AU student Masimbaashe Chikuni’s plan to increase urban flood resilience through data science earns special recognition in the Multi- City Challenge Africa

Masimbaashe Chikuni, a third year Bachelor of Computer Science student in the College of Business, Peace, Leadership and Governance received special recognition in the 2020 Multi- City Challenge public engagement initiative for his project that looks at increasing resilience through Data Science & Flood Warnings in the City of Mutare.

5 African cities in collaboration with the UNDP and Gov Lab at New York University Tandon School of Innovation hosted the 2020 Multi- City Challenge initiative that aims to tackle urban challenges by partnering the people most affected by them, namely city residents. The participating cities included:

Mutare, Zimbabwe

Accra , Ghana

Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Kampala , Uganda

Kano, Nigeria 

Masimbaashe provided context as to why his project focus zoned in on flooding  drawing from the experiences and challenges posed by 2019’s Cyclone Idai that affected the Chimanimani area of Manicaland.

“With the advent of global climate change, most countries are experiencing a significant weather change, both in temperature and precipitation. The rising temperature accompanied with altering precipitation patterns has accelerated hydrological cycles and increased the frequency of occurrence of natural disasters such as cyclones. Reviewing cyclone Idai that struck Zimbabwe in March 2019, it exhibited unusual characteristics that resulted in disastrous impacts. To date, an estimated 50 000 households were affected with the Chimanimani district being the worst affected because of lack of preparedness. For urban and peri-urban settlements, there is need to enhance climate resilience at different scales and with a range of different measures. By incorporating data science and flood warning systems, we will be better equipped to respond to natural disasters and prevent future disasters from occurring.”

Speaking to the importance of research generated by Africa’s youth and the prestige  of receiving special recognition, Masimbaashe  went on to say, 

Being recognized for my contributions to building urban resilience is a great honor that  broadens my professional experiences, builds my confidence and increases my perseverance. It is encouragement to continue to tackle big challenges and reframe the future. I entered the initiative to test my ideas and see how viable they are especially when implemented in the real-world. It gives me a sense of accomplishment to know that I have a voice to add to the development narrative and it gives me the boldness required to develop new systems to emancipate and grow Africa.”

The Africa University College of Business, Peace, Leadership and Governance has set a track record of excellence in student- led research and innovation. This award recognition comes on the back of  a previous win by four students also in the  Computer Science programme who won the UmojaHack  Zimbabwe Inter- University Hackathon that took place towards the end of 2020 and  focused on the utilization of big data in real- world problem solving.

Mentorship by leading college academics such as Dr. Yogesh Kumar Awasthi lends students the critical support required in the knowledge generation process.

Dr. Yogesh Kumar Awasthi- Lecturer in the Department of Computer Information Systems

Dr. Yogesh said,

“Effective mentorship is critical to the success of early stage researchers, and has been linked to enhanced mentee productivity, self-efficacy, and career satisfaction. The Objective is to provide all students across the all technical fields with evidence-based mentorship and professional development programming that emphasizes the benefits and challenges of diversity, inclusivity, and culture within mentoring relationships, and more broadly the research workforce.”

Dr. Yogesh went on to expand on the critical need for the creation of strong research structures  and mechanisms to engage more young people in the process.

The world is well into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and yet education systems have not kept pace. Young people are often not learning the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century and interact with their changing world, such as digital literacy, problem solving, and critical thinking. Despite widespread recognition of the importance of these skills for the future in education policies, very few education systems have adapted to this reality. On the African continent, where 60 percent of the population is under the  age of 25, the teaching of 21st century skills will be necessary for Africa to transform itself into a continent of growth and opportunity. If young people do not learn how to use and create with technology, they are sure to fall further behind. To achieve the vision of 2030, technological advancement will play a vital role which is led by computer science.”

He went on to put emphasis on the need to encourage, motivate and inspire students with academic staff being a conduit for budding researchers to contribute actively to the development of the continent.

Our young and energetic researchers should come forward and play their role in development of the country and continent. Awards and recognition like this motivates us and encourages us to show our best at social and economic  research levels. As we know, Africa is grappling with lots issues therefore it is the responsibility of the universities to come forward and give their input for innovations and solutions of existing problems. Universities are not only made to provide  degrees but now is the time to participate in the socio economic development of the nation.

The GovLab created the City Challenges model in 2016 under the notion that public institutions need to change how they work, becoming more data-driven, agile, innovative, and capable of tapping expertise from new sources to respond more effectively to novel challenges. The first pilot of this initiative was carried out in the municipality of San Pedro Garza García, Mexico. The Multi-City Challenge scales the previous model running the programme in parallel in different cities that share similar urban challenges. This programme allows them to pool the expertise of their civil servants and residents to define problems and to find innovative solutions to solve them creating synergies and economies of scale between them.(–.html)