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Scarce research funds hold back innovation

By Milliam Murigi
Wednesday, June 10th, 2020
STEPHEN MUCHIRI, the creator of auto alco-blow and winner of Little Big Things competition in 2019.

STEPHEN MUCHIRI, the creator of auto alco-blow and winner of Little Big Things competition in 2019, advocates for increased capacity for universities and other hubs so that creative ideas can find expression in novel products, inventions.

Milliam Murigi @millymur1

We have seen so many inventions around the globe for Covid-19 interventions, but in Kenya no much effort has been put in place to come up with new inventions why?

I think that it comes down to universities being closed. We all know that universities are crucial research and innovation hubs, and now that they are closed, potential innovators are devoid of the facilities such as laboratories they need to conduct research and prototyping.

In many other countries where most universities are open, students are helping to find a vaccine for Covid-19.

We still rely on inventions from other countries. Do we have the capacity as Kenyans for new inventions?

Kenyan youth have what it takes; we have seen Kenyatta University students make a ventilator and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology students coming up with an app to aid in the fight against Covid-19.

Because of this, I believe we have the required human capacity. Actually, Kenya has some of the most innovative brains in Africa; that is why you always hear about all these great innovationsy.

However, due to insufficient support, they end up looking for greener pastures abroad.

Despite all this, the government is not able to fund capital intensive research projects, even as research is a must for new inventions to be successful.

That’s why other countries, especially developed nations are aggressive when it comes to research and innovation.

According to you, what should be done to motivate more Kenyan innovators?

First, the government needs to allow some science and engineering students to resume school and encourage them to engage in research to find a vaccine.

The second thing is funding, research is never cheap and for a country like ours, we may not boast world class research facilities that other developed countries have.

I think it would be prudent for the government to allocate a significant amount of money to universities for research.

What challenges are you facing as an innovator trying to come up with new inventions during this period?

One of the challenges is access to components needed for research and prototyping.

With movement restrictions, it’s impossible to source those components and due to the ban on international travel, most of these components are unavailable locally unlike before.

What measures should be put in place to ensure more innovations come up?

I think we have to cultivate a culture of research and innovation and the best space for this is in the universities.

Universities and the government should sufficiently support students with brilliant ideas first with patenting and then helping them to commercialise these ideas.

I know the government has tried to come up with initiatives to protect ideas such as the Huduma WhiteBox, but only a handful of youths are aware of them.

Universities should incorporate Intellectual Property as a unit in first or second year so that potential innovators will be able to know how to protect their ideas.

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