African Academics Must Rise and Provide Contextually Relevant Research Outputs That Inform Africa’s Development Agenda

October 1, 2015

By Prof. David Ngaruiya-International Leadership University, Dr. Shiprah Kuria, AMREF Health Africa and Dr. Martha Kiarie-Daystar University

Africa prides herself in as much as it towers above the rest of planet as a giant on earth on winning marathons, producing the best coffee and having great deposits of mineral wealth including gold and diamonds.  The continent however remains a dwarf on research, the key endevour that has catapulted nations such as the United States and Israel, Asian tigers such as South Korea and Singapore to greatness in development. There is inadequate convergence of government and university interests aside from much talked about corruption prevalent in many establishments. Ironically, Africa’s own son, Barack Obama is twice a father to the most powerful research oriented nation in the world.  Africans want better services from their national governments yet hardly any universities are interfacing or engaging with governments to provide research evidence that informs the policies that impact such desired services.

During the research governance and management training workshop organized by the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) on from August 31 to September 2, 2015, Dr. Alex Ezeh the Executive Director at APHRC highlighted the critical role of research in national and social development. He challenged the university research leaders to create strong research functions that can offer research leadership to faculty and students creating the right incentives with a good balance of research and academic teaching. The African universities and institutional research leaders have to take responsibility for fostering research vibrancy on the continent.

Research requires rigor and a lot of inputs.  It took billions of dollars and decades of rigorous research to land a man on the moon, develop vaccines, and create revolutionary evolving technological innovations such as the Mpesa in Kenya.  This has had immense gains for mankind in development of the space industry, saved millions of children’s’ lives and revolutionized the banking and industrial sector. In view of the limited government and university funds for research, the university research function should be fashioned to provide strong support to faculty and postgraduate students to attract research funding from development and funding agencies. Maintaining institutional financial integrity and a supportive development office are key ingredient for institutions to attract funding for research work.

Rigorous research and its dissemination is the “DNA” that should fuel universities and the driver of informed national policies which African government needs for national development.  What irks our beloved continent in research endevours?

Nations such as Kenya have begun an upward trajectory by devoting 2% of its GDP to research particularly domiciled in universities. This commitment is below Israel’s 4.8 %, Japan’s 3.4% and United States 2.7% GDP devotion to research particularly considering the differences in sizes of these economies in comparison to Kenya.  Such funds can be utilized in actualization of solutions to priority areas such as food security, innovation, technology and equity in education.   Africa universities must raise up to the call of evidence generation through robust research by faculty and graduate students.

For this to happen, academics will have to step out of the classroom and engage with scientific rigor that generates and disseminates research evidence to a wider audience. The African story ought to be spoken by the African scholars. Most of what is known or written from research about Africa is by non-African researchers. While such research has contributed much to what is known about the continent, the calling is for African academics to arise and provide contextually relevant, research output that informs African governments’ development agenda on policy and practice. African researchers and academics should no longer be comfortable with in the lack of research evidence and its role in influencing national policies and practices in Africa.

Dependence on international technical assistance by African nations cannot result in development and Africa loses more from dependence than it gains. There is much need to acknowledge the role of indigenous capabilities within the development agenda.  This is where African governments and universities interests ought to converge in partnership.  Such convergence is mutually beneficial in advancing the interests of both partners.  It will break the current undesired but persistent silo mentality for the two partners and will result in accelerated development of our beloved continent.

The authors of this blog were participants at the Research Governance and Management Training conducted by APHRC in August 2015