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President Julius Maada Bio visits Harvard, MIT to further Sierra Leone’s research and innovation partnerships: DSTI

BOSTON, Massachusetts–The President of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio is visiting Harvard and MIT; leading global institutions of higher learning, research, and innovation, in Boston, USA, according to the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (https://dsti.gov.sl/)

in Sierra Leone.   President Bio will engage with students, researchers and faculty as he builds partnerships for technical and academic exchange. Sierra Leone has committed 21% of its national budget to education as part of a new government strategy for sustainable growth that prioritizes human capital development.

According to a DSTI release, in August 2018, President Bio launched the Free Quality Education Project (FQEP) for all Sierra Leonean children from primary to secondary school. The FQEP covers tuition and learning materials for core subjects like English and Mathematics. As a result, an estimated 2 million school children in government and government-assisted schools now have access to free education.

“By investing our resources in free, quality teaching and learning, we are investing in human capital and empowering our youth to be the generation that will end poverty in our time,” said President Bio.

Besides investments in education, President Bio inaugurated the country’s first Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) and the Presidential Infrastructure Initiative, both at the Office of the President. DSTI Sierra Leone is the manifestation of the President’s vision to harness technology for national development and create ecosystems for Sierra Leonean entrepreneurs to thrive and compete globally.

At Harvard and MIT, President Bio will share the policies that he has put in place to enhance government performance and service delivery. Specifically at the Forum on Sierra Leone hosted at the Harvard Law School, President Bio will participate in an open public forum with lectures by distinguished faculty from Harvard and Tufts University.

While the President’s visit is to strengthen ties between his country and those institutions, Sierra Leone already benefits from technical support from both Harvard and MIT. Several current members of his cabinet do participate at the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program where they are receiving technical support shaped by their policy goals and specific needs. In addition, the Mayor of Freetown City Council is a beneficiary of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative. 

There are MIT faculty, researchers and students currently embedded at DSTI Sierra Leone where they are collaborating with local scientists to develop solutions that range from data mapping for an integrated national revenue and expense platform, to a USSD service that will monitor water levels in reservoirs and send SMS alerts to citizens and relevant government agencies.

The President’s visit to Harvard and MIT will take place on March 7-8, 2019. MIT Media Lab and Chairman Emeritus Nicholas Negroponte, and MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito will host President Bio at the Media Lab. Later H E Julius Bio will speak at the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School (“Harvard’s premier arena for political speech”). Prior to participation in the Forum on Sierra Leone, President Bio will meet with Harvard President Larry Bacow and several Deans across the University. To culminate the trip, an Investor Dinner focused on Sierra Leone will be hosted at the Harvard Faculty Club bringing together potential and current investors in Sierra Leone. President Bio will be accompanied by senior-level members of the cabinet and Sierra Leone’s Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. David Sengeh, who is an alum of both Harvard, and MIT.

A known African public policy professional with global expertise in labor market analysis, job creation, industry innovation and workforce development, Jones Nhinson Williams, praised the Sierra Leonean President as perhaps the most strategically focused innovative leader in West Africa.   He said other African leaders need to follow the footsteps of Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Botswana’s Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, and now Sierra Leone’s Julius Maada Bio.

J. N. Williams

“Every good leader who wants to succeed as Kagame, Masisi and Bio are currently doing has to forget politics, greed for wealth and shenanigans, and instead focus on how to put his or her people to work, improve living conditions and transform the landscape of his or her country.   The first approach to doing that is for such leader to develop the ability and humility of listening even to differing views, working with all instead of loyalists alone, and seeking out the best minds amongst his or her fellow citizens,” said Williams.

“Kagame, Massisi and Bio are definitely scoring good marks in this area, and they have unshielded themselves from the gatekeeper mentality and syndrome that tend to befall a number of presidents in Africa where a few loyalists would mentally imprison a leader and make it harder, if not impossible, for he or she to encounter the experiences and understanding of the rest of his or her fellow countrymen and women,” he added.

Williams lauded Moinina David Sengeh, Sierra Leone’s chief innovation officer in the Office of the President of Sierra Leone for helping President Bio in driving Sierra Leone to the path of prosperity and growth based on innovation and technology.  He said Sengeh and his team are destined to shape the future of their country with an impact to create good paying jobs for most Sierra Leoneans.

Bill Gates, President Julius Maada Bio and Sierra Leone’s Chief Innovation Officer M. David Sengeh at Goalkeepers event

Williams, a Liberian based in the US and a state administrator of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics programs, said, he would be glad were President Weah to focus on innovation, job creation, and workforce development.

He said President Weah needs the support of all Liberians but that the President must take the bold steps of outreach. He said there are many Liberians abroad with the education, expertise and experience that could help President Weah and his government in kickstarting innovation and technological development in Liberia.

Adding, “people like Lawrence Kou Kennedy, Darkamu Ricks, Dr. Bartum Kulah, Dr. A. Joel King and William Ponder can all make significant impact in Libera’s transformation and help the country moves towards innovation.”

Tracy Martins, a female scientist based in Silicon Valley, said: “African nations have the vast potential to transform themselves into some of the leading emerging markets in the world but it’s all contingent upon the willingness and political decisiveness of their leaders.”  

Martins said, “it is sad that instead of putting young men and women in technology labs to sharpen their mindsets in innovation and technological development, some African officials are using public funds to pay unemployed and poverty-stricken young men and women to go dancing in the streets, chanting political slogans and praises for them.” 

Adding, “any official of government one sees doing that it means such official is incompetent and may not be doing a good job.”

Dave Zurawik, an American political and socio-economic commentator said, “it would be a good thing if most African leaders start becoming open-minded and stop surrounding themselves with praise-singers and sycophants.” 

“National development does not come about when a leader sees one group of people as ‘his or her people’ and another group as ‘his or her enemies’ in the same country, he said.

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Ben Mabande

Ben Mabande is a researcher and senior contributing reporter with Globe Afrique Media.

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