By Dr. Darren Wilkins ([email protected], 0777129092 & 0886703789)
Upon taking over as President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, His Excellency Julius Maada Bio, set up a Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation, and appointed the Country’s first Chief Innovation Officer to head that entity. This “Directorate” is stationed within the Office of the President, although it is expected to execute its functions through the Office of the Country’s Chief Minister. The vision of the “Directorate” is to transform Sierra Leone into a prosperous nation through Science, Technology and Innovation. It is expected to facilitate and support a “vibrant national innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem for both public and private sectors.”
For the pasts two decades, African countries and many global organizations (UN, World Bank, ADB, etc), have touted the idea of solving the continent’s myriad of problems with science, Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) and Innovation. During these two decades, some governments managed to champion this idea, using a plethora of approaches, including the creation of departments, agencies, commissions or ministries of “Science and Technology” or “ICT & Innovation” or “Science, Innovation and Industry”, and so on. While many African countries (Rwanda, South Africa, Ghana, et al) have achieved some level of success with this idea, there is a significant number of African countries that lag behind. Liberia is one of those countries. Hitherto this write-up, Liberia is yet to make vehement efforts to achieve an “innovation-driven” environment.
Sometime in 2013, I wrote an article in this paper, calling for the establishment of a Ministry of Science Technology and Industry. That article was based on information garnered on the poor performance of the nation’s manufacturing industry, and a subsequent debate on the issue in the social media. I concluded that the manufacturing industry faced stiff competition from imported goods and services, and that there was a need for a paradigm shift in that industry.
Again, sometime in 2016, I, along with Mr. Sebastian Muah, then Managing Director of Liberia Telecommunications Corporation, developed a document that would lead to the establishment of the Liberia Information and Communications Technology Agency (LICTA). This agency would handle all of the Government of Liberia’s ICT strategy and operations, for efficiency, cost-effectiveness and improve the provision of services by Government to the people, using ICTs. LICTA, unlike other institutions that fall under the traditional governance structure and slow-moving bureaucracy of government ministries, was designed to work within the Office of the President, similar to the President’s Delivery Unit (PDU).
Once again, I am recommending the establishment of an agency, commission, ministry that will champion Science Innovation and ICTs, similar to what Sierra Leone has done. The “entity” of which I speak, shall operate within the Office of the President, thereby giving the head a seat at cabinet meeting. This recommendation may sound a bit ambitious for one of the most beleaguered nations on the continent, but it is intended to help bump-start a totally strangulated economy through Science, Innovation and ICTs. It is also intended to leapfrog Liberia’s economic development efforts and enable us achieve some level of modernity.
The establishment of a Science, Innovation and ICT “champion” may require merging or eliminating some existing Government institutions which are not impacting the country’s economy. This does not necessarily mean that people are going to lose their jobs. In fact, existing employees of institutions that are affected by the establishment of this new entity will be re-trained and re-positioned for operational efficiency and effectiveness.
The role of the “entity”, will be to develop and coordinate Science and ICT policy, develop a whole-of-government approach on ICT and use innovation as a key enabler of the knowledge economy; support and invest in research and development to meet the Country’s future challenges, build a strong relationship with key innovation and ICT industry stakeholders, improve government service delivery through efficient use of ICT services and shared services; help Liberian businesses and consumers to benefit from current and emerging digital technologies and services, and so on.
Make no mistake, the establishment of a Science, Innovation and ICTs champion ICT, “champion” in Liberia, will not necessarily transform Liberia into an innovation fortress overnight. But, it is a crucial step forward which could have significant impact on our economy and improve our ranking in the global community. Sierra Leone, our neighbor has achieved something that needs to be emulated by any nation seeking social and economic development. We should take a “play” from their playbook and apply it to our efforts for national economic development.
Take a look around you: In Ghana, there’s a Ministry of Communication and Technology and a Ministry of Environment and Science; in Nigeria, there’s a Ministry of Science and Technology. In Niger there’s a Ministry of Secondary and Higher Education, and Technology and Research; in the Cote d’Ivoire there is Ministry of New Technologies, Information, & Communication. Many countries today have some sort of agency or ministry that champions the integration, utilization and incorporation of Science, Innovation and ICTs in their societies. In Liberia, the closest we’ve come to that is the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, which in my opinion, does not suffice for a country that needs to move or leapfrog into the 21st century.
We live in a rapidly changing world and many nations are being left behind as change accelerates, and technologies become more complex and pervasive. The wide array of technological advancements before us, including big data, the Internet of Things, cloud computing robotics, artificial intelligence, and genome mapping, which are all part of the fourth industrial revolution, have forced nations to review and remodel their national policies and development plans to ensure they are responsive to emerging and global opportunities. Liberia must decisively respond to the needs and concerns of the marginalized and excluded. We need to be as nimble as possible in our responses. We cannot be left behind!! Until next week,