Africa’s women, girls hold the key to continent’s STEM success

“To all young women listening to me today, I want to say this: yes you can. You can be a scientist, you can be an engineer and you can be a Mathematician,” she remarked on an authoritative note- befittingly so. A young passionate African mathematician Eva Liliane Ujeneza delivered her notes that were derived from a journey that defied the odds to get an education at The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS).

Eva’s journey is just one of many of a new breed of African scientists that are being blossomed at this pan African center of excellence currently operating in 6 countries on the continent. She is an embodiment of hope and possibility to young women. But even more to that, as an alumni of the institute, Eva represents a crucial objective of AIMS: To strengthen Rwandan women’s interest in Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. (STEM)

Her story like many African success stories hasn’t been rosy throughout- nonetheless, today she is a University graduate with an honors in Applied Mathematics, a Master’s degree holder resulting from an AIMS South Africa scholarship and in current pursuance of a PhD in Bio-Mathematics at the public research Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

So how does Rwanda and Africa in general inspire and propel young women with potential careers in STEM to this level and further? Anyone in attendance of the launch might argue in response that the women holders of doctorates on the gender plenary session panel was nearly all the inspiration a young woman would need. From Kenya’s Evelyn Gitau from the Africa Academy of Sciences to Aminata Garba, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, it was quite clear that the Women in STEM glass ceiling has already been broken. And all this under the watchful eye of one of Africa’s leaders championing women’s empowerment, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame.

Eva Ujeneza, AIMS alumni and star of the launch (front, second right)

The panel however had other helpful insights to share: deliberate provision of opportunity of leadership to women, creation of conducive, especially socially and culturally STEM environments for women onto which Dr. Eliane Ubalijoro, professor at Montreal’s McGill University added; “You only innovate effectively in the context of a good system.” She then stressed the need to encourage a culture where failure as a means of change is okay.”

AIMS Rwanda is the 6th of the pan-African Network of Centers of Excellence that bring some of the most brilliant of Africa’s youth together in a culturally diverse environment. There, they’re to create and test mathematical solutions to challenges with the guidance of lecturers and research fellows from around the world with the hope to ultimately create a workforce that will transform the African continent through innovative scientific training and technical advances. In his guest of honor remarks, H.E Paul Kagame asked AIMS to count on Rwanda as a partner and added; “There can be no more effective investment in Africa’s future than in educating and empowering talented young people.”

So even at a time when issues like unemployment and underemployment seem to be at the brink of a youthful revolution on the continent, a little bit of foresight by institutions such as AIMS and leaders like Paul Kagame seem to have a plan for Africa’s future; this time with women at the helm.