Friday, October 8, 2021

The UNESCO Regional office Director, Prof. Hubert Gijzen, delivered a Public Lecture on Thursday, October 7, 2021 at Taifa Hall from 2:30 pm.

The public lecture titled: Role of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation in accelerating SDG Implementation outlined the main challenges that should be addressed in accelerating SDG implementation by identifying the roles universities and Science, Technology and Innovation can play in catalyzing the global transition towards a world and an Africa where people live in harmony between themselves and with nature.

While giving the public lectuter Prof. Gijzen, the UNESCO Regional Director, East Africa, posed the question: ‘how can Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) help leapfrog sustainable development in Africa? In order to answer this question the professor examined the role of STI in the past, present and future.

He noted that through the 1st Industrial revolution (steam engines), 2nd Industrial Revolution (electricity), 3rd Industrial Revolution (computing) and 4th Industrial Revolution (connectivity, advances in AI) the world was able to move forward but not at the same speed. Much of Africa has not even benefitted from the 2nd Industrial Revolution. Sub-Saharan Africa was left behind when the world went digital during the onset of COVID-19. 50% of schools lack access to electricity, leave alone an ICT connection.

Despite the fact that industrial, medical and transportation revolutions have been integral in improving people’s live, Prof. Gijzen emphasized the need for an STI revolution focused on sustainable development. This is because the mobilization of STIs to support development led to enormous growth and prosperity for many but left many people behind and the benefits came at a huge environmental cost.

The UNESCO Regional Director, East Africa, holds a PhD in Biotechnology, and has an established career of over 38 years in both academics and international cooperation for sustainable development. Throughout his career, he has lived and worked in various countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe, in a range of senior positions as Full Professor and Chair in Universities, as a Diplomat, Team Leader, Regional Representative, and currently as UNESCO Regional Director and Representative.” Noted Prof. Margaret Hutchinson, Associate Vice-Chancellor, Research, Innovation and Enterprise, University of Nairobi while reading Prof. Gijzen’s citation. Prof. Hutchinson was speaking on behalf of the Vice-Chancellor Prof. Stephen Kiama.

“Besides his current work for UNESCO, he holds academic positions as full Professor of Environmental Biotechnology at IHE Delft Institute for Water Education (since 1995) and as Visiting Professor in other institutions. He has published over 400 articles and books, and presented numerous keynotes in the fields of water management, microbiology, environmental sciences, biotechnology, and sanitary and environmental engineering. He also covered topics on international cooperation, sustainable development, the MDGs, SDGs, big data and climate change.”

Thus, sustainable development is essential in combating the state of severe imbalance between people e.g. rich and poor divide and the imbalance between people and planet earth e.g. air, soil and water pollution. Universities have an important role to play toward the achievement of sustainable development as they are the powerhouses for the production of science research and development capacity in any country.

In order to balance the imbalance between people and that between people and planet we need to manage these four issues: Energy, water, food, social. It will help to resolve related issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss and poverty which are all part of the SDGs.

We need new sources of energy, water, and a new mindset to transform the society

We need a long term vision of a sustainable world in which by mid-century, 9 billion people can live a decent quality life within the planet’s limited resources. This kind of world is one where there is unity in diversity, where different societies co-exist peacefully, where poverty is a syndrome of the past and a world with a green mindset through green cities, green economies and green living.

Prof. Gijzen encouraged universities especially those in Africa to play their part by utilizing the power of connectivity and cooperation in order to harmonize their programmes, build strong quality assurance systems, embark on joint collaborative programmes and add a focus on STEM courses with the goal of improving their competitiveness, quality of research and quality of skills they produce.

Africa will reap huge benefits from the collaborations between the different universities in the region and focus on STEM education. It is high time we unleash the African lions by focusing on education and investing in universities, R&D and STI.

Prof. Michael Chege and Dr. Emmanuel Manyasa reacted to the Public Lecture by Prof. Gijzen by urging researchers in universities to be dynamic and take up their rightful leadership positions in solving global challenges.