Major developments for Pan African University

The Pan African University Institute for Space Sciences to be hosted by South Africa is on course to enrol its first students in January 2016, completing the creation of research and PhD training nodes for Africa’s five regions and ending years of politicking. A decision has also been made to base the continental university’s headquarters in Cameroon.

A roadmap for implementing the Institute for Space Sciences, or PAUISS, was agreed during talks between the African Union, or AU, and the South African government in Pretoria last month, led by AU Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology Dr Martial De-Paul Ikounga.

The AU said in a statement that a team of South African officials would finalise the plan to ensure that 2016 admissions become a reality.

Which institution would host the institute was not stated, but Stellenbosch University has previously been mentioned.

Selecting a country to host the Southern African node of the Pan African University, or PAU – a continental institution comprising centres of excellence based in existing universities and aimed at strengthening research and PhD training across Africa – has been fraught with difficulties.

Several years ago, early in the process of constructing the university, South Africa was reported to be hosting the Southern African node but there was an outcry among other would-be host countries in the region about lack of consultation or regional agreement on the host.

Eventually the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, recommended that Mauritius host the regional PAU space sciences institute – only to be reminded by the AU that while Mauritius is a member of SADC, it is part of East Africa under the AU’s regions. Finally, it was agreed last year that the institute would indeed be in South Africa.

The PAU, established in 2010, proved sceptics wrong when it admitted its first batches of postgraduate students in 2012 to four nodes in Kenya, Cameroon, Algeria and Nigeria.

The first 54 masters students graduated from the Institute of Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya in November 2014. A further 100 masters and PhD students from 20 countries enrolled in February this year, most of them from Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria.

The PAU’s other operational nodes are the Institute of Water and Energy Sciences at Tlemcen University in Algeria; the Institute of Life and Earth Sciences at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria; and the Institute of Governance, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon.

At the Pretoria deliberations, participants agreed on the need for a “robust communication campaign” to bring key African stakeholders up to date with the “immense value and breadth of applications for space sciences and related technologies”.

These, said the AU statement, include early warning for natural and human-made disasters, and weather and environmental surveillance and management. The AU Commission is collaborating with South Africa to produce a publicity video and flyer to be shared at the AU Summit in June 2015.

The European Union and the United States have expressed interest in becoming thematic partners for the space sciences programme.

A home for the PAU

Meanwhile, the secretariat of the Pan African University is to get a permanent home in July when its rectorate moves to Cameroon.

The 24th Ordinary Summit of the African Union meeting from 23-31 January picked Cameroon after a competitive bidding process. Other countries that had expressed interest in hosting the continental university’s secretariat included Benin, Ethiopia and Tunisia.

PAU spokesperson Adiatou Fatty said in a statement that the AU’s executive council had organised technical evaluation missions to the shortlisted countries and convened “a high-level panel of Africanists and intellectuals” to recommend which the host country should be.

In the past four years, the PAU’s governing and administrative organs have been based at the AU Commission headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The city or university in Cameroon to host the rectorate is yet to be named but is likely to be either in the French speaking capital Yaoundé or the English speaking commercial capital Douala in the south of the country. The University of Yaoundé already hosts the PAU Institute of Governance, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Top appointments

The AU summit also appointed professors Tolly S Mbwette of Tanzania and Paulo Horácio de Sequira e Carvalho of Angola as president and vice-president of the PAU respectively, following a competitive recruitment process.

Mbwette was previously vice-chancellor of the Open University of Tanzania while Paulo Horacio was previously coordinator of the management committee of the faculty of arts and social sciences at Agostinho Neto University in Angola.

The two will serve a three-year renewable term subject to a decision by the PAU governing council. All of the continent’s five regions had proposed candidates to the conference of African ministers of higher education, the PAU spokesman added.