AFRICA-SOUTH AMERICA: New university partnerships

Africa's 53 states and South America's 12 countries plan to deepen their alliances by cooperating in areas of mutual interest, including higher education, science and technology. The plan was approved by heads of state at the second Africa-South America Summit held on Venezuela's Margarita Island from 26-27 September.

The summit was organised by the South American Community of Nations and the African Union.

Working groups were formed to promote cooperation in education, science and technology, and communications, as well as in agriculture and the environment. Responsibility for the programmes will rest with Senegal and Venezuela, Brazil and Cameroon, and Guyana and Uganda respectively.

The groups will establish an education network linking the universities and institutes of the two regions. They will also initiate joint research projects, knowledge and technology transfers, exchanges of scientists and technical experts, as well as workshops, symposia and conferences.

In health, a key area for cooperation will be communicable diseases, especially HIV-Aids, malaria, TB and other epidemics, particularly those affecting Africa. The aim is to develop and share medical expertise, higher education resources and experience.

"For nearly every African problem there is a South American solution," said Kenyan scientist Calestous Juma, Director of the Science, Technology and Globalisation project at US-based Harvard University.

"Cooperation could serve as a critical knowledge link between the two regions. Brazil, for example, is a rich source of ideas on using universities as incubators of knowledge-based businesses. African universities, on the other hand, could play a key role in the enrichment of South American culture, which has strong African roots hidden in its diverse universities."

Juma said for this to be mutually beneficial, the partnerships had to be real and not political posturing.

"The two regions are part of the global economy and cannot set themselves apart from the rest of the world," he added.

Rodomiro Ortiz, Director of resource mobilisation at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre in Mexico, told University World News: "The university systems on both sides should tailor their curricula to develop learned professionals with skills to tackle local challenges, including the problems of brain drain and graduate unemployment.

"These need not only be the best of science but also a clear understanding of the issues affecting knowledge-based development as well as re-valorising traditional knowledge and using participatory approaches for research and development."

Ortiz, formerly director of research for development at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria, said both continents could learn from each other.

South America could share its practices on conservation agriculture, innovative systems for family farming, and agro-processing, and learn from Africa on how to produce main staples with limiting inputs, on using traditional knowledge of local food and processing that added value, and new uses for crops.

Among the scientists from African countries now living in South America is Egyptian-born Nagib Nassar, a professor of genetics at the University of Brasilia, who moved to Brazil in 1974.

"Africa-South America's universities' partnership must be set up for the welfare of the two regions and build new citizens capable of accompanying rapid changes in our modern world. They can then contribute to their country's progress, using its resources more effectively," Nassar said.

Partnerships such this could work by implementing new and unified curricula, re-organising teaching-learning processes, considering the different cultures of the two regions, and implementing a partnership programme that would provide students with an inter-regional experience either through studying or learning, he added.

* The third Africa-South America Summit will take place in Libya in 2011.