Towards the improvement of science in Kenya
10. November 2018 at 19:43
At the basic level, we all envisage a transformation from a backward, superstition-ridden to a progressive society using science and technology as instruments of social change. After 55 years, one expects tremendous physical growth in the scientific community in Kenya. However, in the spheres of social behaviour, scientific attitude is at a discount. In the case of national commitment to the development of science and technology, it is a paradoxical situation.Since Independence, Kenya has achieved a fairly stable social and political set up. Kenya has taken giant steps forward in industrialization, agriculture, science and education, but in almost every field she has achieved only a lopsided progress with the benefits of progress rarely even trickling down to the masses. A great majority of children remain illiterate and find no exposure to even the rudimentary benefits of science. Even more distressing is that those who benefit from “progress” have little thought for the rest. There is a total lack of accountability among Kenyan Scientists in the present day set-up. The reasons are not difficult to discern.
Kenya has set for herself the standards of the West. There is a complete lack of nationalist feeling among her scientists. We do western science, contribute to western journals, travel to the west as often as we can, recognize western awards, we even make desperate attempts to settle and work in the west, lured by the better financial prospects and working conditions.
The result: while Kenya boasts of one of the largest bodies of scientific and technical manpower within the East African Region, there is nothing like Kenyan Science, Kenyan scientific journals languish; and the science we do has neither direction nor any consistent policy. Research that we do is more or less tying up the loose ends after a major part of the work has been done by the Western scientists.
We have not been able to establish proper infrastructure, and even basic scientific equipment has to be imported with our limited resources. Building an infrastructure requires a lot of developmental work – often requiring the re-discovery of known scientific data in Kenyan conditions. Such work is painstaking and fetches little in terms of reward. We would rather import western and Chinese instruments and do faster work, publish papers in western journals and seek western awards.
Singapore had to start from scratch at about the same time as Kenya did. The Japanese and Russians, too, started no more than a couple of decades earlier. These three countries developed their own tradition in science through a systematic development of their scientific literature. Their advancement in infrastructural facilities has been so phenomenal that they publish scientific literature in local language journals. On the other hand, we have failed to bring out even college level text books in our local languages. Besides, Kenyan scientific publications are sometimes not even known to Kenyan scientists. They are neither read, contributed to, nor referred to by our own scientists to the same extent as the foreign journals are. A vast majority of Kenyan journals are of poor quality, because scientists contribute to our journals only such data as would often fail to see the light of day in foreign journals.
The policy makers in Kenya are as much to blame as the Individuals. While the former have made no effort to inculcate the nationalist feeling in the youth, the latter have been only too eager to ape the West not only in culture and lifestyle but also in the setting of academic standards in science! Immediate corrective action is necessary. We make an open appeal to both the policymakers and the individual scientists: Kenyan scientists should work in Kenya and work for Kenyan science – the science that is needed for rural development and for the masses. The accent must be on developmental work to pave the way for a durable infrastructure. All research funded from Kenyan resources should lead to publication in Kenyan journals. While our science policymakers must lay these restrictions on Kenyan scientists, the latter must take upon themselves the burden of this responsibility.