Technology giant, IBM has announced that Nairobi, Kenya will be the home of its first research lab in Africa. The move is a significant investment that signals the intention of IBM to imprint its footprint firmly on the African continent, especially in the field of research. Already IBM is represented in more than 20 African countries.
Interestingly, the facility, christened the “IBM Research – Africa” is being setup in Kenya in collaboration between the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) through the Kenya ICT Board. As an emerging area of high growth, technology uptake has grown significantly on the African continent. Investment in research has however lagged behind. This is truly an anomaly if Africa is leverage on technology innovation to generate employment and drive change.
The potential of technology to make a difference in all areas of life is immense. Establishing a research facility in Africa is therefore certainly a welcome step in this direction. The release states that the lab will conduct basic and applied research focused on solving problems relevant to Africa and contribute to the building of a science and technology base for the continent.
Indeed IBM states through the release that the research lab will benefit the entire African continent. Research focus areas expected to be examined include: technology-driven next generation public sector management systems and solutions, smarter city technology solutions for managing utility service delivery in Africa’s fast developing cities and human capacity development which is aimed at plugging the continent’s skills gap in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.
Already the Kenyan government has publicly embraced the initiative, with President of Kenya, Honorable Mwai Kibaki, stating that “IBM’s commitment to undertake the proposed research agenda will contribute greatly to our national priorities as part of Kenya’s Vision 2030. We look forward to delivering world-class research and innovation as part of IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative and playing an important role as an IT leader on the African continent.” This is in line with Kenya’s desire to lead Africa in ICT and transform into a knowledge based economy.
IBM has a global network of research laboratories located in Australia, Brazil, China, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Switzerland and the United States. IBM Research is credited with the creation of several fundamentals in information technology and has been recognized with five Nobel Prize Laureates, and many leading scientific and technical medals and awards. Setting up a research lab in Africa is in recognition of the need to address the pressing challenges in Africa in order to realize the tremendous potentials of the African continent.
Rather than the usual patronizing and all-knowing attitude of foreign corporations venturing into Africa, IBM is stressing that it will work closely with African stakeholders in IT contributing in various sectors (academia, government, industry, etc) of the society to make meaningful impact.
IBM states that though expansion into other parts of Africa may be considered in a second phase, it will however establish a Resident Scientist Program, an international recruitment program to connect with Kenyan and other African applicants. “The Resident Scientist candidates will be pre- and post-doctoral researchers including scientists and researchers from academia, government and industry. The Resident Scientists will begin with a one-year tenure with options for this to be extended”. Such scientists would be part of the IBM Research – Africa lab and would be incorporated into IBM’s network of research labs.