Building engineering capacity to underpin Human and Economic Development in Africa

A Concept Note


World Federation of Engineering Organisations, Federation of African Engineering Organisations & International Engineering Alliance

September 2014

This report has been produced by Evidence on Demand with the assistance of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) contracted through the Climate, Environment, Infrastructure and Livelihoods Professional Evidence and Applied Knowledge Services (CEIL PEAKS) programme, jointly managed by HTSPE Limited and IMC Worldwide Limited.

The views expressed in the report are entirely those of the author and do not necessarily represent DFID’s own views or policies, or those of Evidence on Demand. Comments and discussion on items related to content and opinion should be addressed to the author, via



This concept note outlines an initiative to strengthen engineering skills and capacity in Africa. It is designed to inform potential future programming at the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

The authors have dubbed the initiative ‘Africa Catalyst’ because of the role that qualified engineers play in underpinning economic and human development. The concept has been developed collaboratively and in some detail, and draws upon previous work in this area. 

Section 1: The Problem

The average number of engineers across countries in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to be less than 1 engineer per 100,000 people. This compares to a European average of 500 per 100,000 people (UNESCO, 2010). Fewer than half of Africa’s countries have professional engineering institutions (WFEO, 2014).

As population growth increases, the shortage of engineers is getting worse because universities are not keeping up. Tanzania, for example, graduates only 1,700 engineers a year from its universities (IET, 2014) – and many cannot find jobs because of poor quality programmes. The population of Tanzania will have doubled by the time today’s graduates are mid-career professionals; it could fall to these few graduates to deliver infrastructure and technology to an estimated population of 100 million people (World Bank, 2014).

How is a country supposed to develop if it doesn’t have enough engineers? The authors set out a case that – since infrastructure and technology are the domain of engineers, and because these underpin human and economic development – the shortage of qualified engineers is a huge barrier to:

  •  Overcoming dependency on foreign aid;
  •  The operation and maintenance of existing infrastructure;
  • The cost-effective implementation of new infrastructure;
  • The success of Science, Technology and Innovation policies;
  • Progress on poverty reduction goals and wider progress on human development;
  •  Economic development, particularly in attracting investment;
  • Achieving inclusive growth, and;
  • Sustainable urbanisation.

Moreover, the authors argue that this huge barrier to development has been largely overlooked in most of Africa (unlike in the Asian Tiger or BRICS countries) and that previous attempts to address it have not had sufficient scope, scale and support to deliver.

African engineers must engage more actively strategically with the international scene – both inside the profession and in bodies like the African Union. This will only happen if engineering bodies are strengthened, and have better data and resources to engage effectively.

Section 2: The Concept

Africa Catalyst seeks to deliver more and better engineers in every country in Africa. Its focus is the formation of engineers through universities, and through professional engineering institutions and accreditation bodies. Africa Catalyst’s impact will be most directly on the first decade of an African engineer’s career: their engineering degree and then professional qualification.

Africa Catalyst has an ultimate outcome for each of its two direct beneficiary groups:

1.    Engineering Universities in Africa: “Africa has a large number of engineers whose knowledge, skills and competencies meet recognised international standards and national needs.”

2.    Professional Engineering Institutions and Engineering Accreditation Bodies in Africa: “Engineering professional bodies in Africa are effective in working for the public good and ensuring the accountability of African engineers.”

Put another way, capacity building of these organisations is needed to improve both the quantity and quality of engineers in Africa. The key to this capacity building is accreditation; accreditation is what gives the Africa Catalyst concept its teeth (and is what sets Africa Catalyst apart from previous capacity building efforts). Without accreditation of the education and competence of engineers, capacity building would have much weaker economic impact and would leave African PEIs and universities with a much weaker ‘offer’ to engineers and engineering students. This can be understood as follows:

  •  The overall goal is to build real professional engineering capacity by improving engineering education and competence.
  • A fundamental enabler of this is improvements in university engineering courses or programmes to meet recognised international standards (or use them as templates).
  • This will need proper accreditation and monitoring of courses, which can only happen if the engineering profession is properly regulated in each country.
  •  Proper regulation requires PEIs and accreditation bodies that meet recognised international standards themselves.
  • Accredited African PEIs and universities will be more attractive to African engineers and engineering students because of significantly improved career prospects.
  • As their registration revenues increase, the capacity of the PEIs and universities will further increase – creating a virtuous circle in professional engineering capacity.

Section 3: The Stakeholders

Crucially, Africa Catalyst is designed to build capacity in all the necessary areas to achieve its coherent theory of change. To deliver it, Africa Catalyst brings together and aligns all the key players and initiatives on capacity building in the engineering sector for the first time. It learns from previous engineering capacity building efforts in Africa, and the authors believe, offers a uniquely comprehensive, effective and powerful programme design.

Africa Catalyst brings together three Partners: the World Federation of Engineering Organisations, the Federation of African Engineering Organisations and the International Engineering Alliance. The UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) is proposed as an independent secretariat. A Coalition of organisations is proposed to align effort and support.

Section 4: The Programme

Building capacity of the engineering sector in all 54 African countries will be difficult and complex. The ambitious scope of the concept is necessary because of the nature of the profession and to overcome problems faced by previous initiatives. Despite such scope, there is a significant limit on what can be achieved: the capacity of the beneficiaries – many of which are over-burdened organisations with limited staff – to absorb capacity building.

To deliver the programme effectively, an agile approach of ‘sensing’, ‘responding’, ‘guiding’ and ‘supporting’ has been developed for the Africa Catalyst concept. The programme team’s work will be to assess needs, context and opportunities and to deliver capacity building which is heavily biased towards implementation (rather than training, workshops, toolkits or manuals). To provide a sense of scale, the programme is based around a £16 million estimated budget over six years to deliver in all 54 countries and reaching both universities and professional bodies. A case for value for money is outlined, risks are summarised and two outcome tables are presented.


The authors recommend that:

1.    A capacity building programme for the engineers in Africa is supported with the following ultimate outcomes:

  •  Africa has a large number of engineers whose knowledge, skills and competencies meet recognised international standards and national needs.
  • Engineering professional bodies in Africa are effective in working for the public good and ensuring the accountability of African engineers.

These outcomes are directly related to DFID objectives in poverty reduction, human development, economic development and urbanisation.

2.    The scope for such a concept, having learned from previous initiatives in this area, should be very ambitious and cover the whole system of universities, professional engineering institutions and engineering accreditation bodies. It should cover all 54 countries in Africa, with a phased approach by region and starting with a pilot.

3.    The Africa Catalyst concept is strongly considered as the chosen vehicle for such a programme. This calls for a six year commitment with a budget of up to £16million.

4.    An initiative of this type should be led and implemented by organisations with the right remit and representation. The World Federation of Engineering Organisations (as the global body for the engineering profession), the Federation of African Engineering Organisations (representing the engineering profession in Africa) and the International Engineering Alliance (as the body bringing together the global accords on engineering education and competence assessment) are the right organisations, each with strategic commitments to building engineering capacity.

5.    In the case where Africa Catalyst is not chosen, any engineering capacity building programme at least embraces the key aspects of Africa Catalyst: multi-stakeholder with African voice in the leadership; guided by achieving accreditation by international standards; agile and contextualised to national needs; heavily implementation-biased; and brings together organisations with existing, related initiatives and priorities.

  •  Professional Engineering Institutions (PEIs) are generally national professional associations and learned societies for engineers. They assess their members’ education and competence, granting them ‘chartered engineer’ status and providing for professional development. In some countries, PEIs regulate the engineering profession.
  • Engineering accreditation bodies accredit organisations that educate engineers (such as universities) and that assess engineers (such as PEIs) in a country. Accreditation can be a function of a PEI but it is usual for accreditation bodies to be independent entities. They may be referred to as ‘councils’ (such as the Engineering Council of South Africa).
  • Engineering education refers to the academic formation of engineers, usually at universities or technical colleges that should be accredited.
  •  Engineering competence refers to the professional experience of engineers, usually assessed by a national PEI that should be accredited.
  •  Engineering mobility refers to the mutual recognition of education and competence to an agreed standard or other demonstration of substantial equivalence, permitting an engineer who has studied or practiced in one country to also work in another country.
  • Engineering Academies are usually national fellowships of leading engineers whose role is to provide policy advice to government and advocate for engineering’s role in society. They are non-partisan and independent of government, PEIs and accreditation bodies.
  • Federations of engineering organisations are usually international groups of PEIs.


The authors would like to acknowledge the following people for their contributions in developing the concept proposed in this note:

  • Andrew Lamb – Communications and Marketing Consultant, WFEO
  • Basil Wakelin – Chair, IEA
  • Calestous Juma – Director of Science and Technology, Harvard Kennedy School
  • Christopher Campbell – Vice-Chair, WFEO Capacity Building Committee
  • Damien Owens – Liaison lead to WFEO, IEA
  • Haro Bedelian – Executive Board Member and Marketing Task Force Chair, WFEO
  • Hayaatun Sillem – Director of Programmes and Fellowship, RAEng
  •  Martin Manuwha – Chair, WFEO Anti-Corruption Committee & Vice-Chair, FAEO
  • Martin Van Veelan – President, FAEO
  • Marwan Abdelhamid – President, WFEO
  • Meredith Ettridge – International Policy Advisor, RAEng
  •  ‘Munim’ Abdul Menhem Alameddine – Chair, WFEO Education Committee
  • Petter Matthews – Executive Director, Engineers Against Poverty
  • Tahani Youssef – Executive Director, WFEO
  • Yashin Brijmohan – Chair, WFEO Capacity Building Committee

SECTION 1: The Problem


The average number of engineers across countries in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to be less than 1 engineer per 100,000 people. This compares to a European average of 500 per 100,000 people – and yet industry in Europe still complains of shortages (UNESCO, 2010).

There are only 25 national professional engineering institutions in Africa; fewer than half of Africa’s countries have professional engineering institutions (WFEO, 2014).

South Africa is the only African country that has a system of assessment of accreditation bodies and universities that has been accredited to international standards (IEA, 2014). This is despite the frequent and repeated calls for assistance by institutions and universities that demonstrate a huge demand for accreditation across the continent (Africa-UK, 2012).

There are very positive steps being taken in some African countries to improve the education of engineers at university level in order to grow the number of engineers in the labour force and contribute to national development. However, even the best of these efforts still pale in comparison to the scale of the development and infrastructure challenges that African countries face (for an example from South Africa, see Lawless, 2005). Until Africa has enough of its own engineers, it will remain dependent on aid.

Even whilst African economies are dependent on aid, the situation is such that there is a significant shortage of engineers to design, implement, operate and maintain infrastructure – regardless of the donor. This means that infrastructure and technology projects can be inappropriate to the context, poorly delivered, expensive to operate and frequently fail.

Moreover, Africa does have some excellent engineers but because their institutions and universities are not accredited to international standards they cannot secure work on large international or donor-funded investment projects. Instead, international engineering firms must recruit from outside Africa to bring in accredited engineers from overseas (which increases the cost of these projects). A tiny minority of African engineers have been able to register with foreign professional engineering institutions (such as those in the UK); they are usually only able to do so because they received some or all of their education in an accredited country and because they are relatively very affluent.

The policy situation is very mixed. A great deal of attention is paid to ‘Science, Technology and Innovation’, to infrastructure and to research and development in many African countries and in the international donor community. However, engineering is continually overlooked (both in policy language and in policy) and so the systems to develop engineers, technology and infrastructure are also overlooked. There are many reasons for this. But the extreme lack of capacity in the engineering sector means that engineering frequently does not have a voice at the policy level (RAEng, 2006). Indeed, there have also been cases where accreditation efforts have led to failure because of a lack of commitment from the national government (since accreditation often needs legislative support). The result is that major infrastructure projects are more often reviewed by economists, lawyers and international technical assistance teams than they are by experienced local professional engineers.

The causes of the current situation are broad, deep and varied – and the subject of much debate and discussion. However, the signs are that political leaders and heads of state across Africa are realising this problem and are taking steps to address it. For example:

Much of the curricula, pedagogy and location of African universities have their roots in the needs of the 1960s. The first generation of African universities focused on the arts because their primary function then was to train functionaries for the civil service… Africa's demand for higher education is rising. This gives every country the opportunity to redesign the next generation of universities. Ethiopia, for example, has created 24 new universities with a focus on science and technology.”  (Juma, 2014)


There is an increasing recognition that because African countries have neglected the role of engineering in development in recent decades there has been little tangible progress in key infrastructures – which is something that African citizens are deeply concerned about (a driver for African leaders to embrace significant infrastructure investment from China). Whilst this recognition is a positive development, the authors argue that – because the focus remains on ‘Science, Technology and Innovation’ and particularly on the exciting potential of information and communications technologies – when steps are taken, ‘Engineering’ might again be overlooked. Further, the authors argue that work is needed at the African and global levels to enable them and the relevant bodies to finally respond to the calls for assistance from African institutions and universities in a meaningful way – and at scale.

The situation calls for a step-change in the capacity of African professional engineering institutions and universities. Engineering is a vitally important sector in the fight against poverty, in enabling human and economic development, and in delivering sustainable urbanisation – and so building the capacity of engineering in Africa will have substantial long-term development outcomes. Recent developments across Africa shows that the time is now right for building the capacity of the engineering sector in African countries – and not only that, it is becoming urgently needed if all other development initiatives are to succeed.



 Note: The rest of this section considers the role of engineering in poverty reduction, human development, economic development and urbanisation. It draws heavily on a report by the ‘Africa-UK Engineering for Development Partnership’ authored by the RAEng and Engineers Against Poverty based on evidence gathered from surveys and interviews from engineers and engineering leaders across sub-Saharan Africa.

Poverty Reduction

Technology is the domain of engineers, and technology is an essential driver in the reduction of poverty. Agricultural development depends on the introduction of even basic technologies. The empowerment of women is made possible by the provision of engineered infrastructure and technologies – such as village-level water supply, smokeless stoves, food processing tools and toilets in schools. Energy systems supply everything from basic lighting, medical equipment and mobile phones to local business and major industries. Good governance and anti-corruption efforts depend on engineering because of the increasing use of open data, electronic voter registration and the central role of commercial and social media. Mobile phones and internet services play an increasingly important role in poverty reduction efforts; these technologies are the work of engineers too.

Building the capacity of professional engineering institutions and universities will have a significant impact on the reduction of poverty in the long term. This has been demonstrated in recent decades by ‘Asian Tiger’ economies and increasingly by BRICS countries, but it is also clearly demonstrated by the effects of the lack of engineering capacity:

Most conspicuously, low engineering capacity is an obstacle to the development of national and regional infrastructures, and this has a direct impact on the ability of countries in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve development goals.”  (Africa-UK, 2012)


Across sub-Saharan Africa, poverty is often greatest in places where there are no engineers – such as in rural areas. District councils in rural areas struggle to recruit and retain engineers with the right skills and motivation to work in such challenging contexts:

In sub-Saharan Africa, infrastructure development lags significantly behind other developing regions. This results in road networks that are fragmented at best, major power shortages in over 30 countries, and very limited access to services for sub-Saharan Africa’s largely rural population... Often it is the public sector that bears the brunt of this shortage [of engineers], as most unfilled posts appear to be in government positions in rural areas” (Africa-UK, 2012)


Human Development

The history of human development can be seen as the story of the social, political, economic and environmental effects of technological development. The scale of the industrial revolution and the growth in the numbers of engineers resulted in a move away from the guilds system to professional engineering institutions. Engineering education moved from a master-apprentice approach to a more advanced form of higher education at universities. These bodies now play an important role in human development by preparing the next generations of engineers and by ensuring the quality, accountability and ethical conduct of practicing engineers. However, these bodies are very weak in Africa:

Engineering courses in sub-Saharan Africa are often too theoretical, are based on outdated curricula, and are not relevant to local needs.”  (Africa-UK, 2012)


Professional engineers who responded to our survey cited improved continued professional development and better access to engineering networks as the two factors with the most potential to improve career satisfaction. This finding highlights the potential contribution that well-resourced and active institutions could have on the quality of engineering careers in sub-Saharan Africa.”  (Africa-UK, 2012)


[At the same time as the shortage of engineers…] there are also notable levels of unemployment among engineering graduates, indicating that the problem is more complex than a simple lack of numbers. Unemployment among engineering graduates may, in part, be due to reluctance on their part to take poorly paid positions in rural areas, or due to the dominance of foreign engineering firms who import foreign labour. However, the predominant reason identified in this study was that engineers were graduating without the necessary skills and experience to be employable.”  (Africa-UK, 2012)


This study indicates that low engineering capacity in sub-Saharan Africa is more accurately described as an inadequate number of engineers with sufficient skills and experience, than as an insufficient number of engineers per se. The scale of the problem varies between engineering sectors, different professional levels and countries, but it is a problem that is prevalent across the region.”  (Africa-UK, 2012)


The shortage of engineers also undermines, for example, the ability of countries to deliver healthcare and to respond to major health emergences – indeed, poor maintenance of infrastructure can lead to major health emergencies. Finally, it is worth noting the role that engineering universities and institutions have in the formation of the ethics of the engineer. Innovation in technology is important, but it must be guided by a professional ethical framework to be successful in the long-term. The focus on technology innovation in Africa at a time when these bodies are weak is therefore a concern.

Economic Development

Broadly speaking, there are three key drivers of economic development: financial capital, human capital and technology. Since technology is the domain of engineers, investment in developing engineering human capital through engineering education and continuing professional development systems can become a major driver of economic development:

Sufficient engineering capacity is essential to the economic and social development of any country. It is a basic requirement for the sustainable provision of infrastructure that enables better healthcare, access to education and the development of an attractive environment for foreign investment. It is also a key driver for innovation and growth.”  (Africa-UK, 2012)


Accordingly, the lack of investment in engineering capacity is a significant barrier to the economic development of a country:

Beyond the direct impacts of poor infrastructure, the lack of engineering capacity is also believed to hamper economic growth in several ways. The limited capacity of local providers has led to widespread reliance on foreign engineering contractors. Furthermore, reliance on foreign firms can result in capital flight and removes potential employment opportunities from the local market... lack of engineering capacity imposes limitations on sub-Saharan Africa’s ability to use abundant natural resources to harness the power of science and innovation to meet development objectives and be competitive in international markets.” (Africa-UK, 2012)


Where engineering skills shortages are most acute, infrastructure gaps are even more difficult to reduce… Poor infrastructure is a deterrent to foreign investment.”  (Africa-UK, 2012)


The lack of significant investment in engineering capacity creates conditions for a vicious circle that further exacerbates weak engineering capacity, such as through failures of knowledge transfer or through ‘brain drain’:

The failure or lack of regulation in relation to foreign engineering firms is also damaging to local capacity. Local content laws, where they do exist, are often not appropriately enforced to ensure knowledge transfer from foreign companies to local engineers.”  (Africa-UK, 2012)


Those engineers who do manage to obtain marketable skills and experience are often inclined to migrate to other countries, where pay and working conditions are better, resulting in a ‘brain drain’ from sub-Saharan Africa. This phenomenon occurs from sub-Saharan Africa to other parts of the world, but also within the region. In South Africa in the early 2000s, the number of engineers emigrating annually actually matched the numbers graduating. While the number leaving was partially offset by a steady flow of engineers into South Africa from poorer countries, this in turn undoubtedly had a detrimental effect on countries they left behind.”  (Africa-UK, 2012)


On the positive side however, sub-Saharan Africa is developing very quickly economically and there is some political stability, so investment is increasing. There is an increasing recognition of the need, and an increasing capability, to go beyond natural resources and primary products and to develop more advanced economic activities. Chinese investment in African infrastructure continues to grow, but since Chinese firms act as the funders, developers and contractors on most projects, little room is left for engineering capacity building. Increasing the number of African engineers who are internationally accredited will open up Africa to European or American investments in infrastructure – using local capacity.

Additionally, increasing the quality of engineering and advancing the technologies used in African countries will reduce ‘brain drain’. Whilst it is true that ‘brain drain’ is a result of better economic opportunities elsewhere, many engineers also choose to leave Africa because there is currently little opportunity to engage in cutting-edge work or work to a standard that gives career satisfaction. Moreover, as foreign investments that use local capacity increase because of improvements in accreditation systems, African engineers may be drawn back home – bringing their skills and experience with them.

Research and development are recognised as important drivers of economic growth in Africa. The role of engineering universities here is clear, and new opportunities are currently being identified and discussed in political forums on innovation:

Africa's historical structure [is such that] universities teach but do little research, and national institutes do research but do little teaching. Most of the national research institutes focus on science and technology and can provide the basis for new research universities.”  (Juma, 2014)


Finally, it is worth noting that public infrastructure underpins inclusive growth. As the capacity of the engineering sector in Africa increases, investments in public infrastructure will increase and enable greater economic opportunity for all.


Huge demographic shifts are underway across Africa. For example, the current population of Tanzania is 49 million – around 50% of whom are under the age of 25 – and is expected to reach an estimated 100 million people in the next 20 to 25 years (World Bank, 2014). The pace of population growth signifies the end of the traditional ‘demographic pyramid’ and a shift towards a ‘demographic barrel’. Most of this population growth is expected to take place in urban areas. This has profound implications for both the nature of work (particularly skilled employment) and the nature of urban infrastructure; both will have to adapt to new modalities that are more distributed and decentralised.

So far in this section, the authors have considered professional and university level capacity in the engineering sector. Demographic shifts also raise the important issue of technician education and basic science education in schools – both of which will need significant improvement in order to adapt to this new nature of work. There is a huge need for engineers to train more trades people – such as plumbers, electricians, mechanics, builders, roofers, carpenters, metalworkers, leatherworkers etc – so that these people can develop their own infrastructure solutions in informal settlements and gain employment from the growing middle classes in cities. Technicians and tradespeople in urban areas today are often self-taught, which can limit their potential and cause serious failures (such as major fires in slums caused by faulty wiring, or disease outbreaks from unsafe water systems). Also, the operation and maintenance of infrastructure and technology often falls to technician-level engineers – and so lack of investment in technician capacity endangers the success of infrastructure projects in general, whether in urban or rural areas.

Failures of infrastructure are often caused by the lack of agreed standards (even railway gauges are not standardised between some African countries) or poor enforcement of standards. These issues, and their consequences, are exacerbated in dense urban areas.

Aside from the issue of underinvestment, governments in sub-Saharan Africa often fail to legislate sufficiently to safeguard engineering standards.”  (Africa-UK, 2012)

 It is common for engineering institutions to develop and enforce engineering standards.

SECTION 2: The Concept


Africa Catalyst will build the capacity of the engineering sector in Africa so that African countries have enough professional engineers to determine their own development. Having more and better engineers who are accredited to recognised standards will reduce one of the biggest barriers to economic and human development in the continent, and will enable the sort of investments that build engineering capacity still further.

Africa Catalyst will focus its capacity building efforts in two connected areas:

1.    The quantity of professional engineers in practice, through improvements to teaching in African engineering universities.

2.    The quality of professional engineers in practice, through improvements in the performance of African PEIs and engineering accreditation bodies.

Accreditation is what gives the Africa Catalyst concept its teeth (and is what sets Africa Catalyst apart from previous capacity building efforts). Without accreditation of the education and competence of engineers, capacity building would have much weaker economic impact and would leave African PEIs and universities with a much weaker ‘offer’ to engineers and engineering students. This can be understood as follows:

  • The overall goal is to build real professional engineering capacity by improving engineering education and competence.
  • A fundamental enabler of this is improvements in African university engineering courses to meet recognised international standards (or use them as goals to aim for).
  • This will need proper accreditation and monitoring of courses, which can only happen if the engineering profession is properly regulated in each country.
  •  Proper regulation requires PEIs and accreditation bodies that meet recognised international standards themselves.
  • Accredited African PEIs and universities will be more attractive to African engineers and engineering students because of significantly improved career prospects.
  • As their registration revenues increase, the capacity of the PEIs and universities will further increase – creating a virtuous circle in professional engineering capacity.

Crucially, Africa Catalyst is designed to build capacity in all the necessary areas to achieve its coherent theory of change. To deliver it, Africa Catalyst brings together and aligns all the key players and initiatives on capacity building in the engineering sector for the first time. It learns from previous engineering capacity building efforts in Africa, the authors believe, offers a uniquely comprehensive, effective and powerful programme design.

Africa Catalyst capacity building will begin with a needs assessment in each African country. The needs are anticipated to be very diverse, difficult and complex:

  • In universities, the needs may include: updating university curricula; making course content more appropriate to the context; promoting links between universities and industry; training for university engineering lab technicians; changes in pedagogy; a greater emphasis on practical skills; continuing professional development for engineering lecturers; changes to funding arrangements and salaries; improvements in public investment; and so on.
  • In PEIs and accreditation bodies (where they exist), the needs may include: improvements in membership databases; changes to fee collection systems; developing the range of continuing professional development courses they offer; more strategic focus to conferences and events; management structure changes; human resource development; influencing public policy; evidence and data collection improvements; calling for changes in legislation on the regulation of the profession; government funding and revenue development; business model reviews; and so on.
  • In PEIs and accreditation bodies (where they do not exist), the needs may include: legislation to support the formation of PEIs; development of temporary cross-border registration systems;  identifying potential engineering leaders; working with major industry and employers; support through regional economic and engineering communities; and so on.

The anticipated range and complexity of needs that may be identified calls for Africa Catalyst to adopt a very simple, nimble and responsive approach to capacity building that is biased towards implementation and can draw upon a huge range of expertise. After the initial needs assessments, Africa Catalyst will be continuously ‘sensing’ and ‘responding’ to the particular needs of each country as capacity building progresses and the needs develop. In short, this is not a capacity building programme that delivers a workshop or training course on a particular topic and then leaves the participants to implement the changes they’ve learned. Instead, it is designed to be deeply engaged and embedded within the universities, PEIs and accreditation bodies in each African country. The main features of the approach include:

  •  Partners: capacity building will be guided by the capacity building work of WFEO, FAEO and IEA and will draw upon their international roles to align efforts and recruit expertise.
  • Coalition: a huge range of expertise in the engineering profession will be needed so a network of aligned organisations and initiatives will be built to support capacity building.
  • Country Managers: initial needs assessments and then continuous ‘sensing’ will be done by long-term consultants who develop a deep understanding of a national context.
  • Experts: ‘responding’ to identified needs will be done by short-term experts from the Coalition and Partners who will work directly with beneficiaries to implement changes.
  • Regional Approach: where needed, Africa Catalyst will adopt regional approaches to share learning and improve value for money in capacity building implementation.
  • Voice: engagement with national governments and representation at the international levels of engineering and of African governance are prioritised and properly supported.

Before explaining the Africa Catalyst concept in more detail, it is instructive to present the background, history and current context of engineering capacity building in Africa.


The Abuja Declaration

The Abuja Declaration will be launched at the World Engineering Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure in Abuja in November 2014. It was agreed and signed by WFEO and FAEO in December 2013. It calls for assistance to PEIs in Africa, and in creating PEIs in African countries where no PEI currently exists. It also calls for funding for such a programme of capacity building, and for a team to be established to achieve these goals. It is this declaration that spurred the development of the Africa Catalyst concept.

The WFEO IEA Memorandum of Understanding

In April 2014, WFEO agreed an understanding with the IEA to promote the value of accreditation by the IEA accords in enabling the mobility of engineers between countries, and to assist relevant developing country organisations (including in Africa) to reach a level of capacity where they can properly absorb IEA mentoring. It is this memorandum that provided Africa Catalyst with a clear theory of change and business case.


There have been many and various attempts to build the capacity of engineering in Africa, but the authors suggest that none have had sufficient scope, buy-in and resources to comprehensively address the scale and complexity of the problem. The design of Africa Catalyst – particularly the central role of accreditation and the bias towards direct implementation to build capacity – has been informed by these attempts, their findings, successes and failures. The examples below are mainly attempts by the engineering sector (rather than donor or government attempts).

Examples of unilateral activities:

  • The Telford Challenge was launched in the UK in 1998 as a partnership between the RAEng and four leading PEIs and was part-funded by DFID. Its objective was to develop and promote strategies and innovative approaches for the engineering profession to increase its contribution to the elimination of poverty in developing countries. Activities included ‘upgrading’ professional bodies in developing countries. The challenges of the project led to the re-formation of The Telford Challenge and, in its place, the creation of Engineers Against Poverty as an independent charity.[i]
  • Eskom (the South African electricity public utility) is running a multi-million pound capacity building initiative called the Tertiary Education Support Programme, which began in 1991. It is an example of a business supporting engineering education capacity, and the programme leverages public and private sector funding and creates sustainable engineering centres at universities.[ii]
  • Engineers Without Borders groups from countries including Canada, France, USA, UK and Germany have, since 2004, engaged directly with African engineering universities to offer curriculum interventions that are focused on problem-based learning, service learning, appropriate technology, entrepreneurship, leadership and school outreach.[iii]

Examples of bilateral activities:

  • The RAEng’s Enriching Engineering Education Programme (2013 to 2015) is building the capacity of engineering teaching at the University of Zimbabwe and the University of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania. This programme aims to bring engineering curricula in line with current industrial practice, and to improve teaching practices in engineering, through a structured partnership between universities and industry (including academic and industry exchange placements). The two universities are ‘hub’ universities. Following these bilateral exchanges, workshops are subsequently held to ensure the learning is spread throughout ‘spoke’ universities in Uganda, Kenya, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia and elsewhere in Zimbabwe.[iv]
  • The Institution of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE, the world’s largest PEI) has been developing its reach and activities in Africa, particularly since 2012. This is focused on engagements with universities (and some PEIs) to: provide access to IEEE knowledge resources; support research; convene events in the engineering education sector; review curricula; support faculty development, and; develop electronics labs.[v]

Examples of multilateral activities:

  • Task Force 10 on Science, Technology and Innovation was one of the task forces of the Millennium Project launched in 2001. Its mandate derives from Millennium Development Goal target 18 to: ‘In co-operation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications." The Task Force was chaired by WFEO President Dato Lee Yee-Cheong and Prof. Calestous Juma. Key recommendations were presented at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (the Johannesburg ‘Earth Summit’). The final report made a series of recommendations that included capacity building of universities and improving mechanisms for engineering input into policy in developing countries (see Juma & Yee-Cheong, 2005).[vi]
  • The Africa-UK Engineering for Development Partnership was established in 2010 to bring together the engineering community in Africa and the UK in a consortium comprising the ‘Africa Engineers Forum’, the UK Royal Academy of Engineering, the UK Institution of Civil Engineers and Engineers Against Poverty. The aim of the partnership was to strengthen the capacity of the African engineering profession and promote mutually beneficial links between engineers in Africa and the UK. The partnership convened a series of workshops on different themes and published a report on engineering capacity in sub-Saharan Africa in 2012 (see Africa-UK, 2012). The ‘Africa Engineers Forum’ was later incorporated into FAEO in WFEO-supported negotiations.[vii]
  • The first UNESCO Engineering Report was published in 2010 as the first global report on engineering (see UNESCO, 2010). The report included valuable status reports from a number of African countries and contributions that the covered capacity building needs of PEIs and education in Africa. A number of opportunities were identified and recommendations were made – most notably on the need for better national statistics on engineers in developing countries.[viii]
  • A second UNESCO Engineering Report was proposed in early 2014 to have a focus on statistics showing ‘needs and numbers’ for engineering around the world. This edition would be in partnership with the UNESCO Institute of Statistics. WFEO has been named as a potential partner. The report is currently looking to secure funding.[ix]
  • The UK National Commission to UNESCO published a concept note in January 2010 on improving engineering education by introducing sustainable development, appropriate technology and social and economic improvement.[x]
  • The UNESCO Engineering Initiative was driven by UNESCO priority areas of Education, Gender and Africa and launched in 2011. It worked with Member States, international partners and programme experts to strengthen engineering education through curricula development and capacity building. It also incorporated sustainability topics into engineering education by highlighting the need for green technology in engineering applications. Specific activities have included: working with the South African Institution of Civil Engineers and WFEO on ‘needs and numbers’ research and capacity building; working with the ASEAN Academy of Engineering and Technology to support academics in Africa; engineering outreach in Nigeria; and the first ‘Africa Engineering Week’ which took place in September 2014.[xi]
  • A Capacity Building Guidebook was published in 2010 by WFEO to assist PEIs in developing countries. It was developed by the WFEO Capacity Building committee (hosted by the USA at the time) and formed the basis of WFEO policies and approaches on engineering capacity building.[xii]
  • The British Council Africa unit (based at the Association of Commonwealth Universities in the UK and funded by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills) piloted a series of ‘Africa Knowledge Transfer Partnerships’ which took the successful UK model of academia-industry partnerships to Uganda, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria.[xiii]

Summary of key lessons:

  • Those delivering capacity building activities must have the right remit and representation. This is fundamentally about legitimacy, credibility and the ability for the beneficiaries to influence the work. But this is also about having global and African leadership, instead of donor-country leadership.
  • Those delivering capacity building activities must have the right motivations and strategic interests. This is because conflicts of interest can arise, for example: a developed-country PEI supporting a university in an African country might be doing so because it wants to recruit more fee-paying engineers for itself, rather than for the national PEI.
  • Engineering capacity building work is hard, slow and expensive (because it is about building a profession!) and needs to have sufficient resources.
  • Engineering capacity building work must ultimately develop a sustainable commercial basis for PEIs in Africa.
  • A broad scope is called for: capacity building of PEIs, engineering accreditation bodies and universities must go hand-in-hand.
  • Co-operation, collaboration and co-ordination between all the stakeholders in the engineering profession allows for more effective programmes with bigger impacts.
  • Direct implementation to help solve problems together – rather than attendance at conferences, training courses or workshops – is the best way to build capacity.


Current Context

A number of new initiatives are creating a highly supportive and conducive environment for an engineering capacity building programme to thrive in. Such a nexus of focus on issues around engineering in Africa has rarely been seen before. However, the vital importance of engineering itself in underpinning human and economic development is still overlooked and the language is still of ‘Science, Technology and Innovation’.

Examples from an African political context:

  • The African Union Commission worked with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the NEPAD Co-ordinating Agency and the African Development Bank to launch ‘Agenda 2063’ in February 2014, which is an aspirational vision for Africa over the next 50 years. Aspiration number 1 states:broaden and strengthen the weak infrastructural and human resource base, as well as significantly strengthen and modernise its science and technology capability… [By 2063] The share of manufacturing in GDP has risen substantially; there is increased industrialisation and improved access to energy for all… Africa will be a technologically advanced continent supported by the biggest workforce in the world and highly skilled human resources. In addition, a continent with increased enrolment in tertiary education, increased budgets devoted to Research & Development... Africa will be a continent with the sustainable use, equitable sharing of benefits and conservation of its vast natural and marine resources, including the ‘Blue Economy’… Africa will be fully industrialised and gain control over the exploitation of its resources, undertake transformation and value addition, as well as fund its own development. Also Strategic Initiative number 1 relates closely to engineering and states: “Consolidate African initiatives and strategies on accelerated human capital development, science and technology and innovation”.[xiv]
  • A new 10-year Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA-2024) was adopted by the African Union in June 2014 at their assembly in Malabo. The strategy aims to increase Africa’s Science and Technology capacity and high-level skills and to accelerate the transition towards innovation-led, knowledge-based economies. The African Union Commission stated that it is aware of “the need to revamp STI infrastructure in Africa, enhance technical and professional competencies, and also provide the enabling environment for STI" as prerequisites to achieve the strategy. The second strategic objective is to: “Improve technical competencies and institutional capacity for STI development”. The strategy was approved by the African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology (AMCOST).[xv]
  • The World Bank is supporting a new ‘Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology for Skills Development in Priority Sectors’ (PASET) with the aim of ‘Building Talent for Africa’s Socio-economic Transformation’. In March 2014, the World Bank published a paper entitled ‘Improving the Quality of Engineering Education and Training in Africa’ which heavily referenced work by UNESCO, WFEO and the RAEng to deliver the following key messages:

“Engineering can help Africa unlock its huge potential for economic growth and development and make faster progress toward the Millennium Development Goals.

However, there is a serious lack of engineering capacity in Africa and heavy reliance on imported expertise in engineering.

Higher education institutions need to change their approach to teaching engineering so that graduates are creative problem-solvers.

Engineering courses need to be oriented towards market and development needs.

Women are under-represented in engineering education, constituting less than 10 percent of the student population in Ghana, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe in 2010.

Few African countries have established a robust accreditation system. In addition to improving national accreditation, regional accreditation of engineering professionals should be encouraged so that engineers have greater mobility within Africa.

A proposed World Bank initiative, the Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET) will build capacity for technical, vocational and higher education in African countries.”

A June 2014 High-Level Conference in Dakar was attended by education ministers from 12 African countries at the invitation of the World Bank and the Government of Senegal. It was joined by groups such as the Association of African Universities, major businesses and senior representatives from Brazil, China, India and Korea. This meeting followed two previous meetings: an earlier PASET conference in Addis Ababa in July 2013 and a High Level Forum in Rwanda in March 2014 called ‘Accelerating Africa’s Aspirations: Higher Education for Science, Technology and Innovation’. The objective of PASET is to help fill skilled jobs in key sectors, such as IT, construction, extractive industries, manufacturing, agriculture and energy by strengthening technical and vocational institutions. This investment in higher and further education is accompanied by benchmarking to international standards and a regional quality assurance mechanism. The Call to Action from the June 2014 meeting is to establish an institutional framework for PASET and to identify host universities/institutions for different parts of the programme. WFEO is engaging with World Bank staff leading on PASET.[xvi]

  • The African Development Bank, NEPAD and the African Union Commission launched the Programme for Infrastructure Development in 2010. This is a 20-year framework for the development of regional and continental infrastructure, with the overall goal of promoting socio-economic development and poverty reduction through improved access to infrastructure. The programme’s independent advisory panel of experts is supported by DFID. The African Development Bank has expressed to FAEO that engineering capacity building is seen as vital to the programme’s success, but that its Capacity Building Project to accelerate the delivery of the programme (launched in April 2014) is focused building the capacity of governments to participate in the programme.[xvii]
  • The First Ministerial Conference on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI Forum) was hosted by the Government of Kenya in 2012 to raise political awareness of the topic and promote youth employment, human capital development and inclusive growth. The conference “successfully put Science, Technology and Innovation at the centre of policy dialogue in Africa”. The second STI Forum will be held in October 2014 hosted by the Government of Morocco and organised by the African Development Bank and the Government of Finland.[xviii]
  • The Association for the Development of Education in Africa (a forum for 54 Ministers of Education in Africa) in its Triennial Meeting of 2012 ‘Promoting critical skills for the accelerated and sustainable development of Africa’ stated that Africa “places science, technology and research at the heart of promoting innovation and growth in Africa” and that governments must “put jobs and growth at the heart of policies on technical and vocational skills development” and “it is necessary to reposition the role and position of science and technology”. In July 2014, it held a Ministerial Conference on Technical and Vocational Skills Development.[xix]
  • The Build Africa forum in February 2014 in Brazzaville, Congo was convened to discuss infrastructure development in Africa: “Despite record economic growth in the last decade, which offers a glimpse of an emerging middle class and sustainable economic development, Africa is facing a considerable infrastructure deficit. A deficit that is hindering its competitiveness in the world market.” The event brought together Heads of State, government ministers and business leaders.[xx]
  • The Africa Innovation Summit in February 2014 in Praia, Cape Verde was convened to “build a platform for promoting innovation in Africa”. The event brought together Heads of State, the African Development Bank, government ministers and entrepreneurs.[xxi]

Examples of African engineering initiatives:

  • The African Engineering Initiative is a proposal by FAEO to build the capacity of engineering education and competence accreditation in Africa. Specifically, its four objectives are to: establish an ‘African Council of Engineering’ under the auspices of the African Union; ensure that Engineering Councils are established in every member country; develop guideline minimum standards for education and training, and; set up an accreditation system for university courses. The initiative would begin with a formal situation analysis on a per-country basis covering legislation, organisation, regulation, standards and ‘need and numbers’. The proposal was presented to the ‘Conference of Vice-Chancellors, Provosts and Deans of Science, Engineering and Technology’ in Gaborone, Botswana in November 2013, who were receptive. It has also been presented by FAEO at recent conferences in Uganda, Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone. FAEO has discussed the proposal during 2014 with the African Union Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology who are supportive but do not have appropriate funding. In September 2014, FAEO introduced this proposal with the African Development Bank Human Development Department, who were receptive and very optimistic that the time and climate is right.
  • The African Academy of Engineering is a proposed pan-African fellowship of leading African engineers who could provide impartial advice on major engineering infrastructure projects in the continent, as well as advocate for engineering at the policy level. The concept was initiated by a former WFEO President and developed by Prof. Calestous Juma HonFREng who presented it to African Union officials in September 2014.
  • Africa Engineering Week is an engineering outreach initiative of UNESCO in partnership with FAEO and WFEO’s Capacity Building Committee, among others) to address the shortage of engineers in Africa by encouraging young people to study engineering.[xxii]

Examples from UK donor context:

  • The UK Secretary of State for International Development has recognised the need to build institutions that enable economic development and to help create an environment where companies from outside Africa can invest:

“Smart aid can take the form of building a better tax regime, helping to reduce trade barriers, or giving entrepreneurs and small businesses an economic launchpad. It can also be focusing on what the Prime Minister calls the Golden Thread. In other words, helping to build the institutions, the values by which individual rights to liberty and property are safeguarded…elements that represent a green light to companies thinking about investing in a frontier economy. By being smart about aid we can drive the kind of sustainable, inclusive growth that creates more and better jobs and raises incomes…. But, too often, we see businesses put off from investing in frontier economies because it is seen as too risky. Poor infrastructure, poor regulation, information gaps and financial challenges. These tip the balance away from investment. So DFID is now working harder to remove these obstacles. (Greening, 2014)

This resonates very strongly with the case put forward in Section 1, in particular with: the need to build institutions for professional engineers; the need to create an environment for international engineering firms to invest in a cost-effective way by using local, accredited engineers; the need to improve infrastructure (the domain of engineers) and to have skilled African engineering input to infrastructure decision-making; the need to improve regulations, particularly around having agreed standards in engineering.

  • The Department of International Development has developed three pillars for a strategy to support economic development:

Firstly, reducing overall barriers to trade and investment – whether regulatory, infrastructure, legal or institutional. Secondly, unlocking the ability of entrepreneurs and business people in developing countries to themselves drive economic growth through their own businesses being more and more successful. Thirdly and critically, I believe it also means greater investment by business, and I want to see UK companies joining the development push.” (Greening, 2013)

These three pillars are directly relevant to the engineering sector; engineering regulation, infrastructure, legal frameworks and institutional capacity are crucial areas that need capacity building. As has been argued in Section 1, this will benefit individual engineers running businesses and enable new international investment.

  • Infrastructure is also taking centre stage in the British international donor context and it has been raised as a priority with the G8 and the African Union:

Infrastructure is key, which is why we put such emphasis on it at the G8 Summit. The African Union has emphasised the need for a stronger focus on regional cross-border infrastructure to help achieve its target of doubling intra-African trade by 2022. The G8 specifically committed itself to work with African countries and the regional economic communities to achieve that.” (Lowcock, 2013)

The authors argue that the need to invest in engineering capacity in Africa is a logical and necessary step to enable infrastructure development. Moreover, as investment in cross-border infrastructure increases, the need to agree engineering standards between countries or at a regional level becomes fundamental – and African engineering institutions will be pivotal in this process.

  • The Newton Fund aims to develop science and innovation partnerships that promote economic development and welfare of developing countries, including in Africa. Activities supported include capacity building and mobility schemes. The RAEng is a lead delivery partner on the mobility of engineering researchers in eight countries including South Africa. In addition, the RAEng will run two further programmes under the Newton Fund, both of which may include South Africa and the wider sub-Saharan Africa region. ‘Leaders in Innovation Fellowships’ supports engineering entrepreneurs, and ‘Higher Education Partnerships’ is modelled on the existing ‘Enriching Engineering Education Programme’ in sub-Saharan Africa, offering bilateral exchanges between academics and local industry described on page 9.[xxiii]
  • The Wellcome Trust African Institutions Initiative is a £30million heath-science programme to strengthen the research capacity of consortiums of institutions in Africa.[xxiv]



The scope, scale, range and complexity of the Africa Catalyst concept requires that it adopts a very simple, adaptable, responsive, open and collaborative approach to capacity building. It learns from previous attempts at capacity building in the engineering sector in Africa and from examples of best practice in capacity building from elsewhere. Rather than adopting a particular strategy for Africa Catalyst, a number of ‘strategic dispositions’ will be used to define the approach it takes. These are outlined below.

In addition, Africa Catalyst activities must be highly contextualised and guided by the specific needs of each participating African country. Since, at present, the authors cannot be certain what those specific needs will be, the concept has been developed around a number of streams of activity which are also outlined below.

Strategic dispositions

  • Tailored: Needs assessments inform capacity building in each African country.
  • Problem solving: Capacity building will focus on solutions to specific problems that are identified with the beneficiaries.
  •  Implementation: Activities will have a strong implementation bias, such as through secondments of expert consultants, rather than, say, training workshops or conferences.
  • Simplicity: From governance structures to expenses claim systems, simplicity will be valued over prestige; good practice will be favoured over best practice.
  • Flexibility: Adapting to emergent challenges and opportunities will be enabled through fast feedback and flexible allocation of resources.
  • Realism: Activities should prioritise short-term successes and achievable outputs.
  • National: Recognising that engineering as a profession is determined by national policies, capacity building will be focused at a national level. Emergent opportunities or ambitions for new international or regional bodies should be supported via beneficiaries.
  • Regional: Learning and experience will be shared within African regions and regional capacity building activities will be used according to the need.
  •  Influential: Open engagement with key stakeholders such as the African Union, African Development Bank, World Bank, industry and individual engineers will be supported.
  • Collaborative: Alignment with any other concurrent engineering capacity building initiatives should be carefully co-ordinated, and other appropriate contributions accepted.
  • Transparent: Decision-making, progress reports and finances will be shared openly.
  • Value for money: In addition to ensuring simplicity in Africa Catalyst activities, the use of existing networks, research, materials and expertise should be prioritised. Appropriate voluntary contributions from individuals and organisations should be encouraged.
  • Full cost recovery: The full costs of the four organisations leading Africa Catalyst will be covered so as not to diminish the capacity or role of these organisations.



Activity streams are split according to the two direct beneficiary groups:

1.    For Engineering Universities in Africa:

  • Accreditation to Education: develop the quality of engineering education to the point where it is recognised under international standards.
  • Education to Accreditation: develop academic inputs into enforcing engineering education standards and raising the quality of professional development.
  • Industry to Education: strengthen mechanisms for industry to contribute to curricula, teaching, research and career development opportunities.
  • Education to Industry: strengthen mechanisms to put engineering knowledge at the heart of public policy making and infrastructure/technology standards.

2.    For Professional Engineering Institutions and Engineering Accreditation Bodies in Africa:

  • National to international: Increase involvement of African national engineering bodies in international engineering organisations.
  • International to national: Increase international support to national engineering bodies in Africa.
  • Engineers to policy: Support the elected leaders of the engineering professional bodies in Africa to be more effective in engaging with public policy institutions of governance (whilst also boosting tools for advocacy).
  • Policy to engineers: Support engineering professional bodies to implement guidelines for the practice of engineers in their countries that relate to national priorities.

Beyond the Concept

In developing the Africa Catalyst concept, the authors have considered a wide range of ideas and their potential role in a coherent capacity building programme. Some of these ideas are listed below. However, the authors have determined that these broader activities would potentially emerge from Africa Catalyst capacity building at universities, PEIs and accreditation bodies. With this in mind, they should not be explicitly included in Africa Catalyst objectives, but they would be encouraged as the capacity and opportunity arises.

  • Engineering outreach:

Though a career in engineering is generally seen positively in Africa, outreach activities to young people are still needed (and particularly to reach girls) to raise awareness and, in some countries, to help justify the relatively high cost of an engineering degree course. Many engineering outreach activities already exist, and are likely to be strengthened as the capacity of PEIs increases.

  • School-level mathematics and science education:

There exists a significant need to improve school-level education in subjects that are required for entry into university engineering programmes, as evidenced by the number of remedial courses and dropouts at university level. This is a national priority in many African countries, and is likely to be supported as the capacity of universities increases.

  • Research and development, and innovation:

The need to strengthen research at engineering universities is a factor in recruiting and retaining excellent faculty, as well as being a major factor in economic development. Many African countries are introducing targets for a proportion of their national budget to be spent on research, in which could lead to stronger engineering universities.

  •  An African answer to engineering accreditation:

A number of discussions are taking place regarding an ‘African Council of Engineering’, an ‘African Mobility Forum’, an ‘African Engineering Card’ or an international ‘African Engineer’ standard (similar to the APEC Engineer standard in Asia-Pacific). The authors are already leading these discussions (as mentioned earlier), which are symbolic of the demand for accreditation of engineering in Africa. Most recently, an ‘African Engineering Initiative’ concept has been developing and an ‘African Engineering Mobility Project’ to establish some form of African accreditation system was proposed at the South Africa Institution of Civil Engineers event ‘Civilution Congress’ in April 2014. The proposed process was: FAEO would invited members who it believes are closely aligned to international recognition to join the project; agreeing a technical co-operation agreement with the African Union on mobility, standards and a qualification framework for African engineers; support from WFEO and IEA to help deliver project activities. Though Africa Catalyst would be very supportive of such an initiative, the authors have determined that it should not be made an explicit output of Africa Catalyst.

  • African Academy of Engineering

As mentioned earlier, a proposed pan-African fellowship of leading African engineers has been proposed to provide impartial advice on major engineering infrastructure projects in the continent, as well as advocate for engineering at the policy level. The proponents of this ‘African Academy of Engineering’ have told the authors that Africa Catalyst could be the right vehicle to help establish such an academy, but it must be fully independent.

Other ideas considered include the development of minimum standards for construction projects or building codes and the promotion of the Global Engineer concept (such as through the ‘Global Dimension in Engineering Education’) but the authors have determined that these ideas could be included depending on the identified needs.

SECTION 3: The Stakeholders

The Beneficiaries

The nature of engineering, infrastructure, technology and innovation is such that it affects everyone. The nature of the education, practice and professionalism of engineers therefore shapes the human environment. It also directly relates to improved disaster resilience and climate adaptation capacity. By intervening to build the capacity of organisations that support engineering education and competence, Africa Catalyst will have a broad beneficial impact. A number of general and distinct beneficiary groups are envisaged, calling for a range of monitoring, evaluation, direct impact and network impact methodologies to be used.

People who need and use engineering in Africa

Type & Scale: Indirect beneficiary; many millions of people.

Description: Most technology is likely to benefit the middle-class who consume and use it, though appropriate technology innovations can often reach the poorest. Public infrastructure benefits everyone in a community or country, and provides a basis for inclusive growth. People who have had no previous access to infrastructure or engineering experience a transformational impact. Disaster resilience through climate adaptations will also improve.

Benefit: Africa Catalyst will build the capacity of universities and PEIs so that more and better engineers are available to deliver technology and infrastructure, thereby raising the quality of life and economic activity of people who need and use engineering in Africa.

Engineering Professionals in Africa

Type & Scale: Indirect beneficiary; hundreds of thousands of people.

Description: Professional engineers are engineers who have reached an agreed standard of education and competence, and who are registered as members of the national PEI. Existing PEIs in Africa serve their members to some degree, but many still register with institutions overseas to benefit from accreditation and professional development opportunities. There are also many engineers in Africa who are not registered with a national PEI – due to lack of benefits compared to cost, because their standard of education makes them ineligible and professional development opportunities are limited, or simply because no PEI exists in their country.

Benefit: Engineering professionals in Africa will benefit from improved performance of their PEIs. Africa Catalyst will address these issues by building the capacity of existing PEIs so that they become more attractive and important to non-registered engineers. This will be achieved 1) by raising the standard of university engineering education and of continuing professional development opportunities, and 2) by building support for PEIs to be established in countries where there are none.

Engineering Universities in Africa

Type & Scale: Direct beneficiary; up to 100 universities; indirect beneficiary; up to 300 universities.

Description: Engineering universities play critical roles in the formation of professional engineers. Engineering is rarely taught at primary or secondary levels of education, so it tends to be the role of higher education to develop professional engineers and of further education to develop technicians. Engineering universities in Africa tend to be teaching (rather than research) institutions, which fits well with the main aims of Africa Catalyst. Teaching staff include Professors, Lecturers, Research Associates, PhD students – and recent graduates who are asked to come back and help with teaching. University technicians are also vitally important in engineering teaching, since they support practical work such as basic engineering skills development, laboratory experiments and individual or team project activities. Leading universities act as hubs for other universities and for further education colleges, meaning that capacity building at a university can have impact in other institutions.

Benefit: Africa Catalyst will build capacity across a range of areas, which might include curriculum development, university-industry links, teaching staff development, access to knowledge resources, support for practical activities, the development of pedagogies (such as problem-based learning or service learning) and, ultimately, progress towards national, regional or international standards of accreditation.

Professional Engineering Institutions and Accreditation Bodies in Africa

Type & Scale: Direct beneficiary; up to 100 organisations.

Description: There are currently 25 PEIs in Africa and about eight Engineering Accreditation Bodies. Some countries have societies based on engineering disciplines (such as a national society for civil engineering or chemical engineering) that have not yet developed into PEIs. PEIs and related engineering profession organisations have several important roles: they assess their members’ education and competence, granting them ‘chartered engineer’ status and providing for continuing professional development. In some countries, such organisations regulate the engineering profession and develop and enforce standards of practice – such as wiring regulations or building regulations. As learned societies, they also publish journals, hold technical meetings and organise thematic conferences to progress and promote the profession. Some PEIs undertake public and policy engagement activities too.

Benefit: PEIs and similar organisations in Africa will be the one of the two main beneficiaries of Africa Catalyst (along with engineering universities in Africa). It is their capacity that Africa Capacity will directly build, and if no PEI exists in a country then Africa Catalyst may seek opportunities to establish a PEI. The aim is to ensure that PEIs are able to perform their roles effectively – including in national and international arenas – and that they are ultimately able to operate on a sustainable commercial basis.

Federations of Engineering Institutions in Africa

Type & Scale: Direct beneficiary; six federations.

Description: The Federation of African Engineering Organisations is a Partner in Africa Catalyst, as is described in the next section. It convenes meetings and events and represents the profession to international African bodies such as the African Union. Its five regional federations follow similar patterns in terms of structure and role, and reach out to the African regional economic communities, but they are currently at very different levels of development. All international federations of engineering institutions are funded to a greater or lesser extent by membership fees from national PEIs.

Benefit: By building the capacity of the PEIs that are the members of these federations, the federations will also grow stronger. They will become more financially sustainable, and their effectiveness and credibility at representing Africa engineers will improve in international African bodies. They will begin to develop capacity to share best practice (including in different languages that just English) and to lead on regional or Africa-wide initiatives that further the engineering profession – such as the ideas of an African Academy of Engineering or regional accreditation standards that were mentioned in the previous section.

African Governments and Businesses

Type & Scale: Indirect beneficiary; up to 54 governments and eight governmental bodies, and thousands of businesses.

Description: Legislation is often required to establish and regulate the engineering profession, and national governments are also closely involved in funding higher education. Governmental bodies such as the regional economic communities, the African Union and the African Development Bank are also important because of their role in cross-border economic development and infrastructure (examples of this are highlighted in the ‘Current Context’ sub-section of Section 2). Both engineering and non-engineering businesses recruit professional engineers and engineering graduates into their workforces. Industries can engage with universities to explore new innovations.

Benefit: Africa Catalyst will bring about important improvements in development, business, trade, disaster resilience and climate adaptation as the number of professional engineers in a country increases. Governments will benefit from local expert knowledge inputs into policy and major infrastructure decisions. Improved regulation for the engineering profession means stronger mechanisms for accountability and therefore better implementation of engineering projects (for example, roads are more likely to get built to specified standards). The cost of infrastructure and technology projects will fall in the longer term because of less reliance on foreign engineers, consultants and contractors. Major investments will become attracted from a wider range of sources, and it will be possible to enforce local content or capacity building provisions in contracts. More highly skilled engineers and their work will bring about a larger middle class and therefore contribute to tax revenues. Engineering businesses will see significant improvements in the local talent pool when recruiting, enabling them to take on larger projects and to bid for international work. Strengthened links between businesses and universities will provide new opportunities to innovate and to make the skills of graduates more relevant to the local context. Updated university curricula and professional development training will improve technical awareness and knowledge of climate adaptation technologies, improving the disaster resilience of key infrastructures.


The Partners

Three organisations form the ‘partners’ who will lead Africa Catalyst: WFEO, FAEO and IEA. Their profiles and roles are outlined below. FAEO brings an African voice to the leadership of Africa Catalyst, and is also seen as a beneficiary since FAEO’s structure provides a mechanism for beneficiary input into decision-making. WFEO and IEA are key global bodies for engineering, and have the reach to mobilise the network, learning and resources of the engineering profession to support the project. These three partners are involved in Africa Catalyst at two levels: at the executive level in steering Africa Catalyst, and; at operational level in recruiting consultants with the secretariat and in delivering some of the outputs.

World Federation of Engineering Organisations (WFEO)

Profile: WFEO is the global organisation for the engineering profession. It was founded in 1968, under the auspices of UNESCO, and brings together national PEIs from over 90 countries and represents some 20 million engineers. Its work focuses on: informing and influencing international institutions (primarily the United Nations system); convening events and networks (such as the World Engineers Convention); improving engineering through codes and guidance; growing the profession through capacity building and promoting accreditation; partnering with others (such as on the ISO anti-bribery standard), and; recognising leading engineers and national PEIs. Its secretariat is in Paris. In addition:

  • WFEO has agreed the Abuja Declaration with FAEO and is a sponsor of the World Engineering Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure in Africa where it will be launched.
  • WFEO has agreed a Memorandum of Understanding with the IEA.
  • WFEO played a crucial role in the formation of FAEO, investing significant funding and time into negotiations over a seven year period to help overcome the challenges faced.
  • WFEO’s Capacity Building committee has developed a guidebook for Capacity Building in the Engineering Environment, and a policy on ‘the role of technical capacity building in accelerating the development of nations’.
  • WFEO committees develop model codes and policies for adoption at the national level.
  • WFEO is an official partner to UNESCO.
  • WFEO was a partner on the UNESCO Engineering Report, writing a third of its content.
  • WFEO was a key stakeholder to the Africa-UK Engineering for Development Partnership with the RAEng.

Role: WFEO’s role in the Africa Catalyst concept to date has been to convene the key stakeholders in this concept note. Its role will be:

  • As a key interface with the Africa Catalyst Coalition, particularly United Nations bodies.
  • Supporting recruitment of experts from across its global network.
  • The re-focusing of its Capacity Building and Education committees to oversee and support Africa Catalyst (though they will still have work on activities outside Africa).
  • In the ‘International to National’ activity stream, particularly on supporting representation and participation in international organisations and events.
  • In the ‘Policy to Engineers’ activity stream, particularly on harmonisation of data surveys and development and sharing of minimum standards.
  • Support for the development of engineering policy products needed by African PEIs (for example through its Anti-Corruption, Environment, Youth and Women committees).

Federation of African Engineering Organisations (FAEO)

Profile: FAEO is the recognised organisation for the engineering profession in Africa. It was founded in 2011 at the World Engineers Convention and brings together most the Anglophone national engineering institutions of Africa – from 16 of the 54 African nations. It promotes best practice and represents the engineering profession in Africa. Recent work has been on engaging with the African Union, the Africa Development Bank and some of the regional economic communities, and it has proposed a series of capacity building measures needed in Africa. Its secretariat is in Abuja. In addition:

  • FAEO has agreed the Abuja Declaration with WFEO and is a sponsor of the World Engineering Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure in Africa where it will be launched.
  • FAEO has been officially recognised as an international member of WFEO.
  • FAEO is in the process of signing a Memorandum of Co-operation with the African Union as part being officially recognised and accepted as the engineering body for Africa.
  •  FAEO incorporates five regional federations that reflect African economic communities: the Central African Federation of Engineering Organisations (CAFEO) in the ECCAS region; the Eastern African Federation of Engineering Organisations (EAFEO) in the EAC region; the North African Federation of Engineering Organisations (NAFEO) in the AMU region; the Southern African Federation of Engineering Organisations (SAFEO) in the SADC region, and; the West African Federation of Engineering Organisations (WAFEO) in the ECOWAS region.

Role: FAEO’s conceptual work and proposals on capacity building for the engineering profession in Africa have formed the core of Africa Catalyst. Its role will be:

  • Bringing African leadership and legitimacy to governance and decision-making.
  • Acting as a beneficiary in the governance structure, and representing the beneficiaries.
  • As a key interface with the Africa Catalyst Coalition, particularly African Governmental bodies and regional engineering federations.
  • Supporting recruitment of experts from across its international network.
  • Particular involvement in any attempts to establish PEIs in countries where none exist.
  • In the ‘National to International’ activity stream, particularly in representing all national PEIs at the global level and in facilitating national PEI participation in international fora.
  • In the ‘Engineers to Policy’ activity stream, particularly in supporting national PEIs to engage with their governments and regional governmental bodies.

International Engineering Alliance (IEA)

Profile: IEA is a group of self-regulating educational accords and professional competence recognition agreements which have a substantially equivalent view of what constitutes an acceptable professional engineering education and professional competence. The educational accords and the exemplar standards apply to qualifications to enter practice. The signatories / members of IEA are national PEIs or national engineering accreditation bodies – the number of these varies depending on the accord or agreement. IEA has arrangements for mentoring potential members and provisional members who wish to develop and upgrade their systems to achieve full membership, but is more limited in the assistance that it can provide to those in the early stages of these activities – such as potential members in Africa. Its secretariat is based in Wellington. In addition:

  •  IEA has agreed a Memorandum of Understanding with WFEO.
  • The Engineering Council of South Africa is Africa’s only IEA member, joining in 1999.
  • IEA admitted India and Sri Lanka as members in summer 2014, who are the first two developing countries to achieve full membership. Some other developing countries (in Asia and South America) hold provisional membership.

Role: IEA’s accords and experience with agreeing accord is what makes Africa Catalyst unique because IEA propagates and contextualises internationally recognised standards:

  • Bringing credible expert technical assistance on accreditation processes.
  • Supporting recruitment of experts from across its global network.
  • Mentoring of African accreditation bodies through its accreditation registration processes.
  • In all four university-related activity streams, particularly in support for universities and national accreditation bodies.

The Secretariat

The three Partners who will lead Africa Catalyst are in different continents and, as membership organisations, their staff have limited executive decision-making powers. Despite their mandates as the main international bodies for the engineering profession for the world and for Africa, they are also small and almost entirely dependent on volunteer effort to deliver their activities. Since Africa Catalyst is envisioned as a relatively large and complex donor-funded project, the three Partners have decided that it will need a strong and independent secretariat. The RAEng has been chosen because of its involvement in creating the environment leading to this proposal, and its excellent background, expertise and reputation. It is proposed that the secretariat will have a component based in Africa, to support this delivery. The RAEng has had input into the Africa Catalyst concept. They will be supported by a decision-making Steering Committee and by a high-level Advisory Board.

The Royal Academy of Engineering

Profile: The RAEng is the UK’s national academy for engineering. It was founded in 1976 and now has a fellowship of 1,500 leading figures in the engineering profession. Though not a PEI itself, it works closely with the many UK PEIs and often acts as a convenor or focal point for UK engineering – particularly for engaging with the British government. The role of the RAEng is to advance and promote engineering by providing analysis and policy support. Major areas of activity include awards, engineering education, supporting research and innovation, public engagement and its international programme (including international development activities). It is based in London. In addition:

  • The RAEng has been actively engaged in building the capacity of engineering universities in Africa through its ‘Enriching Engineering Education Programme’. This two-year programme began in summer 2013 with direct partnerships with the University of Dar Es Salaam and the University of Zimbabwe where it supports academic and industry exchange placements. Workshops are held to share the learning with other universities in the region. The project has been very successful so far, and a frequent request from the universities is for support with international accreditation (which will be possible to deliver through Africa Catalyst).
  • The Africa-UK Engineering for Development Partnership had its secretariat at the RAEng, and was launched in 2010 at the Academy by the then Prime Minister of Kenya. The 2012 report titled ‘Engineers for Africa’ which reporting findings on engineering capacity needs in sub-Saharan Africa (see Africa-UK, 2012) provided the first needs assessment of engineering capacity in the region, and provided an opportunity to engage with a range of engineers and other stakeholders across sub-Saharan Africa. This report has greatly informed the RAEng’s strategic direction and commitment to activities in Africa.
  • The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation was launched in 2014 to stimulate, celebrate and reward innovation and entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa. This is a high-profile activity that sits alongside other major national and international awards by the RAEng.
  • The 2006 Hinton Lecture (see RAEng, 2006) called for a significant engagement by the engineering profession in the economic development of Africa, and for engineering to be recognised as a key driver of economic and human development by policy makers. Indeed, it specifically called for more engineers to become policy makers in Africa.
  • The fellowship of the RAEng includes a number of fellows who are recognised as world experts in engineering in Africa. They could be called upon to support Africa Catalyst.


  • A single point of co-ordination for Africa Catalyst, DFID and the Partners in one location.
  • Supporting and guiding the Steering Committee and Advisory Board.
  • Managing Africa Catalyst, including: financial management; reporting; distributing funds; recruitment; contractual arrangements; communications and website; safety and security briefings; rapporteur; convening management meetings; monitoring and evaluation of progress and performance; tracking risks; programme development; and so on.

The Steering Committee

The Steering Committee will be responsible for the overall performance of Africa Catalyst. In effect, it operates as a board to inform strategy, governance, risk and financial oversight.

The Steering Committee will consist of, at a minimum:

  • A senior volunteer representative (such as the President or relevant committee chair) from each of the three Partners: WFEO, FAEO and IEA.
  • Two RAEng representatives, such as fellows with relevant expertise or senior management staff.
  • A chartered accountant (who may be finance staff at the RAEng or an independent treasurer who liaises closely with the RAEng finance team).

Other expertise may be required on the Steering Committee from time-to-time.

Since Africa Catalyst will be hosted by the RAEng, the Steering Committee would adopt and follow RAEng policies and procedures. Since the RAEng operates a number of committees for its programmes, the Steering Committee will be guided by their experience to ensure a good fit with RAEng accountability structures.

The Advisory Board

The Advisory Board will be a group of key people in international organisations or in Africa who have standing and profile in engineering universities, PEIs and accreditation bodies. They may have been involved in similar work before, or be subject matter experts. Key representatives from Africa Catalyst Coalition organisations may be invited to join the Advisory Board in order to enable closer co-operation.

In addition, Africa Catalyst may look to appoint a number of honorary advisors such as senior African political leaders who may be able to assist with access at the policy level.


The Coalition

The aim of the Coalition is to ensure that Africa Catalyst has a huge range of expertise to draw upon to meet the anticipated diversity of specific capacity building needs. Its purpose is also to recognise, engage with and align existing capacity building activities.

As highlighted in Section 2, earlier attempts at engineering capacity building in Africa mean that activities related to Africa Catalyst remain on the agenda of many organisations. The authors recognise the need to engage with these multi-lateral bodies, developed country PEIs, private sector organisations and charities to remain informed and, wherever possible, to harmonise efforts so that effectiveness and value for money are maximised.

The organisations mentioned below were not contacted as part of the preparation of this concept note. However, the authors have recently discussed engineering capacity building in Africa with most of them and several have already expressed keen interest to get involved.

Professional Engineering Institutions

  • Institution of Civil Engineers, UK (ICE. Note: has initiatives called ‘ICE in a box’ & PEISP)
  • Institution of Mechanical Engineers, UK (IMechE)
  • Institution of Engineering and Technology, UK (IET)
  • Institution of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE)
  • American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME. Note: runs Engineering for Change)
  • American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)

Specialist Organisations

  • Global Infrastructure Anti-Corruption Centre (GIACC)
  • Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CosT)
  • Engineers Against Poverty (EAP)
  • Engineers Without Borders groups active in Africa (EWB)
  • European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI)
  • Global Dimension in Engineering Education Europe Project (GDEE-EU)
  • African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS)
  • Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability Centre UK (STEPS)
  • Information Society Technology Africa, Ireland (IST-Africa)
  • Conference of Vice-Chancellors, Provosts and Deans of Science, Engineering and Technology (COVIDSET)
  • African Talent Mobility Project at the World Economic Forum Global Council on Migration

International Organisations

  • Commonwealth Engineers Council (CEC)
  • African Observatory of Science, Technology and Innovation (AOSTI)
  • Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU)
  • African Network of Scientific and Technological Institutions (ANSTI)
  • United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)
  • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
  • African Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology (AMCOST)
  • African Union Human Resources, Science and Technology (AU-HRST)
  • New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)
  • African Development Bank (AfDB)
  • World Bank

SECTION 4: The Programme


Africa Catalyst has an ultimate outcome for each of its two direct beneficiary groups:

1.    Engineering Universities in Africa:

“Africa has a large number of engineers whose knowledge, skills and competencies meet recognised international standards and national needs.”

2.    Professional Engineering Institutions and Engineering Accreditation Bodies in Africa:

“Engineering professional bodies in Africa are effective in working for the public good and ensuring the accountability of African engineers.”

Outcomes Tables 1 & 2 in the Appendices show intermediate and short-term outcomes according to activity stream.


The Team

The general approach that the Africa Catalyst concept calls for can be described as: great people who are experts in their field are given the resources and time they need to solve identified problems with the beneficiaries.

This approach means that Africa Catalyst can be open to a wide diversity of capacity building needs, and is flexible enough to adapt to emergent needs and to respond to change.

Team members may be active in any or all of the activity streams. The roles of the team members of Africa Catalyst are best described as ‘sensing’, ‘guiding’, ‘responding’ and ‘supporting’. The authors are choosing to adopt these role descriptions to reflect the strategic dispositions of the Africa Catalyst concept. In practice, team members will have relatively traditional international development roles:

Sensing: Country Managers

  • One Country Manager per country. Paid, part-time, in-country.
  • Reporting to Review Panels.
  • Role is to develop deep understanding of country context and initial and emerging capacity building needs, to bring in Experts and monitor their impact, and share learning.
  • Highly experienced professional engineers with deep understanding of engineering universities, PEIs or accreditation bodies. Exceptional listening and interpersonal skills.
  • Pre-departure training on Africa Catalyst, needs assessment techniques, duty of care.
  • Allocated a budget to bring in Experts to work on implementing capacity building solutions to identified needs.

Example profiles: former membership committee member of a national PEI in the UK; South African academic involved in external examination processes; experienced IEA mentor.

Responding: Experts

  • Flexible number of Experts per country or region. Time depends on need and budget.
  • Reporting to Country Managers.
  • Role is to work with beneficiary to implement a change that meets a specific identified capacity building need, and share learning.
  • Highly specialised consultants with knowledge or skills that fit the identified need.
  • Pre-departure briefing on country context, terms of reference, duty of care.

Example profiles: training courses manager of an Australian PEI to review content of professional development courses; local mobile phone payments expert to update dues collection systems; a leader from an accreditation body with experience of managing registration fee collection through PEIs; experienced political lobbyist from a recently established PEI in a developed country to deliver training on engaging with politicians.

Guiding: Review Panel Members

  • At least three Review Panel Members per country. Volunteers working from home.
  • Reporting to Secretariat.
  • Role is as a check on the Country Manager, particularly in relation to prioritisation of identified needs, approval of spending and monitoring performance against objectives.
  • Experienced engineering professionals with experience of developing country contexts, and possibly with trustee or other governance experience.
  • Briefing on Africa Catalyst objectives, risks and budget. Support from Secretariat team to prepare papers, minute meetings and report on lessons learned.

Example profiles: former maverick engineering academic known for their wisdom; mid-career engineer recently returned from secondment to developing country; senior volunteer officer of African national PEI in a neighbouring region to the region of country under review.

Supporting: Coalition Members

  • Flexible number of Coalition Members per country or region. Commitment dependent on need and activity alignment. Location depends on need.
  • Reporting to Country Managers.
  • Role is to support the Country Manager and the Experts in identifying capacity building needs, implementing changes, and in sharing resources, opportunities and challenges.
  • Volunteers engaged in aligned activities, projects or programmes in the country.
  • Briefing of Africa Catalyst objectives and country needs assessments.

Example profiles: consultant working for the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative who is looking to engage with policy makers in the country; journalist from a PEI magazine wanting to write a story about progress with accreditation in the country; Chief Executive of an American PEI agreeing to discount knowledge resources for a university in the country.

Supporting: Partners & Secretariat Staff

Staff roles in the Secretariat are likely to include: programme director and programme managers for universities and for PEIs and accreditation bodies; a web editor; administrative support for human resources, contracts and briefings etc; administrative support to the Review Panels, a Steering Committee and an Advisory Board; finance support. Staff roles in the Partners are likely to include: a member of staff in each Partner as a project manager to support existing secretariat staff in delivery; short-term staff on particular activities such as on developing policy guidelines or harmonised data collection surveys etc.




Africa Catalyst is ambitious; its scope is capacity building with engineering universities, PEIs and engineering accreditation bodies in all 54 countries in Africa. The concept does not focus on particular countries, regions, sectors or disciplines because it is important in terms of African geo-politics, in power relationships with the beneficiaries and in programme effectiveness that it is open and responds to identified needs; in short, the Africa Catalyst concept must not risk alienating potential beneficiaries or pre-determine its inputs.

The scope is also defined broadly because:

  • National focus: the engineering profession, by its very nature, is nationally defined – so, though it may well be preferred, we can only use a regional approach where common needs are identified or where regional opportunities arise.
  • All 54 countries: the authors do not want to cause tensions by focusing on particular countries or regions, though this will most likely be necessary in programme design.
  • Levels of development: the authors recognise that the countries that need the most support may be receiving the least attention from the international engineering profession at present, but this challenge will need to be balanced with the need for a smooth start to the programme in order to learn what works, celebrate early successes and build confidence among future beneficiaries.
  • Inter-dependence of accreditation and capacity: engineering capacity building of PEIs and universities without accreditation is open-ended and ultimately cannot be commercially sustainable (because professional engineers and students pay to show that they have reached a recognised standard); and engineering accreditation without capacity building is meaningless (because of the very small number of people or institutions that will achieve a recognised standard).
  • Lessons from previous projects: in developing this concept, the authors have learned from previous attempts that have not had sufficient scope, buy-in or resources (as mentioned in Section 2 on History) and so have not had financially sustainable outcomes, have resulted in disputes between countries or have closed down too quickly.


Having established the need for an ambitious scope, the authors recognise that in reality this scope may not be possible to achieve because:

  • Capacity to absorb: many African national PEIs are very small organisations with few staff and dependent on volunteer support, many university leaders are over-worked, under pressure and severely time constrained and many engineering accreditation bodies are under close scrutiny from government – all of which means that the scale of capacity building that these beneficiaries can effectively absorb is severely limited (to say nothing of countries facing challenges in security, public health or humanitarian crisis).
  • Complexity: engineers, engineering education and the engineering profession are embedded in a complex system that is closely linked with government – so, for example, needs may be identified which call for legislative change, which can take many years.
  • No chance: needs assessments may determine that, for example, there is no reasonable likelihood of countries that do not have a PEI will be able to establish a PEI within a reasonable timeframe, so programme resources should be prioritised for other countries.
  • No need: some African countries may not need significant capacity building because their PEIs, accreditation bodies and universities already achieve international standards, or because only minor changes to existing systems are called for to achieve big impacts.

Such limits to the ambitious scope of the Africa Catalyst concept demonstrate both the need for a flexible approach to programme design (allowing for re-allocation of resources from one country to another, for example) and that outcomes will be achievable even on a relatively small budget (compared to major capacity building programmes in large sectors like agriculture). The wide range of needs that Africa Catalyst may identify and address are also worth noting: upgrading an office IT system to collect membership fee payments online may cost relatively little; whereas part-financing sabbaticals for academics to gain experience in an international industry may cost a great deal.


When developing the Africa Catalyst concept, certain assumptions have been made that will need to be thoroughly tested in an initial pilot. These include:

  • The same team of Country Managers and Experts, as described earlier, will be able to build capacity in both engineering competence (in PEIs and Engineering Accreditation Bodies) and in engineering education (in universities).
  • Decision making in membership organisations (PEIs), regulatory organisations (accreditation bodies) and universities is slow, meaning that the capacity for large inputs of capacity building will be unlikely and that major changes will take several years.
  •  Universities will largely build their own capacity based on inputs facilitated through the Africa Catalyst Coalition; for example, recruitment decisions and industry engagements will be led mainly by the academics at the university rather than Africa Catalyst team.
  • Close engagement with other capacity building initiatives that are taking place – particularly at universities – will mean greater value for money (rather than just higher co-ordination costs).


Africa Catalyst is designed to last a minimum of six years, including an initial pilot year (‘Year Zero’). Six years should be sufficient to deliver the short-term outcomes and to begin to produce longer-term ultimate outcomes (in general, it takes four years for a single cohort of students to complete an accredited engineering degree).


The first year, known as ‘Year Zero’ will allow the Partners and Secretariat six months to set up, recruit staff and then run a six-month pilot programme in one region of Africa. The main purpose of the pilot is to help determine: whether Africa Catalyst can recruit people with the right skills, experience and behaviours for the ‘Country Manager’ roles; to develop a comprehensive needs assessment tool; and to test the effectiveness of the approach and team structure. The pilot must to be carefully managed so that no internal political problems arise between different candidate regions or countries (six months should be long enough to test the Africa Catalyst concept but not too long to antagonise those not involved in the pilot).


In line with its Strategic Dispositions, Africa Catalyst will take a regional approach to roll-out. The pilot region of Year 0 will likely continue as an initial region, and perhaps be joined by one other region in Year 1, then two more in Year 2 etc; depending on progress, one region of Africa could possibly be added each year until Africa Catalyst is covering all five regions. Work in some regions may be able to be phased out as the programme continues.

The authors recognise that this means that some of the regions that are reached later may get lower levels of support (both in the number of years in country and with a more spread – though more experienced – Secretariat). Selecting the later regions will need care.

Africa Catalyst will begin in countries where engineering universities and PEIs exist already, scaling up gradually over time and using a regional approach. Once some tangible progress has been made, Africa Catalyst will reach out to countries where no PEIs exist.


Country Managers will begin by conducting capacity building needs assessments, covering the status of PEIs, accreditation bodies, universities and the wider context top-down support from government, bottom-up support from engineers, structural issues, policy environment, regulation, political priorities, economic drivers, cultural norms, school systems, etc.

Once capacity building needs are identified, Country Managers will report to Review Panels and request approval of plans to bring in Experts and Coalition Members. Country Managers will review the impact of capacity building measures and adapt the needs assessments and capacity building inputs accordingly.

Regular reporting systems to the Steering Committee will be used to share learning and to highlight what works and what doesn’t work. The emphasis will be on tracking progress of meeting specific country-level capacity building needs, but these will be mapped to the activity streams and short-term and intermediate outcomes.

Monitoring & Evaluation

Processes of needs assessments, budget requests and progress reports will provide the basic management monitoring framework for the Africa Catalyst programme. Specific capacity building efforts, given the anticipated wide range of needs, will be categorised according to Outcomes Tables 1 and 2 (see Appendices). Review Panels and the Secretariat will play important roles in ensuring effectiveness and value for money. The Steering Committee will agree and review an evaluation framework.

Methods used to monitor, evaluate and assess impact should take into account the approach of Africa Catalyst. A range of methods will be needed. For example, a simple return on investment calculation may allow evaluation of a membership fee collection system, whereas impact assessment methodologies such as Most Significant Change would allow the capture of both intended and unintended consequences – whether positive or negative – of supporting academics to take sabbaticals in industry. Beneficiary feedback will be key, either through formal needs assessments reviews or informal feedback gathered from, say, industry leaders.

Regular external reviews and evaluations would be particularly helpful in assessing the performance of the Africa Catalyst programme and in identifying opportunities that may be being missed to share learning.

Africa Catalyst has specific outcomes on improving data on engineers in Africa – including data collection improvements and the harmonisation of surveys. In addition to publishing data as an advocacy tool, these data could provide a basis for longer-term impact evaluation of the programme after it has finished.


Outcomes Tables 1 & 2 in the Appendices show the activities according to activity stream. Some examples of required activities are summarised here to provide a sense of scale:

  • Focused pilot to test, evaluate and refine feasibility of methodology.
  • Recruitment of the team of staff and volunteers in RAEng, WFEO, FAEO & IEA.
  • Training and briefings for staff and volunteers, and duty of care arrangements.
  • Needs assessments using meetings, surveys, research, mappings, interviews etc.
  • Implementation of identified capacity building solutions as well as training and mentoring.
  • Facilitation of partnerships between industry and universities to operate exchanges etc.
  • Reporting, monitoring, evaluating, learning and auditing.
  • Support to develop policy and to facilitate agreement on policies across countries.
  • Awareness and advocacy of engineering in government, African Union etc.
  • Engineering representation at STI or infrastructure events / ministerial meetings in Africa.
  • Subsidies for membership or registration fees.
  • Training of trainers courses for accreditors of engineering education.
  • Survey harmonisation and data analysis and publishing.
  • Website development and editing.


A budget can be developed if needed, but to provide a sense of scale, the programme is likely to cost around a £16 million over six years.



Outcomes Tables 1 & 2 in the Appendices show the outputs according to activity stream. To elaborate according to short-term outcome, specific outputs will include:

  • Accreditation to education: improvements in the quality of engineering degree courses, including curricula, pedagogy and teaching; African university engineering graduates have accredited qualification that meets internationally recognised standards; African academics trained as external examiners and able to assess courses for accreditation bodies; more accredited professional development opportunities for practicing engineers; advocacy campaign to promote the value of accreditation to universities; engineering degrees attract more applicants.
  • Accreditation to engineering: performance of accreditation bodies increased; improvements in performance of PEIs in accreditation processes; African PEI members are accredited on internationally recognised standards of engineering competence; more African engineers covered by international engineering accords; advocacy campaign to promote the value of accreditation; increase in membership of PEIs.
  • Industry to education: course materials that are up to date in terms of content and pedagogy; courses that are supported by industry; courses that are directly relevant to local needs; visiting lectureships from industry; more engineering graduates with practical and employability skills; industry experience requirements of accreditation processes are met by engineering courses; more graduates going into engineering jobs.
  • Education to industry: academics who have recent experience in engineering industry; academics with better understanding of current industry needs; research projects at any level – include undergraduate projects – are based on real industry challenges; new research partnerships between universities and industry.
  • National to International: more national members from Africa in WFEO, FAEO and IEA; greater participation from African volunteers in international engineering bodies; membership fees paid to federations and alliances; PEIs have new or improved communications materials to represent themselves internationally; more delegates from Africa participating in international meetings, trainings and events; greater African engineering voice in engineering profession and in international bodies.
  • International to National: new edition of the WFEO Capacity Building Guidebook, also available in French for Francophone Africa; PEIs and accreditation bodies achieving a sustainable business model; stable organisation structures that are less dependent on key individuals; mentored staff who are effective in their roles; barriers to progress and capacity building needs of engineering professional organisations assessed, shared and prioritised; changes implemented to address identified needs; more engineers accredited under internationally recognised engineering standards.
  • Engineers to policy: engineering leaders able to engage with policy-makers more effectively; politicians are aware of the role of engineering in STI policy; politicians are aware of the role of engineering in national human and economic development; greater African representation in international organisations and meetings; more and better data on the engineering profession in Africa; data on engineering capacity shared in a new ‘Engineering: The State of the Art’ index that monitors and validates national statistics on demand, supply and quality for comparison and visualisation;
  • Policy to engineers: gender policies mainstreamed; ethics policies mainstreamed; sustainable development policies mainstreamed; improvements in engineering practice based on shared minimum standards and guidelines.

Value for money

An outline budget is shown in the Appendices to give a sense of the scale of Africa Catalyst.

The objectives of Africa Catalyst align closely with the purpose of WFEO, FAEO, IEA and RAEng; each organisation has strategic objectives and structures to build engineering capacity in developing countries, and in Africa in particular. Since Africa Catalyst will be delivered by these four organisations as a core part of their mission – and because they have already established deep expertise, strong networks and positions as leaders of the profession – their very nature means that they will offer better value for money than possible alternatives (such as consultancies, training houses or NGOs/PEIs that would have to build up their expertise, networks and credibility). All four organisations can call upon extensive volunteer networks that can offer the relevant expertise and experience in-kind. They routinely run global events, conferences and meetings which Africa Catalyst events could piggy-back onto (and hence reduce costs) to hold meetings and share learning. Indeed, the strategic dispositions of Africa Catalyst provide value for money in themselves: transparency in sharing learning improves effectiveness; simplicity favours low-cost solutions; realism ensures that resources are directed to initiatives with the greatest chance of success; etc.

Further, the objective of Africa Catalyst is that PEIs, accreditation bodies and universities in Africa improve their offer of quality, qualifications, mobility and training to their stakeholders – including government funders. Africa Catalyst capacity building will be successful when these three direct beneficiaries can operate effectively and sustainably on a commercial basis, through growth in membership fees, registration fees, tuition fees, training courses, accreditation fees and secure government funding. Capacity building is key to delivering successful business models. With this in mind, Africa Catalyst would allocate its resources to overcoming barriers and so would draw upon and enhance existing resources.

The Coalition provides a mechanism to mobilise in-kind resources and to align Africa Catalyst activities with any existing initiatives (such as the discounting of IEEE knowledge resources, the policy work of the CoST initiative or the Tertiary Education Support Programme mentioned in Section 2). WFEO and FAEO national members could donate knowledge products, policy templates, codes of practice, prior research, course materials, website hosting, communications opportunities, venues and even staff time. Initial discussions on such opportunities have been very positive.

Additional opportunities are likely to emerge that will provide extra value for money, such as:

  • The RAEng being able to align Newton Fund grants to meet appropriate Africa Catalyst needs within the objectives of that fund. South Africa is named as one of the countries to benefit from the Newton Fund, and through South Africa the rest of the sub-Saharan region may be supported. This could be particularly important in supporting academics through innovation fellowships or exchanges with local industry.
  • Use of a regional approach depending on the results of the needs assessments, either wholesale in some or all regions, on specific issues, or with certain types of beneficiary.
  • Peer-to-peer learning opportunities could be used depending on the identified need.
  • Any bespoke training that is identified as needed in more than one country could be simply be adapted from one context to another.
  • Needs assessments may identify training that has taken place before (such as on anti-corruption through courses that were delivered by the WFEO Anti-Corruption Committee) which means that only refresher learning may be required.


The following risks have been identified by learning from previous capacity building efforts in the engineering sector, from current capacity building efforts in other sectors and from previous work by the authors. Some have been anticipated as the concept has developed.



Too many engineering organisations or NGOs wanting to support the project too early (due to the existing broad commitment to its agenda and high expectations and enthusiasm), leading to alienation or confusion.

a.     Clear structure and roles from the outset.

b.    Use of the Coalition to channel inputs from supporters.

c.     Use of the Coalition to learn of and align existing efforts of capacity building.



The project is unable to recruit people with the necessary skills and expertise (particularly for the Country Managers).


a.     Use of expert networks of WFEO, IEA, FAEO and RAEng.

b.    Use of the broad Coalition.

c.     Flexibility in the budget to allow for dedicated recruitment where needed.

d.    Pilot scheme to help sanity-check Country Manager role requirements.

e.     Separation of University and PEI capacity building work in some cases.



Country Managers calling for Experts that do not provide value for money.


a.     Country Review Panels used to monitor and approve Country Manager recommendations and resources.

b.    Use of Coalition to recruit experts from supporters rather than commercial consultants.

c.     Value for money emphasised in training.



Lack of secretariat capacity in the three Partners.


a.     Appointment of an independent secretariat – the RAEng.

b.    Clear structure and roles from the outset.

c.     Steering Committee to review performance of Partners, particularly regarding mission creep.

d.    Flexibility in the budget to allow for extra resources for approved priority opportunities.



Poor co-ordination between the three Partners.

a.     Appointment of an independent secretariat – RAEng.

b.    Secretariat to maintain relationship with DFID and to facilitate all governance.

c.     Secretariat to manage funds and reports.

d.    Clear structure and roles from the outset.

e.     Regular meetings of Steering Committee.

f.     Individual Country Managers with responsibility for work in each country.

g.    Piggy-back on events by Partners as opportunities to share progress reports.



Pilot is seen as favouring one region (rather than testing the process), leading to disillusionment or controversy.


a.     Clear communication around ‘Year Zero’.

b.    A short but sufficient pilot period.

c.     Preparations for Year One are seen to be underway during Year Zero.


Tensions between national level and international regional level (e.g.: an regional economic community prefers different guidelines to a country in that community).


a.     Country Managers to consider international regions in needs assessment.

b.    Refer to global good practice by drawing on experts from the Partners.

c.     Focus on early successes in policy space.



Scale not being reached quickly enough.

a.     Year Zero to fully prepare for scaling.

b.    Steering Committee empowered to intervene to unblock progress.

c.     Reasons for lack of progress to be openly shared and reported.

d.    Value for money to be re-assessed annually.



Participation from the Coalition becomes based on the remit or role of an organisation, rather than its capacity to contribute or the capability of its people.

a.     Steering Committee and Country Review Panels to prioritise meeting the needs identified in the needs assessments.

b.    Recruitment to focus on finding the right individuals to deliver the work, rather than relying on their organisations per se.

c.     Independent and experienced secretariat.



Failure to progress due to institutional inertia or lack of ownership by the beneficiaries.


a.     Pilot to identify key problem areas.

b.    Piggy-back on events as opportunities to share lessons learned.

c.     Frequent and small interactions between the Country Manager, experts, the Secretariat and the beneficiaries.

d.    Reasons for lack of progress to be openly shared and reported.



Passive resistance of beneficiaries (such as a national PEI agreeing to, but then not acting on, the implementation of a survey).


a.     Needs assessments to determine the capacity of beneficiaries to absorb capacity building.

b.    Country Managers in role over a long period of time to build a deep understanding of the beneficiaries.

c.     Piggy-back on events by beneficiaries and other key dates to launch / announce key outputs.

d.    Steering Committee empowered to intervene to unblock progress.



Changes of government during national policy capacity building processes.

a.     Country Managers to consider political timetables in needs assessments and prioritise accordingly.

b.    Beneficiaries to be supported to engage with politicians, civil servants and press during transitional periods.


SECTION 5: Appendices

Outcomes Table 1: Engineering Universities in Africa

Ultimate Outcome

Africa has a large number of engineers whose knowledge, skills and competencies meet recognised international standards and national needs.

Intermediate outcome(s)

Engineering universities in Africa are able to engage in accreditation processes both internally and externally so that engineers meet international standards.

Engineering universities in Africa deliver graduates and knowledge outputs that are directly relevant to the national context.

Short term outcome(s)

Accreditation to Education:

Engineering education courses meet international standards.

Accreditation to Engineering:

Accreditation standards are enforced at universities and other learning providers.

Industry to Education:

Engineering students better prepared to start practice.

Education to Industry:

Engineering universities able to contribute to engineering policy and standards in industry.


Accredited engineering university programmes and PEI professional development courses.

More stable accreditation bodies in Africa.

More African engineers covered by international engineer accords.

Courses with up-to-date and contextually relevant material. Acceptance of international recognition of graduate qualifications.

Knowledge transfer between academia and industry. Awareness that graduates are educated to international standards.

Research outputs on issues faced by industry. Mobility of graduates to gain experience in other country offices.


Improvements in curricula, pedagogy and teaching through peer learning, sharing of course materials and knowledge resources, staff development etc.

Development of relationships with assurance bodies.

Provide best practice exemplars. Assessment of status of existing national assurance processes. External assessment of programme materials, teaching and examination processes carried out by trained academics.

Mentoring of elected leaders and or / identified secretariat staff of accreditation bodies in Africa by carefully matched volunteers. In- country experts experience  best practice accreditation in other (IEA) jurisdictions.

Visits by carefully selected Country Managers and Experts to support implementation of changes to policies and systems of accreditation bodies in Africa.

Development of roadmap to meet current best practice. Curricula reviews to meet best practice, visiting lectureships, practicals, industrial placements for students, etc.

Industrial placements for academics. Meetings with industry to discuss changes.

Research projects and partnerships between industry and academia – both locally and globally. Support for recruitment of graduates.

Outcomes Table 2: Professional Engineering Institutions and Engineering Accreditation Bodies in Africa

Ultimate Outcome

Engineering professional bodies in Africa are effective in working for the public good and ensuring the accountability of African engineers.

Intermediate outcome(s)

Engineering professional bodies in Africa are better able to regulate the practice of engineering in their countries for the public good.

Engineering professional bodies in Africa are better able to represent their members to government and to promote national priorities (including on issues such as gender, education and the environment) to their members.

Short term outcome(s)

National to international:

International organisations involved in the regulation of engineering profession are able to engage with engineers in Africa.

International to National:

Perception and role of national organisations in Africa involved in regulation of engineering profession is improved.

Engineers to Policy:

Enhancement of existing engagements with government to achieve policy goals, including the profession’s capacity being demonstrated to national policy makers and to inform national and international priorities.

Policy to Engineers:

Engineers in African countries better informed to practice engineering for the public interest.


Membership of international organisations from Africa is increased, with associated engagement in committees that serve as training fora.

Participation by African engineers at international events and training workshops is increased, with associated increase in voice of African engineers.

More stable PEIs in Africa.

More African engineers covered by international engineer accords.

Elected leaders of engineering bodies able to engage with government officials more effectively.

Information and knowledge available that can be used for advocacy – to make the case to institutions of governance.

Policies on key issues in engineering are mainstreamed and recognised by professional engineers.


Enabling full representation of African engineering bodies in the international organisations of the engineering profession (including through subsidies and grants to improve communications materials).

Enabling greater participation of elected leaders of engineering professional bodies in Africa in key international meetings (including by awarding conditional travel grants and subsidised conference fees).

Mentoring of elected leaders and or / identified secretariat staff of PEIs in Africa by carefully matched volunteers.

Visits by carefully selected Country Managers and Experts to support implementation of changes to policies and systems of PEIs in Africa.

Training and sharing of good practice about engagement with policy makers, whilst helping to developing and tailor policy ideas.

Participation in international committees that influence international institutions (such as the United Nations and African Union).

Data collection improvements on national capacity in engineering sector, and other needed important evidence to inform policy.

Harmonisation of survey questions for comparison between countries.

Sharing of minimum standards, such as on gender, ethics or sustainability.

Incorporation of minimum standards into national organisational policies.


Africa-UK. (2012). Engineers for Africa Interviews Analysis. London: Royal Academy of Engineering.

Africa-UK. (2012). Engineers for Africa Summary Report. London: Royal Academy of Engineering.

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UNESCO. (2010). UNESCO Engineering Report: Issues, Challanges and Opportunities for Development. Paris: UNESCO Publishing.

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The following endnotes relate to the examples in Section 2 of ‘History’ and ‘Current Context’:

[i] Telford Challenge:

[ii] Eskom TESP:

[iii] Many national EWB groups can be reached via:

[iv] RAEng:

[v] IEEE in Kenya news story:

[vi] Task Force 10:

[vii] Africa-UK Engineering for Development Partnership launch event:

[viii] UNESCO Engineering Report news release and download link:

[ix] Future UNESCO Engineering Reports will likely be produced by:

[x] UNESCO UK National Commission concept:

[xi] UNESCO Engineering Initiative website:

[xii] WFEO Capacity Building guidebook:

[xiii] Old website for Africa KTPs:

[xiv] Africa 2063 website:

[xv] STISA-2024 press release:

[xvi] Press release from PASET meeting in Dakar in June 2014:

PASET engineering paper:

[xvii] PIDA website:

[xviii] First STI Forum website:

Second STI Forum website:

[xix] ADEA website:

[xx] Event website:

[xxi] Event website:

[xxii] Event website:

[xxiii] RAEng Newton Fund website:

[xxiv] Fund website: