Debate

What will happen to the Nordic Africa Institute?

The State Treasury proposes to close down and organize parts of the Nordic Africa Institute's activities under one university without first analyzing the institute's unique combination of research, investigation, communication and documentation. If the business is incorporated into a university, it will eventually cease, writes Carin Norberg, former director general of NAI

I have for many years followed the development of the Nordic Africa Institute. In the nineties I sat on the board, later the Program and Research Council. Between 2006 and 2012, I led the activities at the institute. Now I follow the development as a committed private person. It is in that capacity that I am now writing.

Last year, the State Treasury received one mission by Minister for Development Aid Gunilla Carlsson to investigate the role and function of the Nordic Africa Institute. The result of the review was presented in March 2013. The proposal is to organize the institute's research activities and library in a university (Uppsala University is mentioned) and to close down the part of the institute that works with communication, program activities and investigations. I think this is a bad proposal. Why?

In addition, it is said, the government needs no further advice regarding development assistance policy (?) Since the Expert Group for evaluation and analysis of Sweden's international development assistance was established in January 2013.

The State Office's assignment

I mean that the State Treasury has not carried out the assignment it was given, namely the "to analyze the authority's conditions for creating benefit and relevance that meets the clients' needs" and to "test how the activities should continue to be organized". A number of people have been interviewed and based on these ad hoc statements, conclusions have been drawn without their own analysis of the institute's unique combination of research, investigation, communication and documentation / library. In short, the State Office's conclusions are that the institute's competence is adapted to conducting research. It is believed that the institute has not succeeded in reaching decision-makers in the Nordic region. Therefore, this part of the business should cease. According to the State Treasury, excessive efforts would be required to develop the institute into an advisory organization. In addition, it is said, the government needs no further advice regarding development assistance policy (?) Since the Expert Group for evaluation and analysis of Sweden's international development assistance was established in January 2013.

Why a Nordic Africa Institute?

The institute was established in the early sixties when many countries in Africa conquered their independence. The Nordic countries would learn more about the new countries. The time was marked by a growing interest in development issues. In the same year as the institute was formed, the Swedish government presented the 1962: 100 development assistance bill to the Riksdag. DANIDA and NORAD were formed. In a way, we can say that now, fifty years later, we are in a similar situation. Interest in Africa has grown enormously in recent years. At the same time, there is uncertainty about how we should relate to this development.

Africa 2013

The changing view of Africa - from a continent of famine, conflict and disaster to a continent with growth potential, with raw materials of interest to a whole world and with a strong self-confidence - has been revitalized by the fact that the African continent has done relatively well through the global financial crisis, at least so far. An expression of this increased interest is that five Swedish ministers are participating in this year's edition of the World Economic Forum in Cape Town.

In just over 40 years, Africa's population has doubled. Africa then surpasses both India and China in terms of population. But we still know quite a bit about the power that lies in this development will lead to more equal, equal and democratic societies.

But the brighter picture cannot hide the fact that there are still major problems. Africa is a continent with more than 50 states. The differences between the countries are increasing. When we experienced the revolt in North Africa a few years ago, it happened with an unpredictable force and intensity. Many countries in Africa face similar contradictions, between a very young and growing population without work and influence and a power elite that defends its positions within the political and economic power structures. In just over 40 years, Africa's population has doubled. Africa then surpasses both India and China in terms of population. But we still know quite a bit about the power that lies in this development will lead to more equal, equal and democratic societies.

The institute's research reflects this development. Let's look at recent years English-language annual reports. The theme for 2007 was "Africa on the Global Agenda" with reference to new actors and interests. The theme in 2008 was “Africa in Search of Alternatives” and was based more directly on Africa as a player but also on the perception that Africa was a continent in need of a more strategic approach to the new players China and India. After the financial crisis, the 2009 annual report was entitled "Africa in the Uncertain Times" due to the uncertainty about how Africa would be affected. And in 2010, when it became clear that Africa had done well, "Africa on the Rise: Miracle or Mirage?". The report addresses the impressive economic growth and encouraging political developments. The theme for the 2011 report was “Africa's Changing Societies: Reform from Below” and 2012 “Development Dilemmas”.

Nordic Africa Institute 2013

The institute celebrated its 50th anniversary last year and moved into newly renovated premises in the Botanical Garden in Uppsala. After a few years of intensive reform work, quality and relevance in research have been prioritized. The research has been organized into four thematic research clusters. The focus of the research has been chosen in a dialogue with the Nordic Program and Research Council. The areas are highly relevant to economic and social development in general and well reflect the complexity of the African continent. The institute's researchers have been successful in seeking external research funding. The institute has also prioritized work to make research results, expertise and library resources visible and accessible. The annual report referred to above in English has won the Swedish Publishing Prize (two first and one second placement) for its elaborated texts and design in general for three years in a row.

How does the institute work?

The institute has a number of programs that in various ways promote African research in the Nordic countries and research collaboration between Nordic and African researchers. This has contributed to making the institute a sought-after partner, not least in Africa.

Every year, the institute receives master's students from the Nordic universities. Several of these come from different African countries. The institute also awards travel scholarships to younger researchers in the Nordic region. Demand is high relative to the relatively limited resources available. The institute receives Nordic and African guest researchers as well as Nordic doctoral students for periods of up to three months. Applications from Africa have increased sharply in recent years.

For a long time, the institute has organized Nordic Africa Days for researchers. The conference now circulates between universities in the Nordic countries (Copenhagen 2008, Trondheim 2009, Turku 2010, Reykjavik 2012). In 2011, the institute hosted the European Conference for African Studies in Uppsala with just over 1 participating researchers, of whom 000 were from Africa.

Through the African Visiting Researcher and Guest Author Program, the institute has been able to build close, personal relationships with a large number of researchers and authors and their institutions around Africa. In recent years, several of these contacts have been transferred to institutional cooperation (ACCORD in South Africa, KAIPTC in Ghana, UNIDEP in Dakar, EAC in Arusha). The institute is also part of several networks.

Research results are published in collaboration with international publishers. Several of the institute's researchers have their own blogs and the institute works through social media in addition to the NAI Forum, which I mentioned above.

The institute's library covers a Nordic circle. As a researcher and student, you can borrow books regardless of the country in which you study. The library's own resources and links are important resources for both an interested public and for researchers.

An active research environment in the Nordic region is a good starting point for debate and conversation. Co-operation at the Nordic level is also stimulating, as the individual Nordic countries are quite small. A few years ago, the institute established an online debate forum for African issues, the NAI forum. Since the start in mid-2010, 265 articles have been published. Authors include Nordic aid ministers, researchers from around the world, bloggers from the major organizations. The forum is of a high quality and has contributed to an interesting debate on developments in Africa in various areas. As an example, I take a post in March this year by Erik Solheim, DAC's chairman, who develops his view on the OECD countries' development aid challenges in the future, not least in Africa.

My proposal is to keep the institute as its own organization, appoint a board for clearer governance and give the business an annual basic grant. Then the institute can compete with the best institutes in the world in general.

The institute's added value

If I summarize the added value of the institute, it would be as follows;

The institute has a combined expertise on Africa in the social sciences in Africa and serves as a meeting point for a broader group of African researchers in the Nordic countries. The institute is unique in its task of promoting research on Africa and research collaboration both in the Nordic countries and in Europe and with researchers in Africa. In recent years, the collaboration has also been expanded to African researchers in India, China, Brazil, Russia. "NAI" is a well-known name in Africa and the Nordic profile is a good "brand" that opens up for further collaborations. The institute conveys knowledge based on its own and other researchers' work. The institute has an established debate forum focused on developments in Africa) and praised reports on its research. The institute's library has a unique collection of African materials, highlights research published in Africa and provides researchers with important professional support.

If the institute is incorporated into a university and devotes its resources for communication and program activities and the library is merged with a university library, it will cease to function as a unit within a few years. Instead, I hope that the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, prior to a decision on the issue, will focus on the institute's unique combination of research, communication and documentation, including libraries. My proposal is to keep the institute as its own organization, appoint a board for clearer governance and give the business an annual basic grant. Then the institute can compete with the best institutes in the rest of the world. If this can be done with continued Nordic support, the better.

Carin Norberg

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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