Reflections on the 13th RUFORUM AGM

Above: Pauline Atim, Onsite Reporter for the RUFORUM AGM 2017.

RUFORUM’s 13th Annual General Meeting had a number of side events and a record breaking 386 participants. The main theme was RUFORUM Vision 2030, an agenda to align RUFORUM activities to contribute to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Africa Agenda2063- the ‘Africa We Want’

RUFORUM’s Vision 2030 strategy aims to create vibrant transformative universities catalysing sustainable inclusive agricultural development to feed and create prosperity for Africa. This vision excites me because it shows RUFORUM’S passion for Africa.  The strategy aims to increase human capital development through research and focus on community engagement which links universities with the private sector and policy.

The Intra-African Mobility proposal write-shop was very educative for me and the participants because it brought together academicians from similar and different fields from across Africa to work on various proposals. 11 proposals were worked on and completed which left the participants feeling confident and better equipped for the coming calls for proposals. This is the kind of support universities need because it does not only build partnerships among universities but also enables them apply for funding more competitively. And the partnerships created last beyond the proposal development, it builds teams across the continent while making the participants know better about other institutions and the continent.

Heads of State are a cornerstone when it comes to policy, which is why it was encouraging to see representatives from ministries and directors in the education sector from various African countries working with academia to chat about needed action to strengthen Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation in the continent. The meeting was attended by a representative from the African Union Commission during the Technical Taskforce team planning meeting for the Summit of the Committee of 10 Heads of State championing Education, Science, Technology and Innovation in Africa. Education, Science, Technology and Innovation are key areas which will help Africa leap-frog its development and economic growth and achieve Agenda 2063. Regional Economic Commissions (RECs) from all parts of Africa were also present to give their thoughts on the important issues the Committee of 10 should address. The only way for Africa to develop is when all parties are included in the planning process of the important issues that need to be addressed at national, regional and continental levels and I commend RUFORUM for providing such a platform.

It is great that RUFORUM was able to host sessions for leadership training for university managers who included Vice Chancellors, Principals, Deans and other university managers. This was facilitated by the Partnership for African Social and Government Research (PASGR) and hfp Consulting. This created a platform for the participants to not only peer review but also self reflect on their own management methods to find ways to transform their leadership for the betterment of their institutions. This was a great move because the world is constantly changing and university managers in their different fields need to be innovative to solve the problems faced and prepare their institutions for the future.

The opening of the AGM started with an award show that left many of us wishing we were entrepreneurs and farmers. Five Malawian farmers were recognized and each won one thousand US dollars. Two young innovative scientists from Malawi were also recognized and each one of them also received one thousand United States dollars. There were three IMPRESSA award winners as well, with the overall winner being Prof. Brice Sinsin of University of Abomey Calavi in the Republic of Benin. He received prize award of $20,000. The keynote speakers included Hon. Bright Msaka, Malawian Minister for Education, Science and Technology who stated that science, technology and innovation are key for achieving Agenda 2063. Hon. George Werner, Liberian Minister for Education stated that RUFORUM is an African Innovation which pleases him. The Ugandan Minister of State for Higher Education, Hon. John Muyingo, announced Uganda’s offer to provide an annual budget support to RUFORUM and land for construction of RUFORUM headquarters. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation representative Dr. Mercy Karanja called on the participants present to support RUFORUM and work with it to transform Agriculture in Africa. During the event, the World BANK announced a commitment of $250 million to strengthen Higher Agricultural Education in Africa.

The Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) hosted a visit to the Bunda campus where I was impressed to see that the university had a number of innovative schemes like the seed processing unit. The unit is used as a learning centre for the students in aspects related to seeds. The unit was established under the seed fund provided by USAID under Feed the Future project and a total of 7000 farmers have been engaged.  We also visited the aquaculture fish farm which is part of the African Higher Education Centre of Excellence initiative. It has a fish hatchery and is also experimenting on crabs as an alternative to fish in situations of future adverse climate changes. A number of the delegates who visited the Bunda were impressed and kept on comparing Bunda’s initiatives to the ones their universities have.

Finally I visited a RUFORUM house built to accommodate postgraduate students. The first phase of the construction is completed and is already accommodating 60 postgraduate students from across Africa. The second block being constructed will have additional 60 apartments.

All in all, RUFORUM is making great strides in the transformation of higher education in the continent. The various meetings were very interesting and intellectually stimulating as I heard different standpoints and suggestions concerning educational, scientific and technological research for the development in Africa.

Written by Pauline Atim, Onsite Reporter for the RUFORUM AGM 2017.

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