It was not all gloom and doom for the Africa-ai-Japan Project after being given the green light for another five years beginning, June 2020 in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. The project domiciled at JKUAT has witnessed tremendous success in its first year of Phase II implementation.
This was established, August 18, 2021, during the project’s Joint Coordination Committee meeting that brought together stakeholders from the Ministry of Education, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), JKUAT, Pan African University of Science, Technology and Innovation (PAUSTI) and officials from the Japanese Embassy in Kenya.
Africa-ai-Japan Chief Advisor, Prof. Hiroshi Koaze reported that during the one year period (2020/2021), 42 research innovation projects were funded to the tune of Kshs.30, 273,547.
“The goal of the Second Phase of the project is to establish JKUAT and PAUSTI as a Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) hub through interdisciplinary and collaborative research and linkages with industry and academia in Africa, Japan and other regions,” said Prof. Koaze.
While acknowledging the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on higher education and research, Vice Chancellor, Prof. Victoria Wambui Ngumi appreciated the efforts of the Japanese partners, who worked remotely to ensure the smooth running of the project.
“It is fulfilling to report that despite working remotely for almost 9 months, implementation of the AFRICA-ai-JAPAN- Phase II activities began as planned and continued to be supported over the financial year 2020/2021,” lauded Prof. Ngumi.
The project, being the only JICA funded project that continued operations without JICA experts on the ground, adjusted from physical meetings to virtual meetings from March – November 2020, in an effort to ensure project continuity over the challenging times.
Prof. Ngumi further commended the project’s effort in enhancing the internet infrastructure of the University as JKUAT adopted blended learning to adhere to public health regulations on Covid-19.
“JICA, through Africa-ai-Project stood firm with us and supported procurement and installation of Wi-Fi connection infrastructure in all teaching and research facilities, offices, hostels and open spaces,” said Prof. Ngumi, adding that blended teaching is now a reality at JKUAT and students follow classes from anywhere within the Campus.
Chair of Council, Amb. Mahboub Maalim Mohamed thanked the Government of Japan through JICA for the immeasurable support they have accorded JKUAT saying it has enabled the Institution emerge as one of the top-class universities in the region, in the fields of Agriculture, Science and Engineering.
Amb. Maalim said JKUAT will continue to cherish the long standing partnership the University has with the Government of Japan and work towards making it more beneficial and stronger in a bid to achieving sustainable socio-economic development for the country and region.
He further challenged both JKUAT and PAUSTI researchers to proactively engage in collaborative research that would facilitate the attainment of the Government Four pillars of development namely; Food Security, Universal Health Coverage, Manufacturing and Affordable Housing.
Director, Technical and Higher Education Division, JICA HQ, Mr. Akihiro Iwasaki and Chief Representative, JICA Kenya Office, Mr. Hajima Iwame appreciated the strong partnership and collaborations among the project experts, highlighting PAUSTI as a success in developing a competent human resource in the area of STI in Africa.
“JICA is proud to note that since inception PAUSTI has admitted 694 students from 41 countries and has graduated 353 masters and PhD students so far. This will be indeed critical in responding to practical needs of the continent,” said Mr. Iwame.
Secretary Administration, State Department for University Education and Research, Mr. Fredrick Ndambuki while narrating the genesis of the Africa-ai-Japan Project said the ministry was delighted to note that the Government of Japan saw it fit to renew the project for the second phase.
“This is a true testament of the good relationship the government of Japan has with the Government of Kenya,” said Mr. Ndambuki who was representing his Permanent Secretary, Amb. Simon Nabukwesi.
Nonetheless, he urged the researchers to vibrantly publish their research work to enhance sustainability of the project and improve the STI index of the country and region.
The hybrid meeting that saw other stakeholders follow it virtually, also saw presentation of progress reports from the various chairs of the sub taskforces of the project and PAUSTI.
These were presented by Director, PAUSTI, Prof. Gabriel Magoma, Chair, Innovation and Prototyping Integrated Centre, Dr. Hiram Ndiritu, Chair, Innovation Centre for Bioresource, Prof. Daniel Sila, Chair, Innovation Centre for Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Dr. Caroline Ngugi and Chair, Innovation Centre for Computing and Technological Solutions, Dr. Michael Kimwele.
Present during the meeting were the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research, Production and Extension (RPE) Prof. Mary Abukutsa and the Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic Affairs Prof. David Mburu, among others.