16 Sep 2004
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By Frederick Philander
THOUGH generally known to be very clever, Namibians are not particularly interested in research and science, but they should not hesitate to steal if need be to acquire knowledge.
The observation was con-tained in a watershed and hard-hitting speech by the Minister of Women Affairs and Child Welfare, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, given yes-terday in support of the Re-search Science and Tech-nology Bill tabled by Nahas Angula, Minister of Higher Education and Employment Creation.
"We need not only have to use all regular and available channels to acquire know-ledge, we must also steal. Look at some Far Eastern Asian nations. They have achieved miracles in the field of science and technology; some of their scientists have gone to the West and had stolen the most sophisticated knowledge to bring home. With this stolen knowledge, they have developed their car industries, their space research programmes or even their military capacities," Ndaitwah charged.
She was later requested by the new Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Sport and Culture, Buddy Wenthworth, to use an alternative word for the word 'stealing'.
"In my opinion, science and technology can and should become a tool of social intervention, an instrument that would give impetus to development. Without our own efforts to generate, pro-mote and apply knowledge, there is no real development. We shall thus continue lag-ging behind and depend on the rest of the world," she said.
She encouraged the House to prioritize science and tech-nology as a national entity.
"Despite our fantastic intelligence and brilliance, there must be something holding us back - something preventing us from using our talents to develop knowledge. This can possibly be attri-buted to factors such as past educational systems, the influence of religion..." she said.
She posed a pertinent question whether Namibian ways and customs allow for creativity and innovation.
"Sometimes, I get the im-pression that collectivity and communality are too heavy. People conform and dare not be different. In my opinion, there is no progress without a free spirit nor without ques-tioning stale and static ways. Let us encourage and not burn on the stakes those who want to be different. The Bill must make provision for originality and innovation if science is to be given a chance to de-velop," she warned.
She further appealed to the House for the preservation and protection of indigenous knowledge.
"Our botanical know-ledge, for example, is com-mercially used by foreign pharmaceutical companies to make profits. Medicinal plants such as Devil's Claw or Snake Tree have been known to us for centuries, but today somebody else posses-ses licenses and rights on these plants. This happens because the country does not have its own scientists," said Ndaitwah, who further claim-ed that indigenous knowledge is currently freely leaving the country by way of foreign researchers.
According to her, consi-derable funds had been al-located to education since independence.
"Therefore, there should be no reason why our educa-tional system should not be in a position to create a foun-dation for the development of science and technology."
Granted, Namibia is a small nation and the pool from which to draw scientific talent is not big, but from the rela-tively small number of learners, we have to extract those with talent. "We need to offer them grants, benefits, moral and material help - anything they need to realize their potentials," she said.
"Thus, popularization of science and technology need to be strongly stressed in the Bill to make knowledge and technology attractive to young people from the ear-liest age by way of the educa-tional system.
Unfortunately, young people, when choosing their future careers, are not moti-vated by the love for know-ledge. Furthermore, as a na-tion, we also have no respect for the knowledge holders. Our driving force is money," she said.
In conclusion, she pleaded with the nation to rearrange its value systems.
"Unless our value systems are rearranged in such a way that people are respected for what they are and not for what they have, we cannot hope to make serious breakthroughs in the development of science and technology," she said.
She also welcomed the propo-sed National Commission on Research, Science and Tech-nology catered for in the Bill.
"Hopefully, this body will bring together the most enlightened minds of this country, so that they can joint-ly create a vision of science and technology development in the country, recognizing where we are and where we want to go to," she said in conclusion.
"There exists a need to embark on and encourage participatory and action-oriented research, science and technology. Presently, there is no coordination of or support for research in Na-mibia and it is done in isolation. Research is seen as an area for a few intellectuals and sectors," said Richard Kamwi, Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services, in support of the Bill.
Kamwi also welcomed the establishment of a Research Council provided for in the Bill.
"This Council will ensure that all research activities meet international standards ... to build Namibian capa-cities, to carry out quality and collaborative research ... done in an ethical manner on its own on a national and regional level on a full-time basis," Kamwi, who lobbied the House to bring the health sector into the Research Council, said.
In support of the Bill, Rosalia Nghidinwa said: "This Bill will ensure that research findings are used to the benefit of all our people and the country, especially with re-gard to our natural resources. Through research, economic problems can be resolved. The Bill will enable our people to produce more innovative products, current-ly imported from Europe and elsewhere." Nghidinwa ar-gued that research outcomes in the country have never been followed up and put into practice to the advancement of Namibia.
In the opinion of the De-puty Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lempy Lucas, scien-ce and technology have be-come a priority world wide.
"Societies that value know-ledge creation and diffusion have increasingly become prosperous and their econo-mies have experienced in-creased levels of productivity. Therefore, with this Bill, I would like to think that Namibia would become a knowledge-driven achiever of sustained growth and prosperity. We therefore need to strengthen our own com-petencies and inculcate in our society a positive attitude towards science," said Nghi-dinwa, who encouraged local institutions to work closely with their global counter-parts.