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Chemist Profession โ€“ The Linkage to Ugandaโ€™s Innovation and Sustainable Growth.

2023-07-23 09:50:32

Uganda is ranked 129th in the overall Prosperity Index rankings (Source: Despite moving up 5 places higher since 2011, it is still behind its neighboring great lakes region countries of Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania. This ranking is based on a variety of variables that includes wealth, economic growth, education, health, personal well-being, and quality of life. Therefore, the government has put up various initiatives in pursuit of prosperity and move up the rankings.

The United Nations states that Science, technology, and innovation (STI) have been the main drivers of socioeconomic development, economic growth, and industrialization throughout history. Through STI, developed nations were able to concentrate teams on research and development and converted their resources into global competitive products and services. This also explains why the Ugandan government has been pushing for excellence in science subjects for the past two decades.

One particular discipline in the field of science is Chemistry. Chemistry, as the science of matter and its properties and reactions, is the bridge between other scientific disciplines of physics, material sciences, and life sciences. explains a chemist as a scientist who studies and specializes in how molecules chemically interact with each other and their environments. In the case of Uganda, a chemist is specifically regarded as a person who mixes things in a laboratory. We cannot blame the public for having this perception because most chemists work in laboratories at research facilities or academic Institutions. However, with continuous demand for improved and new products in the present world, a chemist is more than just mixing substances and conducting chemical experiments and reactions.

A Chemist’s work began the moment our ancestors became human as stated by UNESCO on its website. From the days of alchemy to the discovery of gases, medicine production, soap and candle production, crude oil refining, electrolysis and batteries, advanced instrumentation, and now fullerenes nanoparticles, it is no doubt that chemistry has contributed to the transformation of our generations.

There are also numerous industries in Uganda that require and have realized the expertise of trained chemists. For example, biochemists test the safety and efficacy of pesticides in agricultural fields. The flooding of the market with packaged snacks and juices is the work of a food chemist who designs new formulations of processed food. The discovery of the magical Covidex drug was the careful extraction and application of different botanical chemicals to in the fight against the COVID-19 disease. Chemists also work as geochemists in geological and mining fields. These are employed by the government or other agencies as analysts, toxicologists, waste management experts, and environmental researchers.

The mining and mineral industry greatly utilizes the craftsmanship and knowledge of chemistry in refining and value addition of metal ores and minerals such as iron ore, bauxite, marble, gold, copper, and so on. Chemists employed in the oil and gas industry participate in enhancing oil and gas production, crude oil separation, water treatment, waste treatment, and problem-solving through the study and application of various chemicals. To sum it up, the fundamental role of chemists in education and academia as professors, teachers, or laboratory technicians cannot be overlooked or underestimated.

In Uganda’s pursuit of achieving sustainable development, chemistry can be applied to target the value addition and processing of our minerals, efficient use of energy resources, innovation of consumer products, renewal of waste products, and improvement of industrial processes to curb greenhouse emissions. Advances in chemistry have been and will continue to be, instrumental in increasing agricultural production to feed the growing local population, providing safe drinking water, and preventing and treating disease.

As indicated above, the chemistry profession is a wide field of science where every year students enroll in various Chemistry courses at universities.  In this case, it is vital and necessary to have a body that unites members from the different chemistry professions.

The Uganda Society of Professional Chemists (USPC) is a non-profit organization that brings together chemistry professionals from various chemistry education disciplines of industrial, chemical technology, environmental, chemical engineering, materials, analytical, forensic, and organic, inorganic, and physical chemistry in Uganda. It aims for the transformation of livelihoods through advancing the study and application of chemical sciences.

The organization has over 120 registered members since its inauguration in 2011. It recently mobilized funds and participated in research on the investigation of aflatoxins in maize flour in Uganda during the COVID lockdown period. It strives to create a professional community that has a sense of social responsibility where it works together with the government and private sector to identify opportunities for new chemical research, application of chemistry and chemical technology, and green and sustainable manufacturing practices.

With all the above stated, poor performance of the chemistry subject in secondary schools stands at the success of the chemistry profession. Recently, the Uganda Professional Science Teachers’ Union (UPSTU) attributed the poor performance in the 2022 exams of most secondary schools to a lack of laboratory structures and equipment. For those that have laboratories, a question of the competence and existence of good laboratory practices and management also needs to be raised given the continuous poor performance of chemistry practicals over recent years. Higher institutions of learning also lack advanced analytical instrumentation to spearhead research and development of products and industries.

It is thus evident that the chemistry professional industry is a major to the economic transformation of the country through spearheading product development and improvement of industrial processes. This in turn shall help Uganda in the actualization of prosperity and a sustainable economy for future generations.

Should the government intensify the capacity development of chemical professionals right from the secondary school level to support innovation and achieve rapid sustainable growth? The answer lies in how society now perceives a chemist.

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