INNOVATION is key, so the saying goes, and nowhere is it more needed than in the mountain Kingdom of Lesotho which is grappling with various infrastructure and economic challenges.
In the much-needed transition from being an agricultural and labour-intensive economy, Lesotho needs to diversify to compete in an interconnected, globalised world. The slow pace in the development of infrastructure and social services has worsened the plight of the poor and hampered the cost competitiveness and growth prospects of a range of economic sectors such as tourism and trade. The private sector’s development is also hampered by infrastructure constraints such as low access to electricity and its affordability, water, sanitation as well as poor road networks.
The task to bring Lesotho into the modern era should not be the government’s alone, since it is very apparent it cannot cope with the challenges. The private sector and higher education have a role to play in addressing these challenges. There are a few encouraging signs that the country might finally be coming out of its slumber.
The National University of Lesotho (NUL) recently showcased science and technology innovations as part of efforts to develop the country’s industrial sector and create jobs. Dubbed, Science and Technology Innovation Exhibition, the initiative was aimed at attracting the attention of the government, private sector as well as the general public to secure sponsorship for further research and development, as well as investment to take the final products to the market.
Among other things, the exhibition showcased prototypes, trial products, and innovative ideas on products that can be reverse-engineered and manufactured in Lesotho. These included the production of biogas from sewage waste, recycling paper and producing solar energy.
Elsewhere in this edition, a Thetsane-based firm, African Clean Energy (ACE), has developed a stove which is able to minimise cooking costs while also preserving the environment. ACE claims it uses 17 percent less wood to cook meals and is particularly suitable for impoverished areas where people do not have access to electricity.
Such initiatives should be commended and fostered as they inculcate an enterprising and innovative culture which creates employment and grows the economy.
Government’s role is to strengthen the links between higher education, research and business to drive innovation and create employment.
For instance, the South African government is promoting its solar energy industry, in collaboration with universities, with the sun set to soon contribute about half of all the country’s new power generation.
The South African government aims for 10 000GWh to be replaced by power from renewable sources, with 23 percent of this target to be achieved by solar water heating.
Another area needing innovation in Lesotho is housing considering the urgent need to shelter the urban poor with sustainable designs and operation principles.
The collaboration between the private sector and higher education would not only benefit the former from a commercial point of view, but would ensure our tertiary institutions are on the cutting edge in terms of generating the relevant curricula.
It would help modernise teaching and learning methods by fostering an exchange of ideas and developing people with the relevant skills and competences needed to be effective in the economy.
In Lesotho we are beset with graduates who are ill-equipped for entrepreneurship in the event of not finding formal employment. Higher education curriculums need to be strongly orientated toward helping solve the scientific and technological challenges that companies care about.
Only through innovation, and not hand-outs, can Lesotho emerge from the least developed status to a fully developed country.