Prof. Tsunoda: the man who dared to carry Africa’s Dream

Prof. Mabel Imbuga presents a pictorial souvenir to Prof. Tsunoda during a farewell party in his honour

He cuts a friendly demeanor, always cheerful with his signature smile on. A highly resourceful and dexterous professional, Prof. Manabu Tsunoda has become synonymous with AFRICA-ai-JAPAN Project that he has led since 2014.

Although he has had numerous assignments as top expert for Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in the higher education arena; his secondment as the Chief Advisor to the Project was clearly a heightened challenge.

The government of Japan had agreed to partner with African Union in the implementation of the Pan African University (PAU); a new initiative, founded in 2010 to leverage science, technology and innovation to foster Africa’s socio-economic transformation and integration.

At Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), the PAU Institute for Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation (PAUSTI) was taking root; having admitted pioneer students from 11 countries in 2012.

Prof. Tsunoda and his team at AFRICA-ai-JAPAN Project were therefore carrying the dreams of the entire continent in their hands. The knowledge of this was in itself profound, as he recalls.

“We first looked at the strengths and uniqueness of JKUAT. The university had a highly technical image and we decided to build on that. The engineering workshop for example symbolized technology,” Prof. Tsunoda recalls.

Four years down the line, the AFRICA-ai-JAPAN Project has lived up to its billing. Besides enhancing the research environment at PAUSTI/JKUAT, the initiative has been in the forefront in promoting applied multidisciplinary research undertaking at the two institutions.

Key outputs include the innovation Prototyping and Invention Centre (iPIC), Small Animal Facility for Research and Innovation (SAFARI), as well as number of greenhouses and research laboratories.

Prof. Tsunoda with his wife cut the commemorative cake during the farewell party

“The Project has also facilitated training of next generation staff with 8 staff of JKUAT, currently undertaking their PhD studies in universities in Japan and E-JUST, in Egypt. A number of technologists have benefited from short term trainings in Japanese universities,” Prof. Tsunoda said.

On the research front, the initiative has supported around 50 research projects annually at JKUAT through competitive research funding in focus areas of consequence such as biotechnology, engineering, agriculture and Information Technology.

It is against this trajectory of results oriented delivery by Prof. Tsunoda that many stakeholders had wished him more time at the helm of the Project. That, however, is not going to be. The man has come to the end of his tenure and is set to take up another senior position at JICA headquarters, back in Tokyo.

In her farewell message, Vice Chancellor, Prof. Mabel Imbuga described Prof Tsunoda as an indefatigable magnet whose professional footprints in JKUAT and Africa at large would be felt for many years.

“He has contributed immensely in projecting JKUAT’s image globally. PAUSTI is arguably the best performing Institute of the PAU. Through him, we also attracted Japanese industries such as Nissin and Wago,” Prof. Imbuga said.

Wishing him well in his new role, the Vice Chancellor also recalled how Prof. Tsunoda effectively roped in JKUAT in TICAD VI activities besides facilitating the visit of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Secretary General, Koji Sekimizu to JKUAT in 2015.

Two years later, JKUAT put in a competitive bid on behalf of Kenya that led to the University hosting the IMO fronted Maritime Technology Cooperation Centre (MTCC) – Africa. The Centre is expected to undertake research and innovation towards mitigating the harmful effects of climate change in Africa.

According to Prof. Shinjiro Shiomi, many Japanese professors who were approached to support the AFRICA-ai-JAPAN Project were reluctant to come on board until they learned that Prof. Tsunoda was the team leader.

PAUSTI Director, Prof. Gabriel Magoma termed Prof. Tsunoda as a strong administrator whose ability to forge useful networks both at Ministry and African Union Commission levels ensured he achieved all that he set out to do.

“By equipping our key laboratories and initiating the weekly innovation seminars, he contributed significantly towards enhancing research enterprise among PAUSTI students and staff,” Prof. Magoma said.

The iconic iPIC building at the JKUAT engineering workshop

As he takes the flight back to Japan, many observers grapple to understand the source of Prof. Tsunoda exemplary professional and leadership elixir. He puts it simply:

“It takes careful planning, setting of clear targets, assignments of roles and responsibilities and defined follow-up plans. When people know what is expected of them and then given adequate facilitation, every well-conceived project will move forward. Teamwork with responsibility, is our catchphrase.”

Tsunoda also believes investing in people as well as being open to new diverse ideas are key pillars of management. He termed JKUAT an important symbol of cooperation between Japan and Africa, in the higher education sector.

On PAUSTI, the Chief Advisor roots for originality and urges students to undertake research projects that resonate with home country needs. In line with the AFRICA-ai-JAPAN Project slogan, Prof. Tsunoda has equally called for utilitarian innovations that utilizes local knowledge, experiences and wisdom; which he termed the basis for long term and sustainable development.