried that not a single country will meet all of the eight millennium Development Goals come the year 2015.

Poverty, diseases and degradation continue to plague the continent.  The main cause of this backwardness in poor development and utilization of science based technologies.  Most of African countries, Tanzania included, have limited capacity to intern advances in science and technology.  The vicious circle of poor learning environment, uninspiring teaching and poor remuneration condemn most of developing countries to persistent poverty.  We would like to believe that science, technology and innovation promote social equity, reduce poverty, increase health care, and enhances quality of life, objectives which no one questions.  But the big question in Africa is where does one begin.

Over the last 50 years Tanzania, A country of approximately 42 million people, has struggled to address this question.  We initiated many development five year plans each one defining the key objectives thought to address selected priorities in few areas which were expected to be the driving forces to lift us from poverty. 

A lot of significant advances were achieved.  We succeeded, for example, to raise life expectancy, attain universal primary education, increase transition rate to secondary school, improve gender balance in education, improve maternal healthcare expand primary health delivery and many laudable results.  But we acknowledge that without the steady assistance of our developing partners  including Sweden we would not have done that well.

From the country’s track record, and borrowing a leaf from those who have made a major leap forward, the  Government knows it has to invest and invest heavily in science and education if we are to overcome some of the persistent development problems.  This is one reason why education has been allocated a lion share of about 20 percents in the government budget.  Due recognition has also been accorded to research in science and that is why beginning with last financial year one percent of GDP has been allocated to research. 

This will invigorate post graduate training and reduce the acute shortage of trained university lecturers and professors.  In the same spirit a new institute of science and technology to be known as the Nelson Mandela Institute of Science and Technology will soon start admitting post graduate students, in key areas of Science and Technology.  Under the able stewardship of Professor Burton Mhamila, who incidentally is with us here we believe we will go along way to strengthening and building research capacity in Tanzania.   It is imperative that bold initiatives must emanate from within.  We must be convinced that we can bring about change ourselves, steer the country into prosperity because we can do so, and we will do so.  We have good example to show this is possible.  In the span of five years we raised secondary school enrolment more than three folds.  We built a modern University from internal resources which has an enrolment of more than 20 thousand, and we have enabled all qualified applicant to enter university through expanded loan scheme.

But this huge increase of the secondary school leavers and University graduates poses a new set of challenges.  Like in most African Countries the burgeoning youth population also puts a lot of stress on the economy and social cohesion.  All these are issues we can not afford to overlook.

But we reckon however that Sweden has been one of the major partners in development in Tanzania providing critical assistance in many key sectors such  as education, health and environment to mention but a few.  Some Swedish support has gone directly to the government, some to institutions such as universities and some to individual researchers  through the Swedish funding agencies of SIDA and SAREC. Many government institutions such as Universities, science commission received Swedish research grants. The Swedish research cooperation is directed to building and strengthening research capacity in diverse areas leading in some cases to degree programmes at Masters and PhD levels.

To illustrate this I would like to focus on one such cooperation programme which has had a singular impact in Tanzania. It is the ISP cooperation and its earlier predecessor IPPS.  ISP has given opportunities for young scholars in physics from Tanzania to get professional training, work with excellent and expert scientists in well equipped laboratories at the same time choose areas of  future specialization in Physics.

The International Science Programme has helped to structure the Physics department at the University of Dar es Salaam and has influenced the future development of physics in Tanzania.  This was in keeping with the expressed aims of the International Seminars in Physics and Chemistry of initiating the creation of research groups at Universities and national laboratories in developing countries.

The early participants from Tanzania of the International Science Programme in physics went on to become staff members of the Physics Department.  But each participant pursued different area of physics.  The department of physics at that time lacked structure.  It was in the formative stages with many short-term expatriate staff staying for about two years doing mostly undergraduate teaching.  ISP encouraged the formation of research groups and the department subsequently coalesced into four research groups.  ISP’s eye was mostly on the solar energy group, followed by the nuclear physics group.  The remaining groups were agricultural and environmental physics group and lastly geophysics group.

These four research directions firmed up in the early eighties and clearly influenced new recruitment of the future teaching staff of the department.  But one of these research group stood out.  It was better organized. It had better links with active and experienced research groups in Sweden, thus getting effective mentoring.  The group has emerged as a regional center for solar energy studies and thin film technology.  Its leader Professor Rogath Kivaisi has steadfastly led the group to where it is today, thanks to unweavering support from IPPS/ISP and SIDA/SAREC over the years.

The solar energy group has given an impetus to regional cooperation in which regional scientist and technicians from, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda and other countries in the region have taken advantage of the presence of the state of the art equipment available at the University of Dar es Salaam.  These versatile  pieces of equipment have been acquired from  research grants provided by SIDA/SAREC through ISP.  It has been gratifying to see young scientists from East African region same time assemble in Dar es Salaam at the Department  of Physics.  At times technicians or new inductees in laboratory technology would attend a college on thin film technology under the directorship of Prof. Kivaisi.

Thus the University of Dar es Salaam/ISP cooperation has been exemplary providing a unique model of North-South research cooperation.  Excellent research findings and publications have emerged from this cooperation.  Partnerships have been created and future generation of physicists have been molded   undoubtedly there has been more than building a scientific laboratory of world class.  The cooperation has implanted a scientific fervour to explore new knowledge, new skills and better understanding of our environment.  I believe a tradition in the pursuit of knowledge has been rooted in our fledgling Universities in developing countries.

Traditions which spawn new research groups or interests attracting younger generations of scientists and researchers.

We have a duty to encourage the youth to study science and provide them with role models to see in them how rewarding and exciting scientific work can be.  We can do this if we can point to success stories of admirable achievements and self-fulfillment in their midst.  More Kivaisis must emerge.  IPPS and later ISP has helped to make this possible and provided a template of North-South cooperation in Research.  We salute those who initiated this wonderful programme and salute equally those who have steered it over the past 50 years to greater heights.  It was only through their dedication and belief that a greater good can come of it that what has been achieved was possible.  I wish to mention those I personally worked with for so many years promoting science and building alliances and cooperation between Sweden and Tanzania and Africa and Europe.  I have in mind Prof. Lennart Hasselgren and his entire staff in Uppsala.

Whatever the planned objectives of those who initiated this wonderful programme in Sweden, we in Tanzania have nothing but praise, deep appreciation and gratitude for unlocking new possibilities and stimulating the growth of science in Tanzania.  Of course Swedish support was not limited to science.  It encampused  literally all areas in our struggle to build a better Tanzania.

Thus we in Tanzania see that with our common humble desire to serve mankind and achieve academic excellence as well as making an attempt at bridging the expansive knowledge divide between North and South and between young and old academic institution we have made a good start.  Today we have come together here in this great City of Uppsala to celebrate mankind in its salutary commitment to advance knowledge.  This is the legacy we are keen to see it etched in our national universities.  For we believe that the glory sought by those in pursuit of academic excellence transcends material gains or achievement.

In conclusion may I say that
In partnership with our friends in development we will forge ahead more determined and resolute.

I thank you for inviting me here and your attention.  
 


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