By Henry Kyambalesa
I recently read an article entitled “Government Urges Local Scientists to Be More Competitive” which appeared in the Lusaka Times (LT) of December 2, 2009. In the article, Science and Technology Minister Gabriel Namulambe was reported as having toured government-funded projects at the Technology Development Advisory Unit (TDAU) at the University of Zambia.
Technological inventions and innovations are of immense value to any given society. We, for example, know very well that the affluence being enjoyed in such countries as Canada, Japan, Great Britain, and the United States today is the direct outcome of a relentless quest for new and improved forms of technology in agriculture, agribusiness, commerce, and the manufacturing industries by individuals and institutions in such countries.
In developing countries like Zambia, on the contrary, zealous efforts by national governments to break the bondage of the masses of their people to misery, want and destitution have been thwarted partly by chronic scientific and technological backwardness. In Zambia, the scientific and technological sector is perhaps one of the obvious sectors where our country will continue to lag behind due to a host of constraints, which include the following:
(a) Traditional beliefs that are inconsistent with the promise and routines of science and technology, such as the association of the occurrence of such natural phenomena as lightning and the rainbow with fierce, giant snakes;
(b) Conspicuous neglect of formal and tertiary education;
(c) Failure by business, government and other institutions to use or promote findings or recommendations associated with research and development (R&D) activities under the pretext that they are merely ‘book materials’ which have no practical value;
(d) Inadequate scientific and technological (S&T) infrastructure, and the existence of a weak arrangement for facilitating the development of conceived product ideas and technological innovations;
(e) Misplacement of trained personnel, mainly due to political considerations;
(f) Inability of tertiary educational institutions to censor research and study programs that are not consistent with the current and/or future needs of commerce, industry and government;
(g) Dependence on foreign technology, which has made indigenous scientists and technologists in the country to be less creative because they expect industrialized nations to provide the necessary technical know-how;
(h) Loss of trained nationals to other countries through the brain drain, which has robbed the country of potential inventors and innovators;
(i) Patent protection (which was extended from 17 to 20 years by the World Trade Organization in 1993), which affords current inventors and innovators the opportunity to prevent potential competitors from entering certain technical fields or markets;
(j) A small domestic market, which cannot support the introduction of advanced production techniques that which normally evolve rates of output that are well beyond the size of the local market, and the inaccessibility of foreign markets due to poor transport infrastructure and other increment factors;
(k) A sluggish economy, which, among other things, cannot support investments in science and technology; and
(l) Lack of, or inadequate, political will and commitment to the advancement of scientific and technological know-how.
There are many practical ways and means by which the Zambian government and business institutions can stimulate the supply of, and/or the demand for, new forms of technology, such as the following: (a) addressing the needs of formal education; (b) designing research and study programs that are consistent with the needs of society; (c) adequately supporting R&D activities; (d) fostering innovation and creativity in commerce and industry through tax and other kinds of incentives; (e) generation of a suitable population policy designed to increase the size of the local market through population growth; (f) engaging in multilateral S&T initiatives with technologically advanced countries; and (g) keen governmental leadership.
Getting rid of sinecures in government, among other things, can release financial and material resources for investment in science and technology.