The 15th Technical and Advisory Meeting (TAM) for the Africa Centers of Excellence was held on May 22 – 24, 2023 in Entebbe, Uganda. TAM is a platform for the Centers of Excellence to report their progress, share knowledge, and network
The 15th meeting took stock of the achievements made in the last six years of project implementation. It also reflected on the key role of research in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal targets in Africa. The Centers also built a case for a future ACE program. The Center Leaders and the Vice Chancellors unanimously called for a second investment into the ACE II project to consolidate the gains made.
Over the last six years the centers have developed human resources, promoted education in STEM as a critical driver of the region’s industrialisation, advanced research and innovation, commercialised research, strengthened collaborations, and contributed to economic growth and human development.
The TAM explored the role of incubation hubs in the commercialization of research. In May 2019, the ACE II project established four regional incubation centers for East and Southern Africa to build and strengthen linkages between academia and industry and translate science into new products. The four regional incubation hubs have since incubated many products and inspired other institutions to establish their own business incubation programs.
The Center Leader, Center of Excellence in Phytochemicals Textiles and Renewable Energy (ACE-PTRE), Prof. Ambrose Kiprop, said that an incubation center provides the space to solve and improve the constraints of commercialization in institutional settings and provides a platform for boot camps, business competitions and innovation exhibitions
Academia needs to develop solutions through research and innovation while industry has the right competencies and capacity to validate and commercialise solutions by creating value, he noted.
As a result of hosting a regional incubation center, an offshoot of ACE-PTRE, Moi University has established a functional Technology Transfer Office (TTO) to facilitate the transfer of technology from academia to industry. MU has an Intellectual Property Policy in place to protect patents. Through the TTO, MU has filed seven patents and six utility models in the last 12 months. “As a university we have made tremendous steps towards being an entrepreneurial institution to spur industrial growth,” said Kiprop.
The Vice Chancellor, Moi University, Prof. Isaac Kosgey said that thanks to the ACE II Project, the university was able to build a factory to a modern state-of-the-art factory for textiles.
“ACE II has enabled us to do partnerships across the continent and beyond. We have contributed a lot collectively as ACEs. We want to be given another opportunity, if possible, and we continue doing the good work,” said Kosgey.
“One thing I’m happy about is the huge human capital that we have generated, it’s a huge resource that we can fall back onto to build our capacity and the multiplier effect will be so huge,” said Prof. Stephen Gaya Agong, Vice Chancellor, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology
Building a case for a future ACE program in One Health
The Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance (SACIDS) at Sokoine University of Agriculture, through its genomics capacity, has supported the government of Tanzania in the identification and early detection and response to disease outbreaks such as Marburg and Leptospira.
With the ACE II Project funding, SACIDS has developed a new research program that will use digital and data sciences and genomics to tackle viral epidemic diseases and anti-microbial resistance. SACIDS has grown into an institute – One Health Institute – embedded into the university structure.
The Center Leader of SACIDS, Prof. Gerald Misinzo, won the prestigious Oliver Tambo Research Chair for viral epidemics. Misinzo is also a member of several national committees on health, including the President’s technical committee to address COVID-19 in Tanzania.
Misinzo noted that ACE II focused on Msc and PhD training and the next phase would focus on post-doctoral fellows and senior research fellows. “A new phase should continue with the existing centers and if funds allow, add new ACEs. For continuity and consolidation, existing ACEs should not be subjected to competition for inclusion in the project,” he said.
Building a case for future ACE program in Pharmaceuticals and Traditional Medicine
The case was made by Prof. Abebaw Fekadu from the Center for Innovative Drug Development and Therapeutic Trials for Africa – CDT-Africa. He noted that the ACEs in health have done a lot of research that has resulted into relevant prototypes with some commercialized products. They have mobilized finances. Their response to COVID-19 was important.
“There is need for commercialization and scaling up otherwise the impact of the Centers will not be felt neither will they address the development challenges that they set out to address,” said Fekadu.
Working on the medical discovery pipeline is critical as well as the broader excellence agenda. In the next investment we will build that pipeline, said Fekadu.
Further investment will give the centers an opportunity to develop partnerships, to closely work with governments and regional platforms to build the necessary skills and networks to transform their innovations into enterprises, and understand the innovation ecosystem in Africa.
The case for a future ACE program in Climate Change in Agriculture
The future of food depends on building a broad diversity of genetic resources from which we can keep tapping, said Dr. Richard Edema, Center Leader, Makerere Regional Center for Crop Improvement (MaRCCI).
He noted that the ACE project has enabled high quality research for food security and climate resilience by supporting Centers to set up state-of-the-art research and teaching infrastructure. The Agriculture ACES have created reputable cultivar development programs. MaRCCI has established four research programs in cowpea, sorghum, horticulture and seed science technology – a pathway to deliver quality seed to the farmer.
The case for a future ACE program in Agribusiness and Food Systems
A future Agribusiness and Food Systems ACE, as presented by Prof. Samuel Mwonga of CEESAM at Egerton University, will focus on capacity building in Agribusiness and Food Systems; Agribusiness incubation/start-ups; Product development (value addition) and entrepreneurship; commercialization of innovations; strengthening university partnership with industry, community and government; effective technology transfer and policy advocacy for agribusiness and food systems.
Governments take on a future ACE Program
The Regional Steering Committee members who represent governments on the project talked about the contribution of the ACEs in their respective countries and the opportunities for a future ACE Program.
The ACE II Project focuses on results so the culture of work has changed. They are seeking results instead of doing things for the sake of doing. It is not business as usual in these centers, said Dr. Eba Mijena Negero, government representative, Ethiopia
He commended the ACEs commitment to generate funds which contributes to their independence and sustainability. Networks and partnerships have been established regionally and internationally. There has been a lot of investment in infrastructure and there is buy-in from stakeholders, he noted.
“Our recommendation is that we support the ACEs for two – three years to allow them plan their exit strategy. New priorities for Ethiopia include STEM Education, modernization of agriculture, manufacturing and ICT,” said Mijena.
“One key lesson is the performance based financing model. As a country we are embracing it and want to continue for the financial sustainability not just for the Centers but for the other institutions,” said Mr. Paul Peter Mungai, government representative for Kenya.
We envisage that the Centers will become institutes with clear mandates and structures and aligned to the mission and vision of the university, he noted.
Now that we have got many research outputs, what next. That’s why we are advocating for commercialization, technology transfer, innovation hubs, private sector engagement and partnerships to help us reach impact, said Mungai.
We have seen increased student enrolment in MSc and PhD, constructed postgraduate student hostels. The centers have influenced the approval of traditional and complementary medicine polity in the Ministry of Health. We have seen expanded international networks and collaborations including with the private sector, and increased research publications, said Dr. Levis Keliyasi Eneya, government representative, Malawi.
“A future ACE program for Malawi will focus on Science, Technology and Innovation in drug development, e-technology, seed systems research, climate modelling, agro-processing to improve the value chain and mining,” said Eneya.
The Center for Studies in Oil and Gas Engineering and Technology – CS-OGET – has developed short training courses that have been fundamental to the oil and gas industry in the country. They developed new MSc programs and enrolled more than 600 students. More recently they developed a PhD program. CS-OGET is working with several industry partners from the oil and gas industry.
According to Rwanda RSC member, Mr. Mike Hughes, Rwanda plans to continue with the four existing ACEs and add a fifth one – Center of Excellence for Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management. The ACE in Internet of Things will continue its mission through: post graduate and postdoc trainings, infrastructure enhancement, research and innovation. ACE-ITLMS will develop a new CPD programme – Skills for STEM Educators in 21st Century. The Centre will emphasize on the impact of its research through its Incubation Centre.
In addition to scaling up the needed expertise in solving the challenges in power systems, electrical engineering, renewable energy, and energy economics, the ACE-ESD will seek to address the lack of reliable and economically viable energy solutions including short courses on the use of electric vehicle batteries and second-life electric vehicles (EVs) batteries to help solve this challenge and scale up reliable and economically viable businesses.
For the ACE in Data Science, the areas of focus will include Data Driven Incubation Hub; Training MSc and PhD students; Research development support; Equipment and Supplies; Improvement of learning environment; and Support for a Postdoc program.
Tanzania would like to see Centers focus more on research and innovation to make sure that research innovation grows further and contributes to industrialization,” said Prof. Ladslaus Mnonye. The concept development for additional funding will go hand in hand with efforts to accrue resources from other sources. The Tanzania ACEs plan to write a paper about the journey of the Centers of Excellence. This will target high level decision-makers to draw their attention to the achievements made by the project.
A future ACE in Uganda would enhance capacity for high-quality training, deliver applied research, build industry partnerships, strengthen academic partnerships, improve monitoring and evaluation, and expand the ACE model to other priority areas like climate change and oil and gas.
Zambia picked on health and mining because these respond to national development. “For Zambia, the next phase is for consolidation of the two ACES,” said Mrs. Jane Chinkusu. Zambia made a substantive investment in the two centers so they are not ready to let it go to waste. Zambia, she said, needs two more centres in agriculture and climate change.