Following the African Independence movements of the 1960s, says Kelly Askew, director of the African Studies Center and professor of anthropology and Afroamerican and African studies, international partners gave African countries consistent advice concerning education: Spend your resources on primary education. Higher ed is a luxury you can’t afford.

Not surprisingly, says Askew, this guidance proved short-sighted.

You need teachers in order to educate children, of course, but how do you train teachers without higher education? And for Africa, where half of the entire continent’s population is under 35, the demand for education is overwhelming and intense.

The lack of educational investment introduced other problems too: How do you run an independent state without healthcare providers or architects or urban planners? And how do you persuade the exceptional students who are determined to become leaders in their field to resist the lure of the well-funded research institutions of the west? Often, Askew says, you don’t. “Only 18 percent of all higher-ed faculty in Africa hold a doctoral degree,” she says.

This is why the African Studies Center, which is celebrating its own tenth anniversary, is proud to be welcoming the tenth cohort of U-M African Presidential Scholars (UMAPS) to campus.

UMAPS brings faculty at the beginning of their careers from ten countries in Africa to U-M for a four-to-six month residency. The program is designed to provide each scholar the chance to fully engage in university life by attending classes, seminars, conferences, and workshops, and by taking advantage of U-M’s research facilities and materials. “UMAPS was conceived as an intervention to provide respite and academic resources to talented early-career faculty,” Askew says. “We wanted to enhance research environments in African universities, and to internationalize U-M through new collaborations and partnerships with African scholars.”

Collaborating Across Continents

UMAPS scholars are paired with U-M faculty members who mentor and collaborate with them on projects that will help to propel the scholars’ careers. “As a scholar in African studies, I'm excited to see what new projects colleagues in Africa are working on,” says Naomi André, associate professor of women's studies and Afroamerican and African studies, who also teaches in LSA’s Residential College. “UMAPS brings over a cohort of scholars and the U-M community really gets to benefit from knowing current research questions and learning about cutting edge research that is happening across the continent.”

The scholar with whom André will work, Senyo Adzei, a Ph.D. candidate from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, agrees. “UMAP’s program not only benefits the individual scholar,” he says. “In the long term, it will help transform the whole attitude of scholarship on the African continent.”

The collaborations have certainly borne fruit. In the ten years since the program began, the African Studies Center has hosted 135 scholars who have gone on to publish more than 200 articles and five books. Between them, they have secured 30 PhDs, and many have been promoted to tenure professorships, heads of departments, and dean positions. Nyeema Harris, an assistant professor in ecology and evolutionary biology (EEB), is enthusiastic about the possibilities that may result from her collaboration with UMAP Scholar, Moses Muhumuza, from Mountains of the Moon University in Uganda – the first UMAP scholar in EEB.

“We share a similar passion for producing scholarship that impacts societies and has conservation implications for the natural world, too,” Harris says.

Together they’re hoping to enhance scholarship on natural resource management in natural parks in rural Africa. “The UMAPS fellowship not only provides me with an opportunity to access a wealth of literature on community-based natural resource management, to which I would otherwise not have access,” Muhumuza says. “It also gives me a chance to interact with various scholars at U-M as I create networks that are important for enhancing my research at my home university in Uganda.”

“I hope Mthokozisi gains a perspective on early stage drug development,” says Vernon Carruthers, director of the Molecular Mechanisms of Microbial Pathogenesis training program in U-M’s Medical School. “We hope to learn more from him about the potential for producing natural product remedies for parasitic infections, including malaria and toxoplasmosis.”

His scholar partner, Mthokozisi Simelane, has similar aspirations.

“I will have the opportunity to learn new techniques,” he says. “UMAPS also helps build relationships between universities.”

The African Studies Center is hosting a reception to celebrate its tenth anniversary year and welcome the 2017-2018 cohort of University of Michigan African Presidential Scholars in the Garden at the Michigan League on September 28, from 4-6 p.m. The reception will be open to the public.



Image courtesy of the African Studies Center