Thabo Mbeki, the South African President, has signalled to Tony Blair that the rehabilitation of Africa's run-down universities should be high on the agenda at next year's Scotland summit of the Group of Eight.
Mr Blair's Commission for Africa will produce a plan to present to the G8 after examining issues such as economic, conflict resolution, health, the environment, HIV/Aids, governance and education in which effective universities can make a difference.
The G8 agenda is open, but last week Mr Mbeki made a clear move to ensure that university rebirth is included - on Africa's terms. The campaign was inspired "by the belief that the African university must be at the heart of any sustainable effort to rebuild our continent", he said. It links the South African Universities Vice-Chancellors' Association, the Association of African Universities and the London-based Association of Commonwealth Universities, which represents more than 500 institutions.
"We look forward with confidence to the ACU mobilising international capacity developed over almost a century in support of, and in partnership with, Africa's universities," said Mr Mbeki, who was attending the 175th anniversary of the University of Cape Town.
Njabulo Ndebele, vice-chancellor of UCT, said: "Higher education in Africa is located at the strategically important intersection of the private sector, public sector and civil society. Thabo Mbeki has a unique role to play.
"He is on record as a leading voice for change in Africa, within the context of the New Partnership for Africa and the African Union. Mr Blair, through the Commission for Africa, is determined to galvanise G8 resources towards Africa. Higher education should be given due priority."
The ACU-Mandela Rhodes Foundation Thabo Mbeki Leadership Scholarships, launched at the event, will support talented African postgraduates at UCT who have shown exceptional leadership potential and a commitment to Africa's development.
Professor Ndebele said the "Mbeki scholars" would become "a vital leadership cadre" in a programme drawing on Nelson Mandela's visionary leadership, the excellence of Rhodes scholarships and Mbeki's "renewed vision of African development".
The Rhodes Foundation relaunched with Mandela's name last year, depoliticising its scholarships and focusing on African development. The pairing, said Mr Mbeki, "drives home the significance of the link between continuity and change in the history of nations. While Rhodes and his peers opened Africa to European colonisation, Mandela and other African leaders sacrificed for the restoration of Africa to itself."
Mr Mbeki blamed the death of the African university on the decline of postcolonial states as countries fell under unrepresentative governments whose misrule limited Africa's capacity to harness its human capacity.
Recent democratic developments were providing new opportunities to deploy Africa's people towards development, Mr Mbeki said.
He received UCT's first award for outstanding leadership in Africa, and inaugurated the ACU Distinguished Lecture Series, which will involve opinion makers across the Commonwealth.