Interview With Prof. Venâncio Massingue, The Mozambican Minister Of Science And Technology

by Bemgba Nyakuma

A wise man, an African maxim declares, is one who knows proverbs and can reconcile difficulties using them. A trained engineer, Prof. Venâncio Massingue believes that “There is no single scientist who is not a politician”. The following words of wisdom can be credited to him “opportunities start from the interior of each and every one of us and its begins by saying, I want to change something” “If you view problems as problems then we will have to wait on someone to solve them but as challenges you will to be the first to think of how to address them”

I met up with him on his return to his Alma Mata to attend the inaugural event of the Young Entrepreneurs for Africa, YEFA. My discussion with him was to shed light on the numerous opportunities for existing and implementing our scientific knowledge in Africa. He has decided to contribute his experience to the realization of the YEFA initiative and believes YEFA should position itself as the instrument for brain gain by embarking on scientific expeditions which will generate meaningful ideas that can solve practical problems. The Mozambican Minister of Science and Technology was born in 1960 in Chibuto, a district in Mozambique and obtained his PhD from TU Delft. This is an excerpt of our discussion.

Q. What can you tell us about yourself, family and educational background?

A. “I wrote on my thesis that I was born in Chibuto, a district in the southern part of Mozambique where I had my first education and then moved to Maputo for my secondary education. After my Technical Education I came to TU Delft to be educated as a Computer Maintenance Engineer in hardware. I am a father of two girls. I have held management positions both in industry and academics at Eduardo Mondlane University (UEM) where I was also Vice-Rector, and I am now the Minister of Science and Technology”

Q. Why did you choose TU Delft over other universities and what was your experience like here?

A. This was a very interesting time because I always liked to combine studies and work. When I came to Delft, I was already working and had bought a car. So coming to Delft I thought that well I was coming to a developed country, so I was shocked when I arrived and received a package and inside was a bicycle. I was shocked that I had to commute to university and back home on a bicycle every day. It was also cold. However I found the educational facilities to be excellent. During lunch with a colleague on my first day at the Cafeteria, I had soup and a piece of bread. My colleague turned to me asking, “Its only that you are going to eat?” I replied that it was just a starter and that I was still waiting for the main course. So in one week I realized that food here meant bread, cheese and milk. After one month I was not able to have the normal lunch I was used to back home and also started enjoying cycling. Most importantly I was impressed by the fact that all the theory I was been taught was been practiced. Then I said to myself, yes now I am doing engineering

Q. Do you see any advantages of studying in the West over Africa?

A. Frankly, we have to be realistic. In the African continent for historical reasons we still lack good educational infrastructure and facilities and because we have good friends in the West, it is a good idea to take advantage and study abroad. Even though sometimes there is the debate, should we let young people go abroad to study? My vision is that we must combine both education at home but also using the possibilities that are available to study abroad. However there are very important elements that have to be considered. One, we the policy makers must establish and develop high quality educational infrastructure for research in Africa- which we are doing. Two, has to do with the students who are attracted by what they see here and forget they have to return home after their studies. There is this debate that there are no facilities, jobs, and amenities to provide an enabling environment. But they forget that the only reason these facilities exist here is because someone made the effort to provide them. So there is a fundamental generation problem and it is important to say I have to do something especially taking into account that it is your responsibility as a PhD. Thus the argument that there are no conditions is irrelevant and should not arise because no one will create the conditions for young African graduates to return to. They have to put it behind their minds that they have to be part of the creation of the better conditions. Some of us had the opportunity to do a PhD but my grandmother doesn’t even know how to write but she made the effort to get me educated. We have to create the conditions.

Q. Why did you choose to attend the YEFA event and why are you lending credence to this initiate?

A. The YEFA concept is very strong. This is because it is about entrepreneurship and about young people. It is about making use of scientists of a very high level that are trained but lack the vital connection back home in Africa to implement what they have learnt. It is important to be able to implement say after a PhD what you have learnt to bear by bringing a remarkable positive change; thereby linking the realities in the West to the opportunities in Africa.

Q. Do you see any real opportunities for young Africans entrepreneurs back in Africa because most choose not to return home for many reasons?

A. If a few years ago I had this type of reasoning I would not be here with you talking about Mozambique. I would have said it’s better to stay in Europe. My answer is yes there are opportunities. But these opportunities start from the interior of each and every one of us and begin by saying, I want to change something.

Q. What are the challenges the young African entrepreneurs can expect to encounter when the return home to help actualize these positive changes?

A. It is not good to consider them as problems but as challenges only then can you convert them to opportunities. If you view them as problems then we have to wait on someone must solve them but as challenges you will to be the first to think how to address them. I believe there are so many opportunities for existing and implementing our scientific knowledge.

Q. What are you ideas for YEFA and how do you see it helping young African entrepreneurs to establish themselves in Africa and contributing to the Sustainable development of Africa?

A. First I like to think that YEFA should define itself as the instrument for brain gain. This will help promote the idea of Africans returning home. A high emphasis should be put on what I call scientific expeditions – generating meaningful ideas that can solve practical problems.

Q. The state-of-the-art telecommunication and ICT infrastructure in Mozambique is credited to you. Do you see yourself as a politician or a technocrat?

A. That is a good question. The world would be a better place if we take responsibility for what we say and can prove. So I like to say I can communicate via internet and I can show it. I want to tell you something, there is no single scientist that is not a politician. You cannot be a PhD or MSc without having an opinion or what you are defending. The debate about being a technocrat versus politician is irrelevant what is important is the utilization of the science. But of course you need knowledge of science to implement it.

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