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A Science Dream Come True

ICTP-EAIFR offers hope for Africa's science development

24/10/2018 - Kigali

Alaa Mohammed Bakhit of Sudan aspires to be an astrophysicist. Jean Claude Uwayezu, from Rwanda, dreams of becoming an international researcher. Aloys Rubwiriza wants to study geophysics to understand the volatile volcanic activities in his native northern Rwandan region.

The three are among the first intake of students at ICTP's new partner institute in Rwanda, the East African Institute for Fundamental Research (EAIFR). Inaugurated on 18 October, EAIFR offers the same quality research and educational opportunities for which ICTP is world-renowned, but at a location more easily accessible to African scientists. It has been designated a UNESCO Category 2 institute in recognition of its important role in building scientific capacity in Africa.

EAIFR was officially opened at a ceremony attended by hundreds of African scientists young and old, along with their international counterparts. The Minister of Education for Rwanda, Dr. Eugene Mutimura, began his address to the crowd by thanking ICTP for choosing Rwanda as the host country for the new centre.

"I am delighted to learn that partner institutes are now an integral part of the strategy of the ICTP to enhance its mission. The ICTP-EAIFR is central to ICTP's direct involvement in Africa," he said.

Top left: Minister of Education for Rwanda, Dr. Eugene Mutimura, at the ICTP-EAIFR inauguration ceremony; at top right, ICTP DIrector Fernando Quevedo.

Bottom row, from left to right: new ICTP-EAIFR students Alaa Mohammed Bakhit, Jean Claude Uwayezu and Aloys Rubwiriza (credit: Giovanni Ortolanni/ICTP Photo Archives)

The African continent still faces a significant challenge related to numbers of well-trained professionals in science and technology, and therefore cannot fully take advantage of the benefits science, technology and innovation can offer, explained Minister Mutimura. He shared sobering statistics about the state of African research: "The region as a whole is still characterized by relatively low resources devoted to research and development....the average expenditure devoted to R&D for countries in the region remains less than 0.4% of GDP."

Minister Mutimura stated that Africa is home to 15% of the world’s population and produces just 2% of the world’s research output.  The continent currently has 198 researchers per million people, compared with 428 in Chile and over 4,000 in the UK and US. "To achieve just the world average for the number of researchers per capita, the continent needs another million new PhDs," he said.

He ended his speech on a positive note, however, quoting the words of Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda, who spoke at ICTP's 50th anniversary celebration in October 2014: “The ICTP’s commitment to establish its East African Regional Centre in Rwanda is of great practical and symbolic importance to us as a nation. We look forward to working together with the rest of the region and ICTP to make this venture a success. You can count on our strong support.”

"This is a historical moment for ICTP-EAIFR, and for ICTP," remarked ICTP Director Fernando Quevedo at the ceremony. "ICTP is the most successful international organization to support science world-wide. Governments and policy makers are appreciating how important science is. To take steps to improve the level of science in the world, particularly in developing countries, it is good to see an example, and ICTP is such an example. We want ICTP-EAIFR to be a projection of ICTP for all of Africa."

Quevedo shared the institute's belief that no continent has a monopoly of talented people; rather, the talent for science and technology is distributed worldwide. "As long as you have the opportunities to develop your career and do your research, then you are able to do it in spite of your origins," he said, adding, "Developing countries have been lacking these opportunities. ICTP wants to add to that effort worldwide. We have trained enough African scientists at ICTP to know that they are capable and can perform well, and now we want to enhance that activity based here in Africa where we can have much more impact."

He concluded, "We have big expectations for EAIFR."

ICTP-EAIFR is hosted by the University of Rwanda and supported by the Government of Rwanda's Ministry of Education. It has been designated a UNESCO Category 2 institute in recognition of its important role in building scientific capacity in Africa.

ICTP has been helping to create other institutes, such as the ICTP-South American Institute for Fundamental Research in Brazil and the Mesoamerican Centre for Theoretical Physics in Mexico (in process). It will soon open a new UNESCO category 2 institute, ICTP-Asia Pacific, in China.


 --Mary Ann Williams