AFRICA has an advantage of skipping all the mistakes made by the developing world and implementing latest technologies for its development, says Dr Kah Masamba, coordinator of nuclear education (project) in Africa under the Russian University of People Friendship.
Citing Zambia as an example for Africa’s potential to embrace new technologies such as nuclear science and energy, Dr Masamba says it has a large advantage due to its geographical location.
He says in an interview that Zambia’s position of having eight neighbouring countries places the country at the heart of Africa’s continent to lead the way in nuclear science and energy.
“Zambia is the heart of Africa. It has a massive advantage for being connected to other countries of Africa. It has good climatic conditions and the people are certainly a critical mass of the population with engineering potential to take nuclear science and direct extraction of minerals to production because there are already enough industrial experts in the country,” he says.
Production areas such as agriculture which produce enough food for both domestic consumption and for external markets, Dr Masamba says only needs a systematic approach in planning for the industries.
Russia, through ROSATOM is already helping Zambia to establish the Center for Nuclear Science and Technology (CNST) in Chongwe.
The center is planned for conducting scientific research and commercial purposes ranging from education and training to radiopharmaceuticals production.
Seemingly, Zambia in partnership with Russia has already launched education programs , and currently a good number of students have been and are being trained in Russia to come and work at the center in future.
“ROSATOM is the biggest corporation in the nuclear field in the world which takes its education sector very seriously. Depending on the desires and conditions of the countries they cooperate with ROSATOM to provide scholarship programmes together with the Russian Federal Government with an additional package of ROSATOM where ROSATOM guarantees the students to be exposed to the necessary practical aspects of nuclear technology at sites in Russia,” Dr Masamba explains.
For instance, he says as Zambia is planning to build a center for nuclear science and technology, then all the students going for training to Russia will go and get exposed to theoretical parts in ROSATOM partner network of universities.
“The value of proper education can’t be overestimated, and Russia offers excellent nuclear programs for international students which give them an opportunity to become top specialists in their field whether they want to live academical life or work in public or commercial organizations. The Russian Ministry of education special scholarships in nuclear studies includes education, study materials, reduced fare for public transport and some other privileges. Together with Zambian Ministry of Higher Education sponsorship support this is a great motivation for Zambian students to pick up nuclear and related subjects”, stated Dmitry Vysotsky, Vice President for CNST Projects at Rusatom Overseas (Rosatom’s company). ROSATOM actually pays for the students’ practical sessions in its enterprises where they get necessary skills’ set and come back home while ROSATOM creates job opportunities for them in facilities such as the center being built.
Asked whether ROSATOM is satisfied with the development of nuclear science in the 23 African countries; Dr Masamba says; “We are moving. You cannot force things. You have to go with the flow of the river. Africa has come a long way over the last decades especially that what is happening now is unprecedented industrialisation and the continent is about to rise up like a phoenix from the ashes, from the colonial past and social economic arrangements that have been taking place here for the past 500 years.”
He observes that it is for the first time in history that Africa is now well positioned and managing its own affairs relying on its own resources and its own power.
Africa, according to Dr Masamba has an advantage of implementing latest technologies in agriculture, power and medicine because of its strongly and deeply entrenched family and communal value systems.
“In fact African countries have an opportunity to implement latest technologies, skipping all the mistakes that European countries and America had made and implement the best into virgin land. So that will be a massive thrust of the people taking into account that 60 percent of African population is under the age of 25, so you have got 1.2billion people and 700million young people are hungry for knowledge,” he shares.
Zambian youth has a strong desire to absorb the knowledge, Dr Masamba believes.
“I am just looking forward to witnessing the renaissance and prosperity of Africa and nuclear technologies is one of the ingredients that will make that happen,” he says.
The Russian government spends around US$2million for scholarships in a wide range of technical programmes including nuclear energy for Zambian students, discloses Aleksandr Anisimov, director-Russian Centre of Science and Culture in Zambia.
In 2021 just like in the previous year overall 20 Zambian candidates were selected for nuclear relevant specialties – from nuclear engineering to nuclear medicine and other related programs provided by the Russian Ministry of Education. These students have started their studies online due to the raging second wave of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Nonetheless, as for last year’s candidates, they are currently studying in different universities in Russia since they arrived in the country before pandemic lockdowns in most parts of the world.
Scholarships are Russia’s long-standing commitment and effort to contribute to the technical development in Zambia and across Africa.
The 20 Zambian students selected for this year’s academic calendar in nuclear relevant specialties were part of the 150 students awarded full scholarships worth US$2million from the Russian Federal Government.
“This is the impact of Russian contribution to Zambia’s development through education. Russia thinks strategically about helping Zambia through building humanitarian capacity and skills. Russia has one of the best education systems in mathematics, health, building technology, engineering and Information Technology (IT) programmes,” Mr Anisimov says in an interview.
“We at the Russian Center for Science and Culture represent here in Zambia an education programme for professional development of engineering for the nuclear industry in Zambia. We select the best school graduates in cooperation with the Ministry of Higher Education to study in special courses in some of the best universities in Russia to prepare engineers for nuclear facilities,” he says.
Mr Anisimov says nuclear development for Africa and Zambia in particular is important for the entire infrastructure development and can set the ground for nuclear energy projects in future.
According to Mr Anisimov, other forms of energy like hydro are unpredictable as they depend on weather-favourable rains and good water levels for electricity generation.
Hydro energy contributes around 85 percent to Zambia’s total energy production with other sources such as solar, thermal, coal sharing the remainder.
“It is logical that in Zambia and the entire Africa considers the opportunity of nuclear industry development. If we talk about energy projects, nuclear plants do not depend on weather but on qualification of employees and technology. We are sure that Russian experience in nuclear engineering, science, technology and education and training would benefit Zambia,” he says.
As stated by Mr. Anisimov, this year the Russian Centre for Science and Culture is holding mobile exhibitions in Zambia’s four national museums starting from Lusaka in March. This will help raise awareness about nuclear advantages among Zambian students and the general public. .
From the Ministry of Higher Education’s stand point, the country has been embracing nuclear science and technology for economic development since 1969 when it became a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Since then, according to Dr Reuben Katebe, a national coordinator for the nuclear project implementing unit under the Ministry of Higher Education, the country has been applying nuclear science and technology in agriculture, medicine, research and development, academia and industry.
Dr Katebe says Government’s appreciation of nuclear science and technology is evidenced through the establishment of the Nuclear Analytical Laboratory in 1980 at the National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research (NISIR) through an IAEA Technical Cooperation project, the establishment of the Cancer Diseases Hospital in 2006 and Nuclear Medicine Center through IAEA-TC project.
Further, he says Zambia is in the process of establishing a Center for Nuclear Science and Technology, which will require more trained personnel in nuclear science and technology.
“In view of this, Zambia recognizes the importance of nuclear science education to contribute to the economic development of the country. To optimize the utilization of nuclear science and technology the importance of having well trained personnel cannot be over emphasized,” he says.
In the quest to increase the number of personnel trained in nuclear science and technology, the Zambian government is open to cooperation in the area of human resource development.
Dr Katebe says that cooperation with the Russian Government, which has been providing annual scholarships to Zambian students in various fields of nuclear science and technology is notable for Zambia.
He says with Zambia’s increased interest in applying nuclear science and technology for its development, the Russian Government has expanded its scholarship allocation to Zambia by including slots specific for nuclear science and technology scholarships, a gesture he says has eased Zambia’s burden of developing human resource in nuclear science and technology.
On how competitive the scholarship selection process is, Dr Katebe explains that the process receives an overwhelming number of school leaver applicants.
“The selection process is done at two (2) stages through the Higher Education Loans and Scholarship Board (HELSB) and finally by the Russian Scholarship Commission under the Russian Cultural Center. The Russian Scholarship Commission has representatives from the Russian Cultural Center, the Ministry of Higher Education, and the Nuclear Project Implementing Unit. At both stages in the selection process, robust selection criteria are used to ensure the right candidates are selected for the scholarships,” he says.