African diaspora give back to boost universities on continent

Fellowship programme forges further links across the Atlantic between African and North American academies

November 10, 2016
Political scientist Josephine Dawuni with postgraduates at University of Ghana
Been there: political scientist Josephine Dawuni (centre) mentored postgraduates at her alma mater, the University of Ghana

What mechanisms are available for academics born in Africa and based in North America to “give something back” to their home continent?

In 2011-12, Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, vice-chancellor of the United States International University-Africa in Kenya, was commissioned by the Carnegie Corporation to carry out research on the approximately 25,000 “African-born academics in the United States and Canada and how African institutions perceive the diaspora”. This led to a 2013 report and plans to set up a pan-African programme whose details he began to draw up with the Institute of International Education (IIE) in New York.

This became the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program, funded by Carnegie with logistical support from the IIE. An advisory council of prominent academics and administrators in both North America and Africa, chaired by Dr Zeleza, offers strategic direction, while his university provides the secretariat.

The fellowships operate as follows. Institutions in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda put in requests for projects they hope to develop, sometimes naming a scholar they wish to work with. The IIE also has a list of North American scholars from which they can suggest someone with suitable qualifications to spend 14 to 90 days in Africa as a visiting fellow.

The programme has already had four rounds of awards, with more than 240 fellows in all. African institutions, as Dr Zeleza explains, get “access to highly trained North American academics” and a chance to build capacity through “curriculum co-development, collaborative research and engaging in international networks through the diaspora”. There have been examples of curriculum development across a wide range of disciplines: “digital media, engineering, health sciences, dentistry, even Swahili”.

In most cases, according to Dr Zeleza, the initial visits have led to deeper collaborations: “90 per cent of the fellows have established ongoing relations with the institutions they went to and gone back with their own institutional resources. Over 80 per cent have got their institutions in North America to establish formal relationships with the African universities.”

This year’s fellowship programme has already enabled African-born North American academics to develop research in geo-environmental engineering in Kenya, design an HIV/Aids curriculum in Nigeria, and establish a laboratory for vascular biology in South Africa. 

Both hosts and fellows have benefited greatly from the programme, said Dr Zeleza.

At Rongo State University in Kenya, communications professor Fredrick Ogenga hosted Abu Bah, associate professor of sociology at Northern Illinois University, as a fellow for “curriculum review, programme mentoring and collaborative research”.

Professor Ogenga said: “We have achieved a lot together. We developed a master’s curriculum in media, democracy, peace and security and founded the Center for Media, Democracy, Peace and Security.

“We have signed a memorandum of understanding for a study abroad faculty and student exchange programme, have also jointly presented papers in universities locally and internationally, and are currently co-editing a book titled Post-conflict Institutional Designs and Peacebuilding in Divided Societies.”

Josephine Dawuni, assistant professor of political science at Howard University in Washington DC, graduated in law from the University of Ghana in 1999. This summer she returned to her alma mater as a Carnegie African Diaspora Fellow, where she “helped redesign a course on gender and the law, which hadn’t been taught for a very long time. The idea was to revamp it and make it speak to present needs,” she said.

She has already co-authored a book called Gender and the Judiciary in Africa: From Obscurity to Parity? and was able to continue her research for a forthcoming co-edited follow-up volume, African Women Judges on International Courts: Untold Stories.

Looking back on her own experiences in Ghana as a young graduate, Professor Dawuni reflected that “if I had had mentoring, my experiences might have been better or I might have progressed at a faster rate, because I had to do everything blindly – no one told me about how to apply for grad school or what to do once I got there”.

During her fellowship, therefore, she offered postgraduate mentoring to a new generation, encouraging them to “broaden their horizons” beyond thinking only of becoming lawyers, and instead “to look far and wide” at options for further study online, across Africa and further afield. She also offered practical guidance on research and writing skills and applying to graduate schools.


Print headline: Diaspora scholars return to Africa to share expertise

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles