Saturday, November 12, 2011

Critics argue that the Kiira EV Green Car is just a prestige project, but it shows what can be achieved through research funding in Africa

In an era of technological miracles, the land can not stop the news that young engineers at Makerere University in Uganda, have an electric car. But I remember as a college professor, this is great news for Uganda.

Last week, the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology at Makerere performed a test-drive 4 km in the Kiira EV, a two-seater that runs on rechargeable lithium batteries instead of gasoline. Its creators say that under the conditions of the highway, Kiira EV can reach speeds of 100 km / h, and the cover 80 km (50 miles) before needing to recharge.

Although the technology has existed for decades, is the first time that someone in Uganda has been able to ride side and manufacturing fully electric cars, ostensibly green to symbolize their letters of ecological debt.

However, despite this achievement just one of the poorest countries in the world - Uganda ranked 161 out of 187 countries in human development index in 2011 - was not without its skeptics and criticism. Questions were raised about priorities, project feasibility, and prestige that have little impact on the lives of the majority.

However, at a time when academics and World Bank continue to call on States to put research at the center of the African university, Kiira can be a reminder that the conditions are right, large things can get out of Africa, like the Nile, after the car is called.

"Our training in institutions of higher education has not done a lot of research products. I think this vehicle is a manifestation of a paradigm shift in our training institutions to go beyond the lectures and laboratory experiments, "said Sande Togboa Stevens, professor of electrical engineering, who is the head Kiira of the project.

Togboa, a university vice chancellor, said the idea came from Kiira EV Makerere participation in the Summit of the vehicle design, an inter-university initiative to build the car of the future . Led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the summit resulted in the construction, in 2008, Vision 200 prototypes, a gasoline-electric hybrid car in Turin, Italy.

"The performance of our students [the summit] was good," said Togboa Kampala. "Therefore, he announced that returning home and build our own car."

But now that the car was built at a cost of $ 35 000 - what happens next? One obstacle to universities in Africa to produce solutions to many problems of the continent is the lack of funding, which has stifled ambition. In the case of the EV Kiira, who took a combination of "paradigm shift" and a campus visit by President Yoweri Museveni two years ago. During a follow-up meeting, Museveni announced a donation of about $ 10 million for research projects at the University for five years. If it were not for this concession, said Togboa green car of Uganda may have stalled in the design phase.

A report by the World Bank in 2010, funding for research in Africa has fallen in the past. As enrollment in universities has increased, the focus has shifted to online teaching down long enough to see a cohort through the door to another can come

"Lack of funds has limited the ability of institutions to pay adequate compensation or to invest in infrastructure and research equipment, making it difficult to research capacity in general," the report said Noting that many universities are constantly losing top research-oriented Togboa personal and the private sector.

Some countries, including South Africa, Mozambique, Ethiopia and Ghana, have completed a public funding for university funding conventional competitive research.

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