I had the honor of meeting Prof. Onesmo K. ole-MoiYoi, renowned as one of Africa’s most accomplished molecular biologists, during one of his visits to Paris. He is the former Director of Research and Partnerships at the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi, Kenya.
In the early stage of his career, Prof. ole-MoiYoi was appointed to teaching and research positions at Harvard Medical School, but he chose to return to Kenya in 1981. Africa is certainly the better for his decision, as you will discover in this interview with Prof. ole-MoiYoi.
Why did you return to Kenya and what challenges did you address?
I went back to Africa to give back my experience and scientific expertise. It was my goal to train young scientists to be world class. I recognized that several key factors were having an impact on Africa’s ability to build a strong foundation in scientific innovation. There is not a history of scientific research in Africa, at least in a modern sense, yet a strong knowledge base exists.
“The advancement of science has not been a top priority in sub-Saharan Africa because governments tend to focus on poverty-related issues and unfortunately corruption is rampant. When funding for long-term research is secured, the money may not be allocated as needed or not properly used. A large portion of funding often goes to administration, staff remuneration and perhaps only 10% for research.”
Science is a global community and research disciplines continually progress, such as the emergence of molecular biology in the 1980s. In the past, due to its lack of centers of excellence, Africa struggled to keep up. Today we are creating sub-continental laboratories and building regional collaborative networks within Africa. We share common problems that must have common solutions, so it’s highly beneficial to collaborate, both within the country and with the outside world.
What positive progress is taking place?
The International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) was established in Kenya in 1970 and has made great progress in its mission:
- Help ensure food security and better health for humankind and its livestock
- Protect the environment
- Conserve and make better use of natural resources.
I was the Director of Research and Partnerships at ICIPE. I oversaw the African Regional Program in Insect Science (ARPPIS). Founded in 1983, ARPPIS has a three to four-year doctoral fellowship and a MSc Degree program for mid-level scientists. The graduates from these programs expand the network of ARPPIS-trained scientists and help in promoting intra-regional cooperation among research organizations and 34 participating universities throughout Africa. To date, ARPPIS has trained over 280 MSc and PhD scholars.
How is ARPPIS helping to prevent the ‘brain drain’ of scientists leaving Africa for other countries?
ARPPIS combines the excellence of an advanced international research centre with the academic experience of its partner African universities. The majority of ICIPE’s graduates stay on and work in Africa. Other graduates have risen to policy-influencing positions within their governments. The success of the ARPPIS program has resulted in an annual increase in demand for postgraduate training with requests coming from all over Africa.
This program also helps to reduce another problem called ‘brain in the drain’. Scientists become frustrated because of rigid university structures or a lack of funding or career progress, and take non-scientific jobs. ARPPIS can also help to preserve our brain trust of intellectual talent.
Thank you Prof. ole-MoiYoi, I wish you ongoing success!