I am greatly disappointed in myself because I have never really considered the continent of Africa in relation to technology. My eyes were opened when I became aware of a Special Project by my colleague Bolaji Ojo, focusing on the centers of technology innovation in Africa.

As I began to do some research into this topic, I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of information available regarding this topic.

In this article, I will be writing about two key organizations of which I am a member. The IEEE, in which I am a senior lifetime member, and the IEEE-HKN (Eta Kappa Nu), the honor society of IEEE, which is dedicated to encouraging and recognizing individual excellence in education and meritorious work, in professional practice, and in any of the areas within the IEEE-designated fields of interest. Both of these organizations have a strong presence in Africa. I will be discussing their influence regarding technology in Africa.

IEEE building engineering capacity in Africa
IEEE membership offers access to technical innovation, cutting-edge information, networking opportunities, and exclusive member benefits. Members support IEEE’s mission to advance technology for humanity and the profession, while memberships build a platform to introduce careers in technology to students around the world.

In order to improve the quality of life and generate economic prosperity, technological innovation is essential as a key driver. Africa needs to build up their engineering profession. It is a fact that in sub-Saharan Africa, many residents do not have electricity access, or communication, the latest in much needed medical technology, or even clean water and adequate sanitation. This region needs to grow more indigenous engineering talent; existing programs in engineering need to be directed to the needs of the local residents. Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) need to be a top priority.

Some African countries have development plans with goals and strategy to expand the engineering workforce in their region. Here are some examples:

Ghana
This country has a 2010-2016 policy and recognizes that budgets for science, technology, and innovation are lacking. The goal is to address the lack of a national policy to promote STI especially in agriculture and small/medium-sized enterprises.

Kenya
Their Vision 2030 plans to devote more resources to scientific research, technical workforce capabilities, and improving the quality of mathematics, science, and technology educational courses for schools and universities. The Kenyan Board of Engineers says there are 7 to 8 thousand engineers right now; 700 get their engineering degrees each year, but to meet meaningful goals they need 20,000 more engineers in the next ten years.

Rwanda
Their Vision 2020 calls for leapfrogging in science, technology, innovation, and engineering and to develop a national science technology and engineering system that can help create new technologies.

Uganda
Their 2040 vision is essentially the same as Rwanda’s.

Zambia
Their 2030 vision is to become a nation where STI are the driving forces in national development. They plan to acquire and upgrade infrastructure needed for science and technology training and R&D academic institutions.

What is the IEEE doing to help in these efforts?
Extensive outreach in the region and the personal knowledge of IEEE local volunteers reinforce the case that IEEE can best serve the development of African countries by helping them expand their engineering capacity. The IEEE must approach its support for the African engineering community by:

  1. Engaging with and seeking guidance from African governments and engineering organizations;
  2. Drawing upon the resources of all relevant IEEE entities in an internally coordinated approach;
  3. Partnering with other organizations that are addressing similar needs.

The IEEE has three broad goals to help Africa build engineering capacity:

Goal 1: Support engineering education and workforce development

Developing a strong engineering workforce requires a strong educational system that begins with primary school and continues through the course of engineers’ careers. The greatest opportunities for IEEE to have an early impact lie in continuing education, especially in providing resources and opportunities for university faculty development and the transition of recent university graduates into the workforce.

Planned programs in Goal 1 are:

  • Expanded Access to IEEE Xplore
  • IEEE Virtual Events Program in Africa
  • IEEE/UNESCO African Conference Scholarship Program
  • Equipment and Laboratory Expansion Program
  • IEEE/UNESCO African Distinguished Visitor Program
  • Short Courses for New Engineering Graduates
  • Developing Entrepreneurship Opportunities in Africa
  • Expanding Access to TryEngineering.org, TryComputing.org, and TryNano.org
  • Promoting Inter-university partnerships

Goal 2: Build a sustainable community of IEEE members and volunteers
As with other professions, engineers are most productive and innovative when they are a part of a community that can provide them with information and opportunities for mutual support. IEEE has communities in place in many African countries and strengthening them will greatly support capacity development. The effort will also include support for an initiative to establish a sustainable pan-African Council or similar entity that will enhance collaboration between local volunteers and better serve stakeholders outside of Sections.

Planned programs in Goal 2 are:

  • Strengthening Local IEEE Entities and Building Collaborations
  • Engagement with National and Regional Professional Societies
  • Volunteer Leadership Development Program
  • African Student and Young Professionals Congress
  • Supporting African Innovation, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises and Entrepreneurship
  • Support for Standards Development in Africa

Goal 3: Support government policy development and increase opportunities for IEEE to serve as a resource for engineering capacity development
IEEE recognizes the essential roles played by national and regional governmental bodies in capacity building and proposes to proactively engage with such bodies, offering support and developing partnerships as may be desired and practical. IEEE is expanding its engagement in public policy globally, and this engagement shall extend to African countries and institutions, such as national ministries and the African Union.

Planned programs in Goal 3 are:

  • Negotiation of a Partnership with African Union/New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AU/NEPAD)
  • Revitalization of IEEE Partnership with UNESCO on Education in Africa
  • Outreach to the Smart Africa Alliance

The IEEE Ad Hoc Committee on Africa Activities (AHCAA) will initially focus upon Energy and ICT (Information and Communication Technologies). Both of these technologies have the best chance to enable other technologies since they are commonly shown as priorities in African government planning. The IEEE has extensive resources in these areas as well.

The ACHAA plans to focus their programs geographically at first in Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia (Figure 1).

Figure 1 The ACHAA plans to focus their programs in Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia. (Image courtesy of IEEE)

In addition, four other African countries: Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tunisia, have developed very strong IEEE sections that significantly outperform the rest of the continent. These countries will serve as model sections for the development of programs in the African context.

There is also an IEEE South Africa (Beta) site in South Africa.

Notable IEEE Events in Africa in 2019/2020

[Continue reading on EDN US: HKN’s efforts in building engineering capacity in Africa]

Steve Taranovich is a senior technical editor at EDN with 45 years of experience in the electronics industry.