Saturday, August 19, 2017

Enhancing regional collaboration among universities

Ochieng’ Ogodo


[NAIROBI] Enhancing regional collaboration among universities through staff exchanges has a high potential in improving academic mobility on the African continent and developing the quality of higher education in Africa.

Dr. Moses Osiru, the Deputy Executive Secretary at the Uganda-based Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) Secretariat, says it is also a means to ensure rationalization of existing capacity in Africa- including infrastructure, programs, staff capacity and resources.

RUFORUM that evolved from a predecessor program of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Africa program (called the Forum on Agricultural Resource Husbandry) is currently involved in the enhancement of regional collaboration among universities through staff exchanges.

According to Osiru, the focus of the FORUM was to provide mission and peer support to African faculties of agriculture to strengthen research and postgraduate training. The program run for 10 years before coming to an end in 2002.

“The University members who were part of FORUM created RUFORUM in 2004. Immediately upon the creation, the focus of the program began to evolve to take into account the needs of the initially 10 university members,” he says.
The members, according to him, were concerned about the need to ensure long-term capacity of the university to support high level skills building for the continent. They noted the need to ensure staff capacity building at PhD level, beyond the initial masters focus of the RF.

“They also noted the importance of strengthening collaboration, rather than just competition among the network members. Membership has since grown from 10 members to 12, and progressively to the current 66-member universities,” he points out.

Geographical focus has also been enhanced from Eastern, Central and Southern Africa, to West and North Africa, and the entire continent is now covered.

In 2014, the Vice Chancellors initiated the Graduate Teaching Assistantship program of RUFORUM and committed to train 325 PhDs using the GTA approach. Under this program a university would identify strong programs in its university and provide up to 5 tuition waivers for staff from RUFORUM member universities wishing to pursue PhD training

The university would also provide office space and request that the incoming PhD student participate in teaching and departmental responsibilities. The sending university would then pay the cost of tickets, research and student upkeep costs for the staff member on PhD training.

RUFORUM also ensures that short term staff exchanges continue to take place and staff from East Africa go to West Africa to teach for short periods ̶2 weeks to 3 months ̶ and vice versa.
To date, Osiru explains, over 70 PhD’s have been placed at various universities across Africa. This adds to the over 2000 postgraduate students trained through RUFORUM, including 356 PhD student.  
The staff exchanges have led to increased understanding of local situations across Africa. they have also been important in creating networks of researchers across the continent that are now responding to calls for proposals from funders and undertaking innovative research. The end result is a stronger continent, along the vision of the African Union Agenda 2063.

 On a wider scale, according to Osiru, regional collaborations and integration are critical to higher education reform in Africa: “The staff exchanges were seen as important mechanisms to ensure increased staff capacity building in the region. As universities continue to mushroom, staffing challenges also increase.”

 The regional collaboration and staff exchange has important benefits for the universities. Firstly, staff members retention rates significantly improved as it was found that over 98% of the staff remained in the region, and 94% remained in their own countries, much lower than for training programs that involved ‘sandwich programs’ with northern universities. Secondly, due to the sharing of capacities, staff from one university could also support in the teaching at the other university and to support the strengthening of university programs

For this purpose, RUFORUM Vice Chancellors (all 66 of them) signed an MoU to facilitate the sharing of staff capacity for teaching in the different member universities. Thirdly, costs were significantly reduced with training being done at nearby African countries. The program provides for greater opportunity for postgraduate training in the African universities. It also strengthens internationalization of program and reduces inbreeding.

 Most Universities in Sub Saharan Africa have limited regional and international collaborative activities required to boost and conduct cutting edge research, quality teaching, and resource mobilization in support of post graduate programs. We must highlight that there are many universities that have initiated strong innovations that demonstrate quality in research, teaching and learning. 

But challenges still remain. Many African university have been challenged with limited research, quality teaching and resource mobilization for various reasons. The universities are limited in terms of key resources needed to pursue a research agenda. There is the lack of funding and research infrastructure are critical limitations to research

At the same time, staff capacity continues to be a constraint with many senior staff often leaving research positions, either to move to administrative positions in the same university or out of the university

Qualified staff often are head hunted by international institutions, such as the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and other advanced research centers among others.
In addition to staffing challenges, incentive mechanisms are poor, with staff lacking adequate incentives to publish, or even more limited as incentives to enhance community engagement and impact on the community

Other challenges include the lack of pedagogical training for new staff who enter the university. Young academics are usually selected based on their performance at the undergraduate level and they move to teaching professions often without any teaching theory; There is also large classroom sizes that leave little time for staff to pursue research, or even excellence in teaching. As well, they faced with lack of strong quality assurance mechanisms that would ensure that students participate in evaluation of teachers, or monitor the research process adequately.

 Osiru says there are various things that be undertaken as the way forward. Building on local and international best practices, strong regional platforms provide a means of bringing together regional and international best practices is one of them.

“Networks like RUFORUM offer an important platform to engage African vice chancellors to support institutional transformation led from the inside,” he says

Therefore, enhancing regional collaboration among RUFORUM member universities through staff exchanges will ensure quality academic programmes and research outputs in various, according to him.

“Regional collaboration among RUFORUM member universities will ensure that universities are able to overcome common challenges through working together and increasing collaboration.”
Key challenges that will be overcome include capacity for resource mobilization, lack of specific offices to support internationalization, lack of support for families and related needs, particularly for women and language barriers.

The collaboration will also help overcome research that does not respond to national needs, inability to return home/institution after training and use of equipment unavailable at home
It will also help address the high cost of training and inadequate use of ICTs for teaching, learning, research and innovation

Lack of funding to support staff exchanges has been major hindrance to regional and international collaboration. But, Osiru says, RUFORUM is supported by African Governments and a consortium of donors including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the MasterCard Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Rockefeller Foundation, the European Union and others.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Forcing local peoples off their lands cause conflicts

Ochieng’ Ogodo


[NAIROBI] Forcing communities to leave their lands cause conflicts and sixty-three percent of disputes related to private sector land and natural resource investments in Africa began when communities were forced to leave their lands, according to new research.

The research by TMP Systems and the Rights and Resources Initiative in Dakar, Senegal early this month (9 February) found that most African governments are competing for investment to spur economic development and improve living standards but they need to radically improve the governance of tenure rights to create an attractive and stable investment environment.

The research also found that areas targeted for development in Africa are more heavily populated than similar developments elsewhere in the world.
“African governments are competing for investment to spur economic development and improve living standards,” says TMP Systems CEO Lou Munden.

He adds, “But most countries need to radically improve the governance of tenure rights to create an attractive and stable investment environment. Companies and investors—who increasingly understand that unclear tenure rights create financial and reputational risks—need to do more to identify and respond to these implicit challenges in emerging market investments.”

The population density within a 50-kilometer radius of disputed projects in Africa was more than twice the global average: 816,547 people compared with 319,426 globally. For West Africa, the average was over 1 million people.

“The mistaken belief that Africa is a continent of empty, freely available land open for development has done so much harm,” says RRI Coordinator Andy White. “No land is unclaimed, and uprooting communities without their consent from their lands and traditional livelihoods creates conflicts and social unrest. Recognizing and securing local peoples’ property rights instead provides security for governments, investors and companies—a critical need, given all the political uncertainty in the world today.”

According to the research, the typical tenure-related dispute in Africa occurs:
           An average of 61 kilometers from national borders, far from the seat of centralized government;
           In an area with endemic poverty, low access to government services and poor nutrition;
           In an area that is less developed with little prior change in how the land was used; and
           In an area with a history of social conflict.

“The fact that disputes were just 61 kilometers from national borders on average was surprising and, in our view, very revealing,” adds Munden. “It suggests that tenure dispute is much more likely in areas with low legal accountability and economic development. The point is that investors can be exposed to serious risk in these areas because local people will ensure their interests are heard.”

The suite of reports explores investment-based conflicts in East, West and Southern Africa, and compares them to similar conflicts around the world. They were released at a panel event in Dakar alongside RRI’s Annual Review of the global state of land and resource rights, which found that development finance institutions have emerged as potential leaders in the land rights arena given their significant leverage over investments in the developing world.

While a number of high profile corporations have also pledged to both prevent deforestation and respect human rights, implementation of these commitments is slow at best, given complex supply chains and local suppliers whose reputations are less exposed. Despite the growing number of economic actors that accept the market rationale for respecting community land tenure, rights violations are still commonplace.

“Corporations can prevent conflicts that are costly to investors and devastating for local peoples by working with local communities to secure their property rights,” says RRI Coordinator Andy White. “But not everyone at the table embraces this approach or applies it effectively.”

 Palm Oil and West Africa

In West Africa, plantation agriculture—especially palm oil projects—drive a majority of disputes. Community displacement was the primary driver of 70 percent of the tenure disputes examined, while issues related to compensation were the primary driver for 30 percent. Sixty percent of the tenure disputes resulted in work stoppages, which impact companies’ and investors’ profits, and 30 percent resulted in violence.

Munden noted that the Fanaye biofuel plantation project on Senegal’s northwest border was implemented without the consent of local communities. In one case, violent protests in Fanaye Dieri led to the death of two community members and compelled the government to revoke the concession and move it 30 kilometers to the east, to the Ndiael Nature Reserve.

But the new location cut off local cattle farmers from their grazing lands, triggering additional conflict. After six years, the concession currently uses only 1,500 hectares out of the 20,000 allocated by the government.

“Because of our soil, many investors are interested in coming to our country,” says Alioune Guèye, President of the Federation of Peasant Landowners, in Senegal. “But some of our most impoverished communities also live on that soil and rely on it for their survival. Too often, companies feel they can cut a deal with the government, raze the land, and create vast plantations while the locals are simply pushed out of the way. Without their land, these communities will have nothing. Their rights must be respected.”

Infrastructure and East Africa

Infrastructure and public utilities are driving a majority of the disputes in East Africa, and communities have made use of stronger legal frameworks to bring lawsuits against companies that violate their rights. 

Community displacement was the primary driver of 36 percent of the tenure disputes examined, while compensation was the primary driver for 27 percent. Seventy-three percent of the tenure disputes resulted in work stoppages, yet only 27 percent resulted in violence.

While wind power has been embraced by many in Kenya as a clean source of energy for its growing economy, conflict over land and resource rights has delayed or derailed a number of wind power generation projects. Three projects are at the heart of this storm of disputes:

           A wind farm in Kinangop was cancelled after a protracted legal battle and a massive protest that destroyed a wind mast. The developers are now suing the Kenyan government, seeking compensation for their losses.

           A flagship project at Lake Turkana has been delayed for a decade due to an ongoing legal challenge from nomadic pastoral communities. Four communities are seeking redress because their lands were taken without consent

           In Kajiado County, landowners are mounting legal opposition to the Kipeto project whose buffer zone—half a kilometer wide—included much of their lands.

“The lack of detailed consultation and informed consent contribute to conflicts that increase the cost of doing business in Kenya, and investors are starting to look to other countries for new projects,” Mali Ole Kaunga, director of Indigenous Movement for Peace Advancement and Conflict Transformation (IMPACT), notes. “Disputes that end in violence even one-quarter of the time are still too violent for everyone involved—the communities, investors, companies and governments.”

Sugar and Southern Africa

In Southern Africa, sugar plantations and mining developments are driving a majority of the disputes and, without strong legal frameworks for communities to assert their rights, significant violence has resulted. 

Community displacement was the primary driver of 82 percent of the tenure disputes examined. Issues relating to compensation were never the primary driver, showing that companies could not buy their way out of disputes. Seventy-three percent of the tenure disputes resulted in work stoppages, and 73 percent triggered violence—the highest rate of violence in the world.

While a number of major buyers and producers who dominate supply chains in the sugar sector have made commitments on land tenure, efforts to clean up their supply chains have been plagued by issues of transparency and lack of local engagement.

In Madagascar, a sugar plantation that had operated without conflict since 1984 became the site of local resistance in 2005 after the project owners, Complant and Sucoma, attempted to reroute an irrigation system, which would have flooded lands belonging to local communities. Over the next several years, through 2014, strikes, riots and work stoppages ensued—indicating that even seemingly successful projects can become mired in conflict and work stoppages if local tenure rights are not respected throughout project implementation.

National Land Commissions as Tenure Rights Champion

Representatives from four national land commissions—Ghana, Kenya, Liberia and Senegal—attended the Dakar event to report on the status of land rights and ongoing tenure reforms in their countries and respond to the report’s findings. 

These commissions have played a helpful role in channelling efforts for governments exploring comprehensive reform. One such example is in Senegal, where they established an inclusive process for the drafting of the land policy that is now being reviewed by the president’s office.
“Economic developments that fail to benefit local communities have little to zero value because of the conflicts they generate,” says Solange Bandiaky-Badji, RRI’s program director for Africa. “The land commissions have a great opportunity to create legal frameworks that prevent the root causes of these inequities. Treating local communities as equal partners and respecting their rights is the first step towards creating true economic development.”