07.11.2016 - Natural Sciences Sector

Rwanda integrating environmental protection in its growth strategy

© World Bank Photo Library. Rwanda is investing in both hard and soft infrastructure to expand exports in manufacturing and agro-processing.

On 2 September 2016, President Kagame of Rwanda attended the annual naming ceremony for newborn baby gorillas(1) in the Volcanoes Biosphere Reserve, known as Kwita Izina. ‘Today is not only about Kwita Izina’, he told the gathering, ‘it is also about remembering that development must be founded on protecting our environment. ‘There is no trade-off between economic growth and protecting our environment, they complement each other’.

Rwanda made the headlines in September 2008 when it became one of the first countries in the world to ban plastic bags. These have since been replaced by biodegradable bags made from materials such as cotton, banana and papyrus.

Rwanda’s commitment to environmental protection has not hampered growth. On the contrary, GDP grew by 5.5% on average over the past decade, according to the World Bank, including by 4.4% in 2015. This growth has benefited the population, with GDP per capita being 44% higher in 2013 (PPP$ 1 474) than six years earlier.

Rwanda is convinced that science, technology and innovation (STI) hold a key to its sustainable development, according to the UNESCO Science Report (2015). This conviction is embodied in the country’s Vision 2020 (2000) for becoming a middle-income country by 2020 and in its National Policy on Science, Technology and Innovation, published in October 2005 with support from UNESCO and the United Nations University. There is no dedicated ministry for science and technology in Rwanda but, in 2009, the Directorate-General of Science, Technology and Research was established under the Ministry of Education to implement the National Policy on Science, Technology and Innovation.

Industrialization at heart of economic development strategy

The priority given to STI is also reflected in Rwanda’s first and second Economic Development for Poverty Reduction Strategies (2007–2012 and 2013–2018). The latter strategy prioritizes information and communication technologies (ICT), energy and ‘green’ innovation and proposes creating a Climate Change and Environment Innovation Centre. It also sets out to develop the private sector and attract foreign direct investment, the latter having contributed just 1.5% of GDP in 2013.

One of the strategy’s five main thrusts is to invest in hard and soft infrastructure to meet the energy demand of the private sector. In line with the Energy Policy (2012), the procurement process will be made more transparent and competitive. Public finance will be used to ‘de-risk’ electricity generation projects for the private sector, in order to attract a wider range of investors on better terms. An energy development fund will be established with donor support to finance feasibility studies on geothermal, peat and methane resources and hydropower.

The Kigali Economic Zone is currently being finalized and will have an associated technopole. The government is developing an ICT park in Kigali, in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University in the USA and the African Development Bank.

Over the past five years, the government has put in place a fibre optic network to connect the entire country and link it to its neighbours. In 2012, the Information Technology Innovation Centre (kLab) was established in Kigali to serve as a place where young software developers and recent university graduates from computer science and engineering programmes can work on their entprepreneurial projects. KLab is supported by the Rwanda Development Board.

In July 2010, the five members of the East African Community formed a common market which provides for the free movement of goods, services, labour and capital. Three years later, they signed a Monetary Union Protocol with the aim of establishing a common currency within 10 years. Currently, however, expanding trade with Rwanda’s neighbours and beyond is hindered by the poor state of transport infrastructure. Rwanda, thus, plans to build a new international airport, expand the national airline, Rwandair, and establish a railway connection. There is a strategic focus on exporting and re-exporting to Burundi and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Investment in both hard and soft infrastructure is being fostered to accelerate growth in the tourism and commodity sectors and expand exports in manufacturing and agro-processing. Industry accounts for just 15% of GDP in Rwanda, one-third of which comes from manufacturing. Rwanda remains dependent on the services sector for more than half of GDP (57%) and on agriculture for another third (33%). The Second Economic Development for Poverty Reduction Strategy plans to target large foreign investors in priority economic sectors, increasing long-term savings to raise the amount of credit available to the private sector to 30% of GDP by 2018. The private sector is also to benefit from tax and regulatory reform.

A fund for innovative market-oriented products and processes

The Rwanda Innovation Endowment Fund was established in 2012 by the Ministry of Education, in partnership with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). The fund supports research and development for innovative market-oriented products and processes in three priority sectors of the economy: manufacturing, agriculture and ICTs. The first call for project proposals drew 370 applications, leading to the selection of just eight projects, which each received about US$ 50 000 in May 2013. After this proof of concept, it was decided to conduct a second round.

In 2012, the government officially launched the National Commission for Science and Technology. Operational since 2014, it has been strategically positioned in the Prime Minister’s Office to serve as an advisory body on matters related to STI across all economic sectors.

In January 2013, the Ministry of Education established the Knowledge Transfer Partnership programme, in collaboration with the African Development Bank, to foster industrial development. By 2015, the programme had sponsored five partnerships between private companies and the University of Rwanda’s two Colleges of Science and Technology and Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine. The company contributes its idea for product or service development and the university provides the appropriate expertise.

The National Industrial Research and Development Agency was established in June 2013, in line with the National Industrial Policy of April 2011. The main mission of this research body is to produce home-grown technological and industrial solutions to meet national and regional market needs.

Lack of trained experts could hamper industrialization and innovation

One bottleneck to industrialization and innovation could be the lack of scientists and engineers, despite rapid demographic growth of 2.7% per year. Rwanda counted just 123 researchers in 2009. This is equivalent to 12 researchers per million inhabitants (in full-time equivalents), compared with 91 per million on average in sub-Saharan Africa.

Rwanda has accorded a high priority to achieving universal primary education by 2015, one of the Millennium Development Goals. This has come at a cost: public investment in tertiary education accounted for just 14% of public spending on education in 2013, down from 25% five years earlier, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Whereas higher education received 0.96% of GDP in 2008, this had receded to 0.71% by 2013. Over the same period, public expenditure per tertiary student as a share of GDP per capita halved from 218 to 105.

Universities are turning out very few graduates in natural sciences and agriculture. Of the 10 947 students who earned a degree in 2013, 537 (4.9%) had completed a master’s programme but only one a PhD – and that was in the humanities. The vast majority of graduates at master level had studied business, law or other social sciences (86.6%), followed by engineering (9.3%). Only nine (0.2%) had been awarded a master’s degree in health and welfare, seven in a scientific discipline and none at all in agricultural sciences.

Rwanda has taken a number of steps recently to bolster its higher education system. In 2012, the government adopted a policy of allocating 70% of university scholarships to students enrolled in S&T fields to increase the number of graduates.

In September 2013, parliament passed a law establishing the University of Rwanda as an autonomous academic research institution. This large university is the product of the merger of seven public institutions of higher learning into a single university. The philosophy behind creating the University of Rwanda was to produce better-trained graduates and to strengthen the research capacity of Rwanda’s higher education system. The university has already entered into an agreement with the Swedish International Development Agency to produce 1 500 PhDs between 2012 and 2022.

In October 2013, UNESCO’s Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste (Italy) established a branch at the University of Rwanda, hosted by the College of Science and Technology.

Meanwhile, Carnegie Mellon University has become the first US institution to offer degrees in Africa through an in-country presence. Since 2012, its campus in Rwanda has been serving as a regional centre of excellence in ICTs, with the aim of producing engineers and leaders ‘who understand the balance between technology, business and innovation to meet the needs of industry’.

Schemes to boost innovation and a green economy

The Second Economic Development for Poverty Reduction Strategy pursues a ‘green economy’ approach to economic transformation, with a focus on green urbanization and green innovation in public and private industry, including the promotion of affordable housing.

A pilot green city is to be launched by 2018 to ‘test and promote a new approach to urbanization’ that uses technology to create sustainable cities. The National Fund for Environment and Climate Change in Rwanda (FONERWA) has been entrusted with identifying funding for the pilot city.

FONERWA was created in 2008. It acts as a cross-sectorial financing mechanism to further Rwanda’s objectives within the National Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy. FONERWA’s sixth call for proposals resulted in 14 projects receiving funding. These proposals had been put forward by private companies, NGOs, Rwandan districts and the Ministry of Infrastructure. The projects included the provision of solar power to off-the-grid communities, the construction of microhydropower plants, rainwater harvesting and re-use and gardening for urban poor in developed marshlands of Kigali.

The government is currently putting in place a green accounting framework to assess the economic benefits of environmental protection, in accordance with the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa adopted in 2012. Through this declaration, Rwanda and nine other African countries committed to integrating the value of natural capital into national accounting and corporate planning. The other nine signatories are Botswana, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa and the United Republic of Tanzania.

Rwanda is one of a growing number of African countries that are combining economic growth and environmental protection in their development planning. In 2013, for instance, Botswana initiated the development of a National Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan.

(1) Kwita Izina: traditional naming ceremony for baby gorillas raises awareness of need to protect endangered species.

See also : UNESCO and Rwanda to support fundamental research in East Africa through the establishment of a dedicated centre (January 2017)

Source: UNESCO Science Report, see the chapter on East and Central Africa




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