HomeEngineeringViewpoint: Unpacking Rwanda’s engineering sector: Opportunities, challenges

    Viewpoint: Unpacking Rwanda’s engineering sector: Opportunities, challenges


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    When an idea was mooted back in 2008 to establish an Institution to regulate the engineering profession in Rwanda and play an advocacy role for engineering practitioners in the country, the initiators had very huge ambitions for the sector.

    It is now 10 years since the Institution of Engineers Rwanda (IER) was formally established, and it has been an exciting journey.

    The organisation has grown leaps and bounds. Membership has exponentially grown, while no effort has been spared to streamline the profession in many ways, with unprecedented results.

    There however remains a very long journey to make. To begin with, there is need for better understanding of the very nature of this sector, which many in Rwanda tend to look at singularly through the prisms of civil engineering.

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    I want to first of all explain key terminologies of the profession for purposes of clarity.

    “Engineering” is defined as a profession in which engineers make full use of their knowledge in mathematical science, natural science, and science of the artificial, to develop, research, manufacture, operate, and maintain hardware and software of artificial device and systems that contribute to the welfare and security of mankind.

    One segment of the engineering profession requires the individuals to complete an accredited programme of study typified by four years or more of post‐secondary study. There are also Engineering Technologists and Engineering Technicians.

    A technologist – who is also referred to as an incorporated engineer, will normally have at least three years of post-secondary study while a technician is required to have at least two years of the same.

    However, if you pick any random person on the street, including educated (in other fields other than engineering) or semi-illiterate, and ask them what their understanding of the typical engineer is, they will limit the scope to civil engineering.

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    Unbeknown to many, in Rwanda, there are at least over 19 fields of engineering, all regulated by the IER and these include; environmental engineers, transportation Engineers, electronics and telecommunications engineers, electromechanical engineers, structural engineers, among others.

    That confusion around who is an engineer may be partly responsible for the misconception that only civil engineers must subscribe to the engineering body, while others can operate without regulation, which is a worrying trend.

    Legally, all practitioners must fulfill the necessary requirements as spelt out in the statute of the Institution – you must apply, sit for an interview, take engineer’s oath and thereafter be certified as an engineer.

    It is therefore not just enough for you to complete an engineering degree at university that you will immediately become an engineer. This understanding is the starting point in as far changing the mindset is concerned.

    Different countries have varied requirements for anyone who wants to become an engineer. Some are more rigorous than others. The common denominator for almost all markets that I have studied – starting from this region, is that nowhere one comes out of college and instantly becomes an engineer.

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    I will give some examples; in Kenya, a graduate is asked to work as an under-study of a professional engineer for at least three years – with a title of Graduate Engineer – before you can apply to join their professional body as a full engineer.

    Almost the same is applicable in Uganda, while in Tanzania, it is even more rigorous. Other countries actually issue licenses that expire after some time and peg renewal on how much time the applicant dedicated to continuous professional development, to keep with the trends of the industry.

    It is therefore important that engineering graduates in Rwanda, policymakers and firms that engage engineers fully appreciate the importance of belonging to a professional body.

    In fact, from the assessment of how the profession is regulated in other markets, it is imperative that in Rwanda, we set up a bridge course which graduate engineers can attend before they can be considered for membership. This is the same case for law graduates who are required to obtain a legal practice diploma before they can be admitted to the bar.

    Just like a doctor cannot attend to a patient without a practicing license – which only happens after the individual had completed a residency for a specific period – engineering work should simply not be done before one is licensed by the industry regulator.

    Aside from statutory obligations, there are several benefits by the Institution to the members which further stresses the importance of belonging to the professional body. The benefits can be seen both in the micro and macro prisms.

    Macro benefits are accrued by the country and community in general, by way of getting qualified and regulated engineers to take on community and individual projects. This guarantees safety and accountability.

    On the other hand, there are micro benefits that go directly to individual engineers including but not limited to; advocacy, Continuous Professional Development programmes, medical insurance, as well as benefits from international networks with other engineering bodies, employment opportunities for members, among others.

    On the advocacy side, I can give an example of a lobby that was done by the Institution to ensure that in the event that a foreigner has been contracted to undertake a project, local engineers must constitute at least 30 per cent of the workforce.

    The institution has also helped lobby for a definition of the scope of work within the building code for technologists and technicians who were not appropriated in the said code yet TVET policy advocates that 60 per cent of students pursuing STEM should join TVET schools.

    In conclusion, I want to suggest a tripartite collaboration between academia, industry and the professional body.The same institutional collaboration is important for the achievement of the very ambitious aspirations that the government of Rwanda set out in Vision 2050.

    The writer is the Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer, the Institution of Engineers Rwanda

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