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Research collaboration in East Africa - rewards, pitfalls and lessons learned.

News: Apr 27, 2020

Ethiopia Winborg

Global Sustainable Futures, GSF, arranged it first ever webinar Thursday 16 April. Three experienced researchers shared their lessons learned and possible pitfalls in research collaboration with East African universities, but also the many rewards such co-operation may bring.

Dr Göran Wallin, senior lecturer at the Dept of Biological and Environmental Sciences at University of Gothenburg has been working in East Africa and specifically in Rwanda since 2003. The multidisciplinary research collaboration has evolved from PhD training of Rwandan students at University of Gothenburg to the establishment of permanent forest research plots. A double degree research programme with the University of Rwanda has been developed where PhD students follow courses at both universities, with supervisors in both places.

“Our collaboration has been quite successful”, says Göran Wallin, mentioning that two of the eight students that have graduated this far has become ministers in the Government of Rwanda.

However, as Göran Wallin and his colleague Professor Johan Uddling point out, there are risks and flip sides too. One is that this kind of collaboration, across cultural and system differences, may be time-consuming. He also points out the need to manage the risk of “scientific colonialisation”, that is where foreign researchers explore and publish based on East African data – without sharing and giving credit to data providers and local partners.

Improving situation but also challenges

Helene Ahlborg, research is about rural electrification in East Africa and societal transformation. In her job as assistant professor at Environmental systems analysis, technology management and economics at Chalmers she has recently taken on the co-ordination of a research training programme on sustainable energy with the University of Rwanda
Most of her personal experiences come from working in Tanzania, in a context where she did not have the same institutional backing as Göran Wallin and Johan Uddling mentioned. This made it more difficult to establish networks and partnerships needed for the research.
She is concerned about the administrative burdens that researchers in her field in Africa have to deal with, and that they often have to be consultants on the side to make ends meet. This is of course not an ideal situation for the actual research.

But she is also emphasising how extremely rewarding it is to be working in East Africa. So much has changed over the past ten years, she explains. It is easier to get around, the transport system has improved a lot and there is internet almost everywhere.

“What I think is wonderful with our Rwandan partners is that they come to us equally, so it’s not just me going to Rwanda, it’s more a two-way exchange that is happening now” says Helene Ahlborg.

More webinars to come

The idea behind this webinar series is to inspire and encourage researchers at Chalmers and the University of Gothenburg to develop collaborative projects with partners in low- and middle-income countries. The GSF team at Gothenburg Centre for Sustainable Development (previously known as GMV) is there to support and co-ordinate efforts. The general idea is very much bottom-up with development based on researchers and groups at the two Gothenburg universities.

“We expect and will support the formation of thematic groups within selected areas, e.g. to prepare for cross-disciplinary grant applications”, explains Jan Pettersson, director of GMV and acting programme leader for GSF. At the moment, two “pilot” themes are being discussed, one concerning water in a wide sense, the other sustainable economic growth.
 

Watch the webinar from 16 April

 

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Page Manager: Webbredaktionen|Last update: 6/11/2020
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