U-M Provost’s Africa trip highlights deep collaborations
Written by Mandira Banerjee
ANN ARBOR–Artisans are crafting brass vessels in Ghana. Experts in public health and engineering are studying nutrition and stunting in Ethiopia. Health care providers are seeking to improve reproductive health outcomes in Ethiopia.
These are just some of the projects U-M Provost Martin Philbert experienced during a recent trip to Africa, where his itinerary included stops in Ghana, Ethiopia and South Africa.
“I’m deeply impressed by the work our faculty and students are doing with their partners on the African continent to build human capacity and to develop new ideas that address the most pressing concerns of their host nations,” Philbert said.
“From the advancement of emergency medicine in Ghana, to the creation of new understandings of the arts and humanities in Ethiopia, our U-M colleagues are deeply engaged in important work.”
Since President Emerita Mary Sue Coleman’s trip to Africa a decade ago, U-M has invested effort and resources into building research collaborations in Africa.
Today more than 135 emerging African scholars from 10 countries have completed four- to six-month research residencies in Ann Arbor and worked closely with U-M faculty. Other initiatives and seed grants have fostered collaborative research in Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, South Africa, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda and many other countries on the continent.
“It, therefore, has been extremely important for Provost Philbert to experience first-hand the outcomes of this work, and engage in conversations with our partners in Africa — specifically in Ghana, Ethiopia and South Africa — about how we might build upon this work that will advance the collaborative research opportunities for scholars and scientists both at U-M and in Africa,” said Raymond Silverman, professor in the history of art in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. He also is a professor of Afroamerican and African Studies.
Silverman has been working in Krofrom, Ghana, with a community of 100 artisans casting brass objects in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Ghana since 2006. Their work will be exhibited in the Ghana National Museum.
Supply and demand
Africa is the world’s second most-populous continent — home to a billion people, and some of the fastest growing economies in the world. Its young population and expanding economies create vast challenges in infrastructure, education and health care. Thus there is a rising demand for engineers, educators, doctors and researchers.
“This trip reiterates the University of Michigan’s commitment to Africa and will encourage a two-way flow of students, researchers and professors between Ann Arbor and the continent,” said U-M alumnus Michael Sudarkasa, CEO of Africa Business Group in Johannesburg, South Africa. “It also helps identify additional academic opportunities and partnerships.”
While much of U-M’s engagement occurs at an individual level, institutional support is important for sustained long-term growth, said Andries Coetzee, director of U-M’s African Studies Center. “We are in it for the long haul, with a goal of equitable exchange and co-creation of knowledge, aimed at solving the problems that face the modern world.”
This deep connection was evident in a gathering of alumni of the U-M African President Scholars Program (UMAPS), which took place at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, said James Holloway, Vice Provost for Engagement and Interdisciplinary Academic Affairs.
Each UMAPS scholar recounted how their time at U-M contributed to their work and research. “As much as any alum who graduated with a degree from the U-M, these scholars who have lived with us and worked with us will forever say ‘Go Blue,’” Holloway said.