Armagh goes to Africa

[This is taken from A Note from the Next Door Neighbours, the monthly e-bulletin of Andy Pollak, Director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies in Armagh and Dublin]

We in Northern Ireland have become used to people – usually outsiders – telling us how narrow, inward and backward-looking we are, obsessed with our own supposedly unique little devil’s brew of history, religion and nationality. Get off the island, they say. See how the rest of the world lives, and that will soon put your provincial squabble into perspective.

The Centre for Cross Border Studies is following this advice. We’re going to Africa. More specifically we’re going to Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi to work with universities there to help them build their capacity to do research that will improve those countries’ education and health services, increase their ICT capability and better the position of women, and in such ways reduce the poverty of their peoples. As the world’s more advanced countries move towards being ‘knowledge economies’, where new products and services are largely the result of research, it is vital that such high-level research should also be shared with the world’s poorest countries. Reducing child mortality, combatting HIV/AIDS, improving teacher education and capitalising on new forms of telecommunications are just a few examples of the kind of research work that is vital to Africa.

Of course our small research centre in Armagh cannot do this on its own. The key to this new adventure is the Centre’s position as the secretariat to Universities Ireland, which brings together the nine universities on the island – two in the North and seven in the South – to do research, conference and exchange projects together.

In 2005 a delegation from Universities Ireland – drawn from CCBS, Trinity College Dublin, Queen’s University Belfast and Mary Immaculate College (University of Limerick) – went to Uganda to meet people working in higher education, teacher education and health education there.

Out of this visit came a string of contacts and conversations with people involved in development work in Ireland, notably Irish Aid, the development cooperation wing of the Department of Foreign Affairs. When at the end of 2007 Irish Aid – along with the Higher Education Authority (HEA) in Dublin – announced a new funding programme for projects aiming to involve Irish higher education institutions more in such cooperation, Universities Ireland was keen to become involved.

In the event, on the advice of the HEA, it was the Centre for Cross Border Studies – using its Southern base at Dublin City University – which led a consortium of all nine Irish universities in a bid to set up what was to become known as the Irish-African Partnership for Research Capacity Building (IAPRCB). After a two stage competitive process, the CCBS-led partnership was one of five successful applicants, and the only one run out of Northern Ireland, to receive €1.5 million for a three year pilot project. Universities Ireland provided €111,000 in matching funding.

The IAPRCB, which will be launched by President McAleese at a high-level workshop in Dublin City University on 8 April, plans to do a number of things over the next three years. Firstly, it will engage in a wide-ranging consultation with senior university people in the 13 participating universities to find out how research aimed at reducing poverty can be built in health, education, ICT and gender in the African universities, and how, in parallel, research into effective development cooperation can be built here in universities in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

It has brought in Sheila Moorcroft, a leading British expert in ‘foresight exercises’, which assist governments, companies, universities and other bodies to plan for the future by taking into account all the likely factors which will help them to grow and prosper, or will prevent them from doing so. The clever people who planned the last ten years of ‘Celtic Tiger’ prosperity in the Republic of Ireland used foresight exercises a lot. Now the Irish universities will endeavour to use this tool to help our African friends.

The IAPRCB will bring university leaders and policy makers together from the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi in six four-day workshops of intense debate and discussion – three in Ireland and three in Africa – over the next three years. Out of this process will come, we hope, a new network (served by a sophisticated website run out of Trinity College Dublin) to link higher education institutions in Ireland, North and South, and their counterparts in Africa, with the common aim of increasing and spreading knowledge in order to combat disease and lack of education and the crippling poverty which is a consequence of both.

Andy Pollak

P.S. A few months ago I was bemoaning the declining flow of students crossing the Irish border to pursue their studies – and thus learn about life – in the other jurisdiction. Universities Ireland and six individual companies – Arthur Cox, Belfast City Airport, CSA Group, Dublin Port, Healy Group and RPS Group – have come together to offer generous €20,000 scholarships to outstanding young people to undertake postgraduate study in the other part of the island. The deadline for applications is Friday 2 May. Further information is available on www.universitiesireland.ie. Please spread the word about this highly innovative scheme.

  • RG Cuan

    Good scheme and quite a generous scholarship from Universities Ireland!

  • Greenflag

    Having lived and worked in Sub Saharan Africa for a number of years I’m in two minds as to who will end up getting most of the benefit from these ‘ivory tower’ programs . What Africa needs is stable democratic government , better basic health and education and jobs i.e investment in the private and public sectors . The continent has been plagued for the past half century with a multiplicity of western and formerly communist regimes anxious to ‘help’ the underdeveloped Africans . Many of these were white elepahnt projects and in some cases even turned formerly food sufficient African States into dependency on food importers 🙁

    ‘The clever people who planned the last ten years of ‘Celtic Tiger’ prosperity in the Republic of Ireland used foresight exercises a lot. Now the Irish universities will endeavour to use this tool to help our African friends’

    Before using foresight it might pay better to look back in hindsight at why countries like Tanzania and Zimbabwe became abject failres and why Botswana has become a success story.
    A visit to Botswana might pay dividends for this ‘committee’

    Should keep a lot of Northern and Southern academics busy anyway and help to grow some African academics . I remain to be convinced that this venture will be nothing other than the probverbial academic junket !

  • Big Maggie

    Greenflag:

    >I remain to be convinced that this venture will be nothing other than the probverbial academic junket !

    There’s another Ulster trait Andy Pollak forgot to mention in his introduction: our begrudgery 😉

  • yeah yeah…

    Reminds me of the story I read on a satirical news site recently headlined:

    African children dismayed to find $100 laptops not filled with food

    I share the scepticism…

  • lib2016

    We have to keep building and hoping because there is no magical one-trick-pony and the Africans will have to find their own way in the end. Maybe our trick was to discover that we all sink or swim together and that good little republicams need to concentrate help keeping good Orangemen afloat as well.

    Good story in today’s Irish Times today (page 10) on new Dutch video in Anne Frank house describes how Orangemen lumped in with Nazis etc. for walking in Catholic areas is ‘deeply disturbing’ That’s how they see us all, friend! And we need to tackle that observation together?

  • aquifer

    ‘As the world’s more advanced countries move towards being ‘knowledge economies’, where new products and services are largely the result of research,’

    Not in the North though, our R&D;spend is pathetic. We cannot even work out how to manage our own waste.

    Instead of featherbedding local family firms, we should invest in training young researchers in business, whichever country they come from.

  • Prince Eoghan

    >>Many of these were white elepahnt projects and in some cases even turned formerly food sufficient African States into dependency on food importers :(< < The world bank under pressure from the US government are actually responsible for forcing food self sufficient countries into becoming import needy countries. US rice companies flood the market with say rice, and as a condition for loans the country has taken out. Say Ghana for example is ordered not to help out local farmers despite the fact that US rice farmers are reputed to be subsidised by as much as 75% themselves. Result, they cannot compete and country becomes reliant on imports, which hey presto soon rise in price as soon as local industry is destroyed. I think you will find that this model has been repeated over, and over............. >>Good story in today’s Irish Times today (page 10) on new Dutch video in Anne Frank house describes how Orangemen lumped in with Nazis etc. for walking in Catholic areas is ‘deeply disturbing’ That’s how they see us all, friend! And we need to tackle that observation together?<< Lib, could you elaborate please?

  • lib2016

    The story in the Irish Times is from a Unionist councillor, Michael Copeland, complaining that such a story is “deeply disturbing and deeply offensive to many people.”

    My complaint is that both nationalist and unionist communities are seen in that light and that both communities share the blame. We seem to share nothing but the willingness to see the mote in each other’s eyes while ignoring the beam in our own. Could anyone do a link, please?

  • Greenflag

    ‘We have to keep building and hoping because there is no magical one-trick-pony and the Africans will have to find their own way in the end.’

    Yes . And ditto NI . But I suppose for Northern Ireland the last 40 odd years of farting around with the politics has bored the academic community to their wits end such that the problems of Africa are a welcome change of scenery .

  • Greenflag

    ‘The world bank under pressure from the US government are actually responsible for forcing food self sufficient countries into becoming import needy countries.’

    It’s not just the US Government . The EU and Japan also subsidise their farmers and thus create huge surpluses i.e Milk Powder Mountains etc etc which when ‘dumped’ in developing countries prevents local farmers from supplying their countries domestic needs .

    Some countries are overly dependent on one commodity e.g coffee or bananas and are tied into the market distribution systems of developed countries which usually leaves them with little whereas the bulk of the commodity profit goes to them that hath already 🙁

  • Greenflag

    ‘There’s another Ulster trait Andy Pollak forgot to mention in his introduction: our begrudgery ;)’

    I’m sure Andy Pollak will try to encourage the participants to refrain from exporting those Ulster ‘traits’ which have a proven record of failure on home ground .

    I believe all of the countries targeted have a history of changing one leader for another only to see the promised change end up as even less of a change than the previous offerings of the deposed President/Dictator/ etc etc.

    Tanzania (formerly known by those who tried to do business there as Insania ) should be an interesting research project. The former President Julius Nyerere was a sort of African ‘De Valera’. A good man and non aligned and whose Ujamma policy was in some ways reminiscent of De Valera’s ideal of a frugal contented Ireland happy to be dancing at the crossroads on the nights of the full moon 🙁

    Tanzania quickly slipped to the back of the field in terms of economic growth rates and national development . Under Julius the country at least avoided the interminable ‘wars’ in the region but lost out on development to Kenya and others .

    It’ll be interesting to see what ‘recommendation’ the ivory tower shower come up with to set Tanzania on the path of progress.

  • Greenflag

    ‘I share the scepticism…’

    When you have lived in a country that has gone from self sufficiency in food production to one of abject poverty and near starvation all within a decade, and you know the reason for this has nothing to do with developmental aid but everything to do with imbecilic economic policies, then you might understand the ‘sceptical mindset’ re Aid to Africa be it university researchers or surplus food exports etc etc.

    For those interested in an optimistic view of Africa’s future I’d recommend David Lamb’s book ‘The Africans ‘ .Written in the early to mid 80’s Lamb has some good insights on the continent . His chapter on Zimbabwe is worth a read if for nothing else than to show how quickly hop can be replaced with despair .

    Paul Theroux’s ‘Dark Star’ looks at the continent from the viewpoint of someone who was a Kennedy Peace Corps volunteer in the 60’s in Uganda and who returns 40 years later to see how Africa’s new governments have made use ‘developmental’ aid .