The digital economy could be derailed unless we invest in science, innovation and inclusivity. 

The digital economy could be derailed unless we invest in science, innovation and inclusivity. 

To mark the World Science Day for Peace and Development on November 10th the Science Technology and Innovation (STI) secretariate has officially kicked-off the National Science Week celebration to highlight Uganda’s strides in fostering a science-driven economy. 

As the week’s events unfold, it is essential that a prominent discussion, followed by concrete action, takes the spotlight. The concept of a science-driven economy, or the utilization of scientific innovation to generate and implement groundbreaking ideas, technologies, and research development that significantly advance scientific knowledge, understanding, and application, stands as a potential game-changer for the economy, capable of permeating and transforming nearly every aspect of our daily lives. 

Uganda currently holds the 116th position in terms of innovation inputs and the 120th spot in innovation outputs, ranking 119th globally among 132 countries, the country’s standing remains relatively low in the Technology Achievement Index (TAI). Although the TAI experienced a slight increase from 0.146 to 0.157 between 2015 and 2020, Uganda continues to be classified as a “marginalized” entity according to the index. 

Nevertheless, the journey has begun and it’s crucial to recognize and celebrate the baby steps taken by STI secretariate in embarking on the path towards a science-led future.  

Under the guidance of Minister for Science, Technology, and Innovation, Dr. Monica Musenero, Uganda achieved a significant milestone with the launch of its inaugural satellite, named PearlAfricaSat-1, into the Low Earth Orbit via NASA from the International Space Station in December 2022. This groundbreaking satellite, developed by three Ugandan engineers at the Kyushu Institute of Technology in Japan, was designed to gather crucial data for various earth observation purposes, including weather monitoring and forecasting, land mapping, wetlands monitoring, and security applications. 

In a bid to foster growth in the field of pathogen control and management, Uganda has made substantial strides in research, development, technology transfer, and commercialization of innovations. Notably, the country’s response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed both the vulnerabilities and the untapped potential within Uganda’s latent pathogen economy. 

Drawing from the experiences of the pandemic, the secretariat has directed its focus toward harnessing the country’s rich biodiversity resources and has made substantial investments in research infrastructure. Notably, Uganda has embraced advanced technologies such as IoT, AI, digital media, in-vitro diagnostics, drug delivery devices, implantable devices, and personalized medicine, aiming to leapfrog into sustainable health outcomes for all Ugandans. Furthermore, the integration of digitized health systems, telemedicine, health analytics, and innovative medical devices has been prioritized to enhance patient safety and expand the scope of Universal Health Care coverage. These initiatives reflect Uganda’s commitment to leveraging cutting-edge technologies to boost our healthcare system.  

Known for its reputation as a “food basket,” the country’s food supply chain is currently facing threats posed by climate change, crop diseases, and the challenges that small-scale farmers encounter in responding to predictable weather patterns. To tackle these pressing issues, Uganda must prioritize scientific and innovative research aimed at enhancing the competitiveness of its agricultural sector, promoting sustainable farming practices, and preserving the environment. These efforts will not only encourage the diversification of the rural economy but also improve the overall quality of life in rural areas. 

In 2020, the African automotive market was valued at USD 28.45 billion, and it is expected to reach USD 39.87 billion by 2026, registering a CAGR of 5.55% over the forecast period. Today, new imperatives around connected vehicles, autonomous driving and the industrial internet have emerged as major driving factors of automotive digitalization which has the potential to radically transform Uganda’s transport and mobility patterns.  

As part of Uganda’s import-substitution strategy, the government in 2018 established Kiira Motors Corporations to deliver electric and diesel business at its Luweero industries in Nakasongola. As of today, we have produced 6 EVS buses and 2 diesel kayoola coaches. To expand on this production, the government invested $80 million shillings to establish a Kiira Vehicle Plant in Jinja.  It is expected that this mobility value chain will directly and indirectly create 500,000 green jobs by 2040, reduce transport-based emissions by over 25% and produce 10,000 electric buses, 1,000,0000 electric motorcycles by 2030 and increase sector-contribution to GDP of up to 12.5%. 

To realize a transformative science and digitally driven economy, Uganda must institute crucial reforms to fortify its science, innovation, and technology ecosystem. This entails reforms in policy, research funding, innovation management, infrastructure development, collaborative efforts, capacity building, digital skills development, and talent attraction. Strengthening the business environment for innovation and fostering an idea-to-market approach can stimulate research-driven entrepreneurship and encourage cross-border technology transfer, ultimately unlocking the full potential of Uganda’s investment in innovation, technology, and research. 

From innovation ecosystem builders like us to private sector players including Private Sector Foundation Uganda, to innovators within our ecosystem, to universities, corporate companies, development partners and government, the talk should be on fostering an innovative ecosystem, research, skilling and creating a sustainable entrepreneurial culture that will speak to future disruptions. 

In our race to the future, the response to become a digitally driven economy led by innovation and technology requires more than just my suggestions above. Emphasis should be on creating an interactive and collaborative ecosystem to create impactful solutions and navigate the complexities of the future in ensuring sustainable innovation in Uganda. 

Saul Weikama 

Lead, Digital Economy Practice  

Innovation Village