Public Lecture by Professor Hubert Gijzen at the University of Nairobi, Kenya

Transforming Africa: The Role of Higher Education Science, Technology and Innovation in accelerating SDG Implementation in Africa
On 8 October 2021, University of Nairobi hosted a Hybrid Public Lecture by Prof. Hubert Gijzen, UNESCO Regional Director for Eastern Africa. The Public Lecture was on Role of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation in accelerating SDG Implementation in Africa and attracted the participation of more than 8,000 people in total (students, academia, international community and the general public). In following the COVID-19 restrictions the lecture was streamed on YouTube and Zoom.

Prof. Gijzen has published over 400 articles and books, and presented numerous keynotes in the fields of water management, microbiology, environmental sciences, biotechnology, and sanitary and environmental engineering. He also covered topics on international cooperation, sustainable development, the MDGs, SDGs, big data and climate change.

This Public Lecture outlined the main challenges to be addressed, and identify the roles to be played by universities, and by Science, Technology and Innovation to catalyze this global transition towards a world and an Africa where people live in harmony between themselves and with nature. It also focused on the water-energy-food nexus and its importance in achieving the African Union Agenda 2063. The three sectors at the heart of sustainable development and present the key building blocks for sustainable cities and green economies. Prof. Gijzen presentation argued that transformational shifts are needed especially in these three sectors to be able to balance people and planet. “The transformation towards ‘New Water’, ‘New Food’, and ‘New Energy’, will lead the way towards a sustainable future for Africa, and for the World,” he said.

The lecture was in line with UNESCO Priority Africa Strategy, the African Union Agenda 2063 under the title ‘The Africa We Want’ and the United Nations Agenda 2030. Prof. Gijzen mentioned that “the sustainable development challenges are complex and require collective action and responsibility from all the world’s citizens. These Agendas call for transformational change in many sectors such as health, energy, climate change, food security, mobility and transportation, ICTs, water, sustainable cities, and others.” To manage these complexities requires a long-term vision and clear strategy that puts education and science technology and innovation (STI) at its core. It will require a new mindset, and a wave of knowledge, creativity and innovation to be unleashed, which underpins a key role for universities and for science. It calls for strong science to inform policy and for strong policies for science.

As part of the strategy for Africa’s transformation, “we must avoid repeating mistakes of the past elsewhere. In other words, don’t simply copy the unsustainable C-based economic model of developed nations,” he stated. As such, Africa could save significantly on time, and resources, by avoiding immensely expensive mistakes made by others in rolling out previous industrial revolutions in their continents.

UNESCO promotes this kind of world where there is unity in diversity, where different societies co-exist peacefully, where poverty is a syndrome of the past and a world with a green mindset through green cities, green economies and green living.

The Public Lecture had two discussants Prof. Michael Chege and Dr. Emmanuel Manyasa who both agreed with the contribution by Prof. Gijzen. They further urged the university to be dynamic and take up their rightful leadership positions in solving global challenges.

This lecture generated many key questions online and in the room that led to fruitful exchanges and deliberations.

This Public Lecture at the University of Nairobi was a great success and attracted interest of other universities, whom are expressing their desire to have Prof. Hubert Gijzen speak at their universities. Prof. Hubert Gijzen is ready and willing to speak on various current topics.