Students and staff of Makerere University’s College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology have unveiled a Ugandan made car to much delight and excitement at the campus and in the country at large.
Named Kiira EV, the two-seater electricity driven vehicle, which can comfortably travel at 100km per hour because of its light weight, needs to be recharged after covering 80km. The university owes its success in this venture to, among others, President Museveni who took particular interest and extended a grant of Shs 5bn that partly made it all possible.
However, as the Vice Chancellor, Prof Venansius Baryamureeba noted after watching Kiira EV pass its first road test at the campus on Tuesday, Makerere cannot solely rely on government funding for such research initiatives. He wants the business community to join the effort in a mutually beneficial partnership.
Research is an expensive undertaking. For instance, Makerere would need at least Shs 30bn to set up a specialised vehicle research centre, and much more to develop innovative capacity in biochemistry, food science and veterinary medicine, among other areas. But the university presently gets only Shs 30bn from the government annually. More than half of this goes into staff salaries, leaving almost nothing for research.
By contrast, the University of Minnesota’s Public Health school, famed for its innovations in vaccination, has an annual budget of $500m (Shs 1.3 trillion), with only 7% of this coming from the US government.
It goes without saying, therefore, that more resources are essential if innovation is to thrive at Makerere. It will obviously be a long time before Uganda can dream of manufacturing cars at a commercial scale, but this innovation is nevertheless significant in other ways.
First, it underlines the importance of investing in science and technology. Second, it shows that Uganda has well trained and capable scientists whose innovation abilities are hampered by poor funding.
Moreover, it must not be forgotten that many Ugandan and African born scientists are doing great things in Europe and America. If they can excel over there, why not here, given the right stimuli?