AAAS Delegation Visits Rwanda for Talks on East Africa Science and Education Cooperation

KIGALI, Rwanda—A delegation of top AAAS officials, led by Chief Executive Officer Alan I. Leshner, on Wednesday will begin four days of talks and meetings here with science and education leaders from Rwanda and other East African nations.

The visit will feature meetings with science and education leaders in the government of Rwandan President Paul Kagame and with researchers working to preserve and protect the region’s critically endangered mountain gorillas. Members of the AAAS delegation also will address a conference that will bring together high-level government leaders, university administrators, diplomatic officials, and students from six East African nations to discuss human resources development and regional integration in science and technology fields.

“AAAS has been building a fruitful relationship with Rwanda for several years now, and like much of the world, we have been inspired by the nation’s commitment to science, technology, and science education to improve the lives of the Rwandan people,” said Leshner, who also serves as executive publisher of the journal Science.

“We are honored to be a part of the important East African conference, and we believe it represents another hopeful step toward harmonizing science and education policy in ways that can best contribute to prosperity throughout the region.”

In addition to Leshner, the AAAS delegation visiting Rwanda this week includes:

Shirley Malcom, head of AAAS Education and Human Resources; Vaughan Turekian, AAAS chief international officer and director of the Center for Science Diplomacy; Jo Ellen Roseman, director of Project 2061, AAAS’s pioneering science literacy initiative; Romain Murenzi, formerly a minister in Kagame’s administration overseeing science, technology, and education, and now director of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Sustainable Development; and Maxmillian Angerholzer III, executive director of the Richard Lounsbery Foundation.

During this week’s visit, Roseman will provide Rwandan education officials with a collection of Project 2061 science education resources and a workshop on using the resources effectively. The delegation later will meet with researchers from the Karisoke Research Center founded by the late zoologist Dian Fossey, known for her long efforts to understand and protect the dwindling population of mountain gorillas.

Chief Executive Officer Alan I. Leshner

Chief Executive Officer Alan I. Leshner

The East Africa conference is expected to draw nearly 100 people—including science, education, and trade ministers—from Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda. W. Stuart Symington IV, the U.S. ambassador to Rwanda, also is expected to attend the conference.

The conference has been organized by the Rwandan Ministry of Education and AAAS. It is scheduled to begin the evening of 8 December. It is a follow-up to a 2009 event at AAAS in Washington, D.C., that featured a panel of high-level East African government, science, and education leaders describing their nations’ efforts to use science diplomacy and cooperation to address a range of regional challenges.

President Kagame has led Rwanda’s comprehensive commitment to science education and the development of science and technology capacity to drive economic growth. Rwanda has emerged as a model not only in Africa, but for developing nations around the world.

Rwanda and its economy were shattered by the genocide in 1994 that left some 800,000 people dead, mainly ethnic Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus. While Rwanda remains one of the world’s poorest countries, it has in the past decade recorded steady—and sometimes dramatic—progress.

In 1995, the mortality rate for children under 5 was almost 241 per 100,000; by 2009, the World Bank reports, it had dropped to just over 110 per 100,000. The number of people with access to improved sanitation facilities has risen sharply since 1995. And in just four years, from 2005-2008, the average life expectancy rose by two years, from 48 to 50.

Some 95% of elementary school-aged children—2.4 million in all—are now enrolled in classes; that’s far higher than the rate in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. The literacy rate has risen to 70%, reports the World Bank, up from 58% in 1991.

The government has worked to build a modern information and communication technology infrastructure; a nationwide fiber-optic network is being laid to connect centers of health, education, science, business, and government. Two years ago, Rwanda teamed with the American non-profit group, One Laptop Per Child, and began distributing thousands of powerful, low-cost laptops to students.

The poverty rate among Rwanda’s 10 million people fell from 60.3% in 2000 to 56.9% in 2006, according to the latest World Bank figures. Rwanda’s gross domestic product rose 11.8% in 2008, and hit 6% last year despite the global economic crisis. Earlier this year, government officials said growth would rebound to 7% for 2010.

Nobel Laureate David Baltimore visited Rwanda in 2007, while serving a term as AAAS president, and a few months later, Kagame delivered a plenary address at the 2008 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston. Malcom and Turekian were part of a delegation that visited Rwanda in late 2008.

Read about a December 2009 meeting of East African science and technology leaders at AAAS headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Listen to a podcast with Romain Murenzi, an architect of Rwanda’s acclaimed science-for-development strategy who now serves as director of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Sustainable Development.

Learn more about the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy and Project 2061, AAAS’s science literacy initiative.