By Christopher Guta, PhD:
My compatriots: Discussing Malawi’s development should be a serious matter for all of us because there is so much desperation in our beloved country. The narrative about Malawi in international development discourse indicates in a negative sense that Malawi is a standout country regarding prospects for economic development. Indeed, a recent list of 25 poorest countries in the world places Malawi at position five. Only Niger, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Central African Republic are worse off in that order. That Africa accounts for 22 of the 25 poorest countries provides the context in which African leaders have articulated Africa’s Agenda 2063. The vision is that, by 2063, there will be “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa driven and managed by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena”.
Collectively, African leaders have placed science, technology and innovation (STI) at the centre of Africa’s development. African leaders believe that STI plays a critical role in enabling Africa move towards one of their six aspirations – that of a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable. The priority STI areas that support the above aspiration include education and STI-driven skills that respond in order to have in place well-educated citizenry with skills underpinned by STI, STI-driven manufacturing, industrialisation and value addition so as to transform African economies; and generation of knowledge responding to modern agricultural practices to improve agricultural productivity and production. STI is also expected to facilitate creation of environmentally sustainable and climate-resilient economies and communities.
African leaders demonstrated their commitment to STI as pedestal for Africa’s development in 2014 by adopting a 10-year Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024). STISA -2024, whose mission is to accelerate Africa’s transition to an innovation-led knowledge-based economy, has two overarching strategies that provide guidance for Malawi regarding the role of STI in development. The first strategy is that of improving STI readiness in Africa in terms of infrastructure, professional and technical competence and entrepreneurial capacity. The second is implementing specific policies and programmes in STI that address societal needs in a holistic and sustainable way.
My thoughts on development today revolve around the extent to which Malawi has positioned itself to take advantage of the STI directions articulated in Agenda 2063 and STISA-2024. The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy III (MGDS III) appears to have made effort to map Malawi’s development agenda onto Africa’s Agenda 2063 through its five priority areas of agriculture and climate change management, education and skills development, transport and ICT infrastructure, energy, industry and tourism; and health and population. While all these priority areas map very well onto Agenda 2063’s aspiration of a prosperous Africa based on inclusive and sustainable development, I am concerned about the laissez-faire approach MGDS III has adopted regarding the role of STI in Malawi’s development. It is clear to me that our policy makers and political leaders, who must have attended the forums that led to Agenda 2063, know and have seen how STI has been prioritised at continental level to the extent of adopting a specific strategy in the name of STISA-2024. Why is it the case that there is no corresponding commitment to adopting an STI-led development strategy in MGDS III? In fact, while STI featured as a specific cross-cutting issue in MGDS I and II, it has disappeared as a specific issue in MGDS III. The role of National Commission for Science and Technology in promoting STI in national development is barely audible in MGDS III. At the programming level, I was excited when I read the words ‘increase financing for NCST services’ thinking that they referred to National Commission for Science and Technology. But it was not so – NCST in that instance was an acronym for Nutrition Care Support and Treatment!
I must conclude by saying that not all is lost regarding STI in Malawi. We have registered some gains and I thank our scientists (including social scientists), engineers and technologists for their tenacity in this regard. I will be highlighting some of these gains in future. I am also encouraged with the diversity of degree programmes that now characterises curricula at our national and private universities. I heard recently students being selected to pursue degree programmes in mining, biomedical engineering and many other new fields unheard of when I was a student. This contributes to making Malawi STI ready in terms of professional and technical competence. The laissez-faire approach towards STI in MGDS III, however, does not auger well with the need for implementing specific policies and programmes in STI that address societal needs in a holistic and sustainable way. Thus, the need for improving policy and policy implementation environment for STI is, in my view, indicated.