The creation of an independent ministry for Science, Technology and Innovation this week has attracted praise for President Museveni from scientists and believers in Science in Uganda with many expressing hope the science agenda will be elevated to a higher level.
President Museveni this week nominated Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, the former Minister of Health and a medical doctor as the pioneer minister for Science and Technology.
It is expected that the new ministry will be responsible for championing Uganda’s policy agenda as well as supervising the implementation of Research and Development activities in the country.
Among the key institutions that will likely come under the new ministry is the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST) whose previous location under the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development was a constant source of lamentations among scientists.
In several meetings, scientists have lamented that their issues are usually relegated by technocrats in the ministry of finance, because they hardly understand the concepts and methods of scientific inquiry.
Dr. Andrew Kiggundu, a senior research scientist at the National Agriculture Research Laboratories (NARL) told The Sunrise that: “For me, this is what Uganda science and technology waited for for a very long time. I can never be happier. Finally the president has shown his commitment to move the S&Ti agenda forward as a driver to economic development.”
Erostus Nsubuga, the proprietor of Agro-Genetic Laboratories which produces tissue culture plantlets and also the chairman of the Uganda Biotechnology and Biosafety Consortium (UBBC) said that scientific matters have now found the right place.
“This is a positive step. We are hopeful that we are going to be listened to better than before” Nsubuga added: “If you look at all the neighbouring countries, they have a separate ministry for science and technology.”
Kiggundu adds that the ministry will be expected to promote protection of intellectual property rights by creators of scientific innovations. “IP protection stimulation of innovation can see an upsurge of local scientific and industrial products in the same way strengthening copyright laws did to local music and other arts.”
Although Dr. Tumwesigye was named without an assistant, the scientists have pledged to support him in establishing the organs of the ministry as well as drawing up a mission and vision for the ministry and linking up with like-minded institutions.
The vacuum that was created by the absence of a champion of science in cabinet has left many critical national problems unattended to or relegated by the government. Some of these include weak failures in observing and monitoring government expenditure on Research and Development, absence of a dedicated budget for R&D.
And Dr. Kiggundu adds: “Most immediate will be to absorb UNCST. Second, to champion Uganda’s S&Ti strategy and plan. He needs to work very close to Education and force them to bring back science instruction to schools collages and universities as well as stimulation of innovation by implementing clear IP protection at all levels.”
The Uganda Vision 2040, envisions greater use of R&D in many sectors such as agriculture, industry and services. The proposed Biosafety and Biotechnology bill 2012, is one of the proposed laws that have gotten stuck in Parliament, reportedly because of a champion in cabinet who is passionate about science and technology but also has ear of the president.