In his blog article, ‘Malawi Renaissance: a Must Philosophy’, Bright Molande aptly describes the first task of the Malawi University of Science and Technology (Must).
He writes: “The stone unveiling for Malawi University of Science and Technology in Thyolo is also the official launching of African Renaissance in the country.”
Molande says the Mutharikas’ (Bingu then the president and Peter the then Minister of Education) speeches during the stone unveiling of Must “vowed their common dream for the university’s unique role in pursuing Malawi’s scientific and technological goals that inspire cultural pride and our self-belief in us as a capable people. If the university is driven to its goals, it will cultivate the spirit of self-dependence and self-pride”.
And now Must is here in its third year of existence since it opened doors to the first batch of students in March 2014.
Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Immanuel Fabiano, during a recent Must’s Open Day, meant to mark first anniversary of its existence, also recognised and commended the university for its innovation dreams.
It was Bingu’s dream that the university plant a spirit of researching into and developing indigenous resources for a science and technology that remains industrial-oriented.
Apart from scientific and industrial engineering, Bingu envisioned that the university also include a special faculty in African Tradition Medicine and African Arts to enhance indigenous resources and inspire the people’s pride in what we locally have.
In other words, the university was designed as an Afro-centric institution which incorporates an African spirit and define its future in development.
This is why Mammo Muchie, a well-known pan-Africanism Nigerian scholar, argues that universities in Africa should be made in the image of Africa.
Must followed this thinking and was established in the image of Malawians to reflect their daily challenges.
Molande says “the uniqueness of the new university lies in its philosophy that science and technology is most relevant and meaningful to people when it involves the people’s wisdom and evolves with their culture.”
Now it is understood Must has established the Bingu School of African Culture and Heritage’ and this brings hope that Bingu’s dream to champion the African progress in science and technological innovation using local resources will finally see the light.
Must Vice-Chancellor, Address Malata, formerly the principal of Kamuzu College of Nursing and Robert Chanunkha, the first Dean of the Bingu School of African Culture and Heritage, formerly of the University of Malawi’s (Unima) Chancellor College’s Performing and Fine Arts Department, has a huge responsibility to propel Bingu’s dream to reality.
Malawi technological innovations
Malawi like many African nations lags behind in technological innovations. Until William Kamkwamba and Mixon Faluweki came with their internationally acclaimed innovations, the country would have no technological innovations to show to the world.
Kamkwamba, a boy from Wembe Village in Kasungu, bewildered the world for his innovation in ingeniously using simple materials to make a windmill that generated electricity for people around his home.
For that, he was awarded a scholarship to study sciences at Dartmouth College in the United States of America.
And in 2014, Malawi got another hope in Faluweki.
Faluweki, then a Bachelor of Education Science student at Chancellor College, now an Associate Lecturer at Must, invented a bicycle mobile phone charger, which he has called the Padoko charger to help rural people power their phones on the readily available material – the bicycle.
His innovation won the 2014 award in Global Innovations through Science and Technology by the American Associations of Science Advancement, in an event held in Marrakech in Morocco.
But of all, Malawi’s hope for advancement in science and technological innovations, mainly rests in the Must.
Innovation hubs and culture
In a modern world, innovation has become a buzz word for development planners. Almost anyone is saying: We must innovate, we must innovate.
It is said Africa needs innovations most than the rest of the continents due to the myriad poverty challenges it faces.
The World Bank in a 2011 report on innovations stresses that innovation is a major source of improved productivity, competitiveness and economic growth throughout advanced and emerging economies, and plays an important role in creating jobs, generating income, alleviating poverty and driving social development.
World Bank says if nations are to cope, compete and thrive in the midst of changes in agriculture and the economy, they must innovate continuously.
But birthing and promoting a culture of technological innovations is a challenge for the African continent and Malawi in particular.
At the beginning of the 21st century, only four African countries in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and South Africa displayed strongly diversified economies with functioning and reasonably well-articulated innovation systems. Kenya and Ghana are also reported to be on the right course towards vibrant technological innovations.
Elsewhere, like in Malawi, the innovation systems are called to be emergent or disarticulated.
While Malawi has only recently established one innovation hub hosted at The Polytechnic of Unima – a joint initiative with Unicerf, in Kenya hundreds of innovation hubs are propping up at every corner of the country’s streets.
The innovation hubs are important because they act as anchoring points of innovators. Young innovators get support from such hubs.
Of course, the rest of Malawi universities are playing much bigger roles in attempting technological innovations. For example, the Lilongwe University Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) has as its guiding motto ‘Knowledge Innovation Excellence’. But Must still should lead the way to the country’s breakthrough in technological innovations.
Malawi’s need for innovations strategy
The United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York, in September 2015, launched the post-2015 development goals framed as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a 17-point development plan which replaces the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Goal 9 of the SDGs, for the first time in UN’s global goals, incorporates innovation as one of the means to achieving development aims. The goal aims to “build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation”.
The 10-year Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024) which focuses on higher technical training, especially in the engineering, entrepreneurial and innovation fields, is also part of the efforts to improving innovation systems on the continent.
Malawi must be part of this large movement in technological innovation culture for development and it is Must’s duty to lead this large movement in the country.
For now, Must must consider to first engage itself in a debate and research focusing on what activities and conditions precisely drive innovation and, more importantly, the internal processes that affect the people’s ability to innovate in Malawi.
Experts in innovations argue that while innovation come from individual talents but the main driving factors of innovation are caused by socio-cultural or political-economic conditions that affect the people’s rationality capacity to innovate.
Currently, apart from setting up the National Commission of Science and Technology in 2003, Malawi has no national systems of innovation, policy which can help defining the course for the promotion of technological innovations in the country.
Now as Must lead the country to developing a culture of innovations, the formulation of the national systems of innovation is necessary if the country is to be on the right path to technological innovations.