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Kenyan Scientists: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

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There’s a comment piece in the Nation today by Joseph Othieno, communications manager of the Kenyan Veterinary Association. In it, he complains that Kenyan scientists are not doing enough to communicate their research and findings to the public, and that this holds back technological advances and scientific understanding amongst the general population.

What the article neglects to mention, however, is that our scientists are hampered by a lack of funding. If scientists want to work on cutting-edge technologies or research what could be the next blockbuster drug, they tend to go abroad. There simply is not enough investment in scientific research and development locally for them to do these things within Kenya.

The major drug companies have their research laboratories abroad, the the best-funded universities are in the US and Europe. Our local universities simply cannot begin to compete with the resources available to their foreign counterparts, and so for the most part scientists in Kenya are left to follow up research that has already been conducted, or to carry out small-scale projects that will fit the constraints of the budgets they are given.

One good point that Dr. Othieno makes, however, is the lack of public understanding of the research being undertaken. For this, I would blame the media. The Nation website lists no editor or journalist with responsibility for science reporting; the Standard has a “Science & Technology” section that is heavy on technology but light on actual science. If the two main dailies can’t find it within themselves to report on scientific issues, what hope do the scientists have of communicating with the wider public?

Perhaps Dr. Othieno should have been lamenting the lack of interest from the media in scientific research rather than the type of research being done in Kenyan institutions. The irony is, had he done so, he probably wouldn’t have had his piece published.

[Image by MarshLight]

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