As nation reconciles with itself, a successful transition helps Rwanda recover from past wounds

Prof. Silas Lwakabamba 

Rector of the Kigali Institute of Science,
Technology & Management
B.Sc., Ph.D

Contact details:
Tel: +250-574696/98
Fax: +250-571924/25
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KIST was set up in 1997 to serve as a center of excellence in science, technology and Management. Five years after its creation, has KIST managed to fulfill this ambition?

A great deal has already been achieved in such a short time. We have graduated students at different levels -Certificate and Diploma and we have just held our first Graduation Ceremony, when a total of 463 part time and full time students were awarded diplomas and degrees.

We are cooperating with a number of institutions within the sub region. We have sent our students to the National University of Rwanda, to Makerere University in Uganda and this year to Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya - for practical work. We have signed a number of important MOU's with International Institutions and we have recently been accepted as a UNESCO Centre for Engineering Education in Africa.

We started part time courses in adult education, which have been very popular, We have good technologies, which we are now transferring to the rural areas to help the rural population. We have developed Internet access and now we are providing Internet services to a number of people, organisations, industries etc.

However, we have not yet managed to fulfill completely our ambitions. Mainly because we met obstacles that had not been anticipated. The major objective was to set up a practical oriented institution. Therefore this called for very good workshops, very good laboratories and these cost a lot of money. Different donor agencies like the UNDP and friendly countries such as Japan and the Netherlands came to our assistance - but not as much as we had expected and this posed a constraint on providing the facilities we needed.

You were talking about the achievements of your institution in income generation for self-sustainability. Was this part of your initiative?

Yes, because my experience in the management of higher institutions of learning has been since 1975 when I was in Tanzania, then went to Nigeria and now here. I have seen institutions in Africa, which produce graduates in computer science without ever touching a keyboard because they cannot afford a computer. I have seen institutions where the professors themselves buy their own chalk because the institution cannot afford to buy it.

So here, we realized that we had to generate our own income. We are the only institution that started charging tuition fees on students who were coming on regular courses. Secondly we started this part time training program and now we are getting 1300 evening students. There's quite a lot that we have done in terms of generating our own resources.

Now there's something very important - we have ventured into a Bureau of consultancy services. Institutions like the Ministry of Public Works, Transport and Communication which deal with road network, Ministry of Energy and many institutions attract international funding for certain projects. Unfortunately these cannot utilize funding unless they undertake studies. The brains of technology and management are concentrated here at KIST. So why not use them to do these studies?

So we are now enhancing our consultancy bureau and this will allow us to do a number of studies and we generate income out of it.

So when did you start with this initiative?

I think immediately in 1998 when we started a small consultancy with NGOs like world vision and some government institutions.

Did you also target local companies?

Yes, with companies like Bralirwa and then Banque Commerciale du Rwanda (BCR). We also did some work with Bank of Commerce, Development and Industry (BCDI). This we believe will empower our students to know what is happening in the outside world and how exactly consultancy work is done. It is a very big input.

Your students are modeled to be an asset of the Rwandan private sector and the region as a whole. What kind of relationship do you enjoy with the private sector?

We want to work with the private sector very closely. We believe that these people in the private sector are role models for our students.

Secondly what we are doing here is entirely for both the public and the private sectors. In fact, we did convince the government to pick successful people in the private sector to be part of our governing council and this has been very successful. We believe they can guide us in our activities here.

The private sector can also play a key role in the development of the curriculum. It is important to involve the private sector in the development of our curriculum in order to make it relevant and appropriate to their demands.

We also believe that the private sector can assist in funding some of our courses. They can help in buying equipment for certain faculties and actually we are trying to broaden our cooperation in a number of ways. Some like Bralirwa could also allow us access their laboratories and workshops.
We are looking for ways of forming joint ventures. We have a lot of expertise in different fields. For example, look at the Internet provision itself. This is a joint venture between KIST and MTN Rwandacell.

Rwanda is set to be an ICT icon in the region. This will require a number of computers for primary and secondary schools. Purchasing these computers itself is very expensive but maintaining and upgrading them is also another expensive thing. The expertise for maintenance is available at KIST. This is also another field we hope to cooperate in with the private sector. Generally we are looking at possibilities for forming firm joint venture with the private sector for assembling and maintaining computers.

You mentioned hiring a lot of expertise to help in training your students. Do you think in the short run you will be able to substitute expatriates with locals?

Currently we have 115 academic staff who are Rwandans. Only six Rwandans have a PhD. We are seriously mobilizing resources from government and the private in cooperation with different universities all over the world to have our staff trained up to PhD. Already some 27 are away on staff training. While we do not have full complement of our own staff we have no choice but to engage expatriates.

KIST is preparing for the first graduation ceremony, what is going to be your message to your first graduates?

Well the message to our first graduates will be that as far as possible they should be self-reliant. The idea of starting up this institution was to equip our students with skills that should be used to create their own employment and we are ready to assist them.

We have technologies here, which we are training our students to transfer to the rural economies. We are putting in place the Centre for Promotion of Technology Transfer - this idea is to be supported by DFID putting up a $2.5 million scheme.

At the same time we are starting a centre called the Centre for Technology and Business Innovation. The whole idea is that government or private sector cannot employ all of our graduating students. So we want we want to equip these people with entreprenuership skills, how to access funds, how to develop ideas and also show them marketing skills.
We have presented a project proposal for support concerning this idea to the Government of Germany.

The good thing is that quite a number of our graduates have had experience from our cottage industries, and our workshop. I believe they have acquired a lot of experience that could be beneficial. The government has also set up a $ 5 million donor fund under the ministry of Finance to give small loans to people like our students. So, I think they can depend on themselves; they don't have to cry for employment from government or any one else.

How do you deal with the issue of channeling your graduates to the rural economies?

We are trying to link up with the rural areas through the Centre for Innovation and Technology Transfer and through what we call community attachment. The curriculum provides for this already. The attachment programme exposes the students to what kind of problems the rural community faces and the kind of help they need.

Finally, you mentioned that you were in Tanzania, Nigeria, and UK and also we know that you are a member of the UNESCO board. Can you give us a brief professional background of yourself?

I was born in Tanzania and grew up there. When I finished my secondary school education, I was one of the lucky people to get a scholarship from a number of countries including Sweden, Nairobi, Canada and the UK. I picked the one to the UK and when I finished my first degree from Leeds University, I was again offered an opportunity by the same university to do a Ph.D, so I went straight for the Ph.D.

From there I joined the University of Dar- es- Salaam in the Faculty of Engineering where I rose through different ranks up to a level of dean of Faculty of Technology. I worked with this university for 10 years before proceeding to Nigeria. So I was in Nigeria busy training Engineers from all over Africa for about 12 years and then the government here called me to start this institution in October 1997. Here we are, and things are moving.

I also belong to a number of organisations like the International Association of University Presidents where I sit on the council for Africa. I am a member of the Executive Board of UNESCO. In Tanzania, I was a member of the board of over 15 institutions and organisations. Here in Rwanda, I am the president of the Association of Engineers, Chairman of the Board of Rwandatel. I am also a member of various national commissions on Economic Affairs, Information & Communication Technology, Human Resource Development, and Higher Education etc.

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