The following article was recently contributed by former Ambassador Ngovi Kitau of Kenya in Seoul for distribution to the readers of The Korea Post.—Ed.
The opening of the $94 million (Sh9.4 billion) Kenya Advanced Institute of Science and Technology Kenya was historic. The institute, opened at Konza Technopolis on February 12 and modelled on Korea’s KAIST, was a fulfilment of a dream started 10 years ago.
Present were high-powered delegations from government, academia and private sector, from Korea and Kenya. The Kenyan delegation was led by State Department for University Education and Research PS Collette Suda, who was also the chief guest, and ICT and Innovation PS Jerome Ochieng.
The Korean side was led by, among others, Dr Chung Kun-mo, the nuclear scientist who started the Korean KAIST, benchmarked on the United States’s MIT in 1971, and ambassador Choi Yeonghan.
It is envisioned that Kenya’s KAIST will be a world-class science and technology research university. It is a very crucial institution, whose benefits will accrue not only to Kenya, but the entire African continent.
Some of the benefits of KAIST to Kenya and Korea include: One, it will guide us, in our future together, as Kenya embarks on becoming a knowledge-based economy, and Korea pursues new markets. Secondly, by conducting pertinent research that will attract foreign direct investments, led by Korean companies, KAIST will also provide a bulwark against Chinese global initiatives, such as Made in China 2025 and AI 2030.
As Kenya embarks on innovation-led growth riding on Korea’s highly valued experience and advanced technology, KAIST will be a linchpin in this endeavour and process. The upshot will further elevate and strengthen the longstanding friendship and flourishing partnership between Kenya and South Korea.
There is no doubt that Kenya KAIST will transform the economy. However, its success and sustainability will depend on the Kenya KAIST leadership’s mobilisation of Industrial-Academic Collaboration. Prof Shin informed me that Korea KAIST has three revenue streams: Korean government 25 per cent, donations 35 per cent, and IAC 40 per cent.
This ‘triple-helix’ model of technology transfer with three actors — university, industry, and government — all playing indispensable and irreplaceable roles in the national system of innovation, has worked well worldwide, and should work even better for Kenya KAIST
In the short-term, Kenya KAIST should mobilise Korean corporations and SMEs that already have confidence in Korea KAIST to come on board. The foundation is ready because Kenya has relevant treaties with Korea, including Promotion and Protection of Investments, Avoidance of Double Taxation, and Korea Africa Food and Agricultural Cooperation Initiative.
In the long-term, Kenya KAIST will have to create a university technology holding company and affiliated company. As defined in the feasibility study conducted by Korea Eximbank, KAIST and Samoo Architects and Engineers, a technology holding company, is an expert organisation (corporation) dedicated to the commercialisation and industrialisation of technologies and patents held by the university.
It does this by establishing autonomous firms, joint ventures with external companies, share acquisition of existing companies, and so on. Kenya has mechanisms to address perceived commercial and non-commercial risks from potential IAC stakeholders. Nonetheless, KAIST management will have to reach out to these global investors, build trust and confidence in them so they have the confidence to be part of KAIST’s IAC.