First fellows selected for African diaspora initiative

A first round of 33 African-born academics working in North America have been selected for 31 projects at 24 universities across Africa under the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program – and a deadline for new applications is looming. Scholars in the diaspora are being supported to return to Africa for academic collaborations initiated by African institutions.

The deadline for a second application cycle is 21 July, and diaspora scholars and African host institutions are being urged to apply now. The next fellows will be announced in October, for project visits to Africa between December 2014 and August 2015.

The fellowship programme was launched last October, commences this month and will run for two years. It aims to “turn the continent’s ‘brain drain’ into ‘brain gain’” and to encourage academic exchange and collaboration.

In all, 100 fellowships are being offered to African-born academics living in the United States and Canada, to work temporarily at and with African universities.

In the first cycle the 33 diaspora fellows selected by an advisory council will work on the 31 winning projects submitted by institutions in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda – the six countries where Carnegie operates in Sub-Saharan Africa.

They will be leaving for Africa in the coming weeks on visits that may last between two weeks and three months, to work on collaborations involving curriculum co-development, research, graduate teaching, and training and mentoring in a range of fields in the arts and humanities, social sciences, education, sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics.


The programme is managed in the United States by the Institute of International Education, or IIE, in partnership with Quinnipiac University, which provides strategic guidance through an advisory committee comprising prominent African scholars and chaired by Quinnipiac’s vice-president for academic affairs, Malawi-born historian Dr Paul Tiyambe Zeleza.

The initiative is Zeleza’s brainchild and flows from a Carnegie-supported study he conducted on Engagements Between African Diaspora Academics in the US and Canada and African Institutions of Higher Education: Perspectives from North America and Africa.

In an article in the latest edition of International Higher Education, Zeleza and Kim Foulds, coordinator of the Carnegie fellowship initiative, write that it will focus on three key areas: increased research collaboration, curriculum co-development between diaspora and Africa academics and their institutions, and graduate student teaching and mentoring.

What sets the project apart from others, say Zeleza and Foulds, is that it is African institutions that decide the structure of exchanges and “engage the desire of diaspora academics to contribute to higher education across Africa”.

They conclude: “The goal of this programme and model is to ensure that African institutions are the driving forces in identifying needs and opportunities for engagement, as well as providing to disapora scholars and African institutions the space to build and expand their scholarly alliances.

“While the brain drain is a very real phenomenon, engaging the African academic disapora and establishing programmes to promote academic exchanges and collaborations holds potential for internationalising and strengthening the capacities of African universities.”

Good response

In the first cycle the initiative received a total of 72 project requests from 51 African institutions, 73% of them public and the rest private institutions. Nigeria submitted the most requests (43%) followed by Kenya (18%).

African-born scholars working at accredited universities or colleges in North America can apply to be on a roster of candidates. By the deadline for the first round, there were 204 scholar applications to the roster and another 51 were in progress.

African universities may propose a particular diaspora scholar in their project request, and may work with the chosen scholar in developing the project request. Otherwise, the IIE – which maintains the scholar roster – facilitates matches.

Among the diaspora scholars matched with project requests, nine in 10 work at institutions in the United States and the rest are in Canada, 70% are male and 52% are in arts, humanities, social sciences or professional fields while 48% are in sciences, technology, engineering or mathematics.

The diaspora academics come from 11 African countries – Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

The 33 diaspora fellows, 31 projects and 24 African universities selected in the first round will be engaged in a variety of types of projects and fields. The most popular disciplines were education, medical sciences and engineering.

Here are a few examples.

The University of Nairobi in Kenya will host a project on “Research training for graduate architecture and engineering students based on a learning through service approach”, with local scholar Professor Patts Odira and disapora academic Dr Esther Adhiambo Obonyo of the University of Florida in the United States.

Professor Chinedum Babalola at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria and Dr Adeboye Adejare at the University of the Sciences in Pennsylvania will conduct research on the interaction between compounds and small endogenous materials that can serve as targets for drug action.

Makerere University in Uganda and Dr Samuel Majalija will host three disapora fellows – Professor John B Kaneene of Michigan State University, Professor Margaret Loy Khaitsa of Mississippi State University and Dr Florence Studstill Wakoko of Columbus State University – on a multifaceted project that will among other things refine and strengthen the graduate curriculum in international infectious disease management for East and Central Africa.

Selected fellows receive funding for their Africa visit to cover a daily stipend, transport, visa funds and health insurance, while host universities in Africa meet fellows’ upkeep and costs of in-country transport.