His Majesty King Mswati III has once again reiterated the need to transform Eswatini into a knowledge-based economy through the development of science, technology, and innovation infrastructure to facilitate research and development.

Speaking at the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, the King emphasised the importance of research and development, pointing out that the Royal Science and Technology Park (RSTP) continues to be a key entity aimed at advancing scientific research and related fields in Eswatini.

His Majesty again highlighted the importance of science, technology, and innovation (STI) during the 38th graduation ceremony of the University of Eswatini (UNESWA) held in Kwaluseni on the weekend.

“The Kingdom is at a crucial time where our economy yearns for more innovation and creativity for job creation,” he said, further giving the onus to the university and all institutions of higher learning to be innovative and come up with ways of raising funds to assist government in providing education for all.

The King noted that Eswatini is still experiencing a shortage of expertise in the health, ICT, science and engineering sectors, hence these are a priority for the country. He further applauded the university for introducing programmes in the technology sphere, saying this is in line with initiatives at the RSTP that provide platforms for innovation and technology for sustainable socio-economic development for the country.

His Majesty’s vision for achievement of a knowledge-based economy is in line with findings of a study on the National System of Innovation (NSI) conducted by the Eswatini Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre (ESEPARC), which emphasises the importance of innovation as the foundational component of social and economic development.

ESEPARC STI policy specialist, Tengetile Hlophe notes that science and technology helps a country to increase efficiency in production and to improve the production processes. She says through research and development, producers can enhance their products and compete globally.

Emphasising His Majesty’s assertion, Tengetile says it is important for developing countries to invest in home-grown capacities in scientific research and technological know-how. “As we are aspiring to be a knowledge economy, we need these capacities because knowledge is the new success, hence we need to invest in our technological capacities as a country.

“When we talk about science, technology, and innovation, we should all understand that we are talking about the implementation of a national development strategy. If we want to eradicate poverty, deal with climate change issues, and improve agricultural productivity and the efficiency of our farmers, we are talking about science, technology, and innovation,” she notes.

The researcher further points out that policies, regulation, research and development (R&D) funding, and education are the seeds of a national system of innovation, which then grows into knowledge, STI personnel, and infrastructure development. “We need to build our innovation system from within,” she says.

The study recommends, among other things, the need to create a national STI Strategy where the Ministries of Finance, ICT, and Economic Planning are at the forefront of its development and financing. It also recommends increased funding for knowledge creation by investing in R&D and education.

To this end, His Majesty has reaffirmed government’s commitment towards funding higher education. He also called for strategic partnerships and private sector participation in the education sector. “Such partnerships will expose both the academic staff and students to latest innovations, and may involve joint research and access to educational equipment, amongst other benefits,” said the King at the UNESWA graduation ceremony.

To encourage private sector participation in research and development, the ESEPARC study recommends that there is a need for Eswatini to provide proper incentive structures for industry to engage in innovation. The study also suggests that STI governance, collaboration, and cooperation must be improved, and all of this must be placed in policy so as to facilitate collaboration between entities.

His Majesty articulates it clearly: “The challenge at hand is how we want the nation to move going forward. We have given ourselves a target of first world status by 2022, and to this end, we should position ourselves in a manner to ensure that we see significant results and improvement being achieved in all sectors of our development agenda”.