By Saikou Suwareh Jabai
The Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology (MOHERST) on Friday, 18 July concluded a two-day conference and exhibition on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI). The forum, which took place at the Paradise Suites Hotel, was officially launched by the Vice President, Dr. Aja Isatou Njie-Saidy and graced by cabinet ministers, permanent Secretaries, directors, UNESCO STI Director and Policy Experts, the Press, among other dignitaries.
Among the main objectives of the conference, according to officials, includes finalizing the National STI Policy of The Gambia, presenting and building consensus on the findings from the National STI baseline study and to reviewing and adopting the draft statutes for the establishment of a National STI Agency. The theme for this edition is ‘Harnessing Science, Technology and Innovation to meet the challenges of sustainable socio-economic growth and development.’
In her opening remarks, Vice President Njie- Saidy recalled that a decade and half ago, world leaders adopted the Millennium Declaration and its associated Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These goals, she said, expressed our global determination to make substantial improvements in the living standards of our people by 2015. She noted that The Gambia has made significant strides towards meeting these goals particularly in the area of health and education. The vice president described the conference as timely as it is in a bid to review their achievements especially in STI and prepare for the development of Gambians to come. Dr. Njie Saidy, who also doubles as the Minister of Women’s Affairs, added that the government, cognizant of the opportunities a sound innovation agenda has to offer, is in full support of laying the foundations to fully exploit these potentials as an engine for socioeconomic growth and development. She stated that the Gambia government have been devoting appreciable amounts of time planning for development via capital investments, macro-economic stability with a lot of focus on economic planning with a tendency to ignore a crucially important area of activity, namely, embodying economic planning with science and technology planning and innovation. Thus, over the past decades, she went on, planning at the national level was widely based on the assumption that economic planning would take care of all the variables necessary for facilitating growth and progressing economic change.
She finally thanked UNESCO for providing technical and financial support to the STI conference and exhibition.
The permanent Secretary of MOHERST, Mr. Cherno Omar Barry, PhD, said since its establishment, his ministry has not relented in its efforts to spearhead national development processes vis-à-vis the development and promotion of relevant and quality tertiary and higher education and in advancing the gains registered in science, technology and innovation. He said part of the reasons for the conference is to share the National STI Policy for a final review and on a scale not witnessed previously. This international review process, he hoped, will increase ownership of the policy and bring on-board issues and concerns of all stakeholders, nationally and internationally. The conference, he added, will also enable the selection of key priorities and development of context specific STI programmes for increased performances. PS Barry therefore implored the participants to make constructive criticism of the STI Policy and make suggestions as appropriate. The permanent secretary noted that the development of scientific, technological and innovative potentials assumes increasing importance in today’s rapidly changing and globalizing world where prosperity depends on the generation and more importantly, the application and dissemination of new knowledge, skills and competencies, he pointed out.
The Director of UNESCO Regional Office in Dakar, Madam Ann Therese Ndong Jatta, congratulated The Gambia for the step towards having a workable and effective STI Policy that would enhance the use of STI for sustainable development. She said UNESCO accords high priority to the implementation of its Global Priority Africa Programmes on science, technology and innovation with mission of supporting member states to harness STI and knowledge for the sustainable socioeconomic development for Africa. The director added that the conference is therefore in line with this mandate and would see The Gambia moving forward its STI agenda on all determined priority areas of the country which may include issues of water, ecosystems, natural resources management, and also the building of capacities in the sciences and engineering.
Given Gambia’s commitment and determination to use STI to reduce poverty and promote socioeconomic development, the UNESCO Dakar director said her institution is happy to support the workshop which is focusing on finalizing the National STI Policy. She said they are pleased to note that already in the draft document, there are indications that the country intends to set up systems for monitoring, implementing and capacity building for the governance of the national STI Policy.