AllAfrica: Tapping Africa's Scientific Potential

by Lauren Everitt

When John Mwero looks at charred sugar cane ash he sees sturdy bridges, soaring skyscrapers and stable roads. He's convinced that bagasse ash - the residue that's left after processors suck out the sugar and burn the cane, has the potential to make cement stronger and cheaper.

To test his hunch, Mwero is conducting research towards his PhD degree - and confronting multiple challenges. After two degrees at the University of Nairobi and several stints with area consultants and contractors, Mwero knew civil engineering was his niche.

But funds for doctoral students are limited, advisors are in short supply and critical research equipment may be unavailable or broken.

Many students take seven to 10 years to earn their degrees, which is a long time by the standards of African universities.

"If you need to do a test and there is no money," he says, " you have to go and work and get the money. You eat some of it and do other things with some and save a bit for research, so it becomes an uphill task."

Luckily for him, Mwero's work caught the attention of the Regional Initiative in Science and Education (RISE), which supports promising science and engineering students pursuing advanced degrees in sub-Saharan Africa. Through gifted scholars like Mwero, the program hopes to boost higher education in engineering and science across the continent - mainly through a series of international networks that connect universities, students, civil society and industry.

Full article here.

January 2013