The University of Pretoria’s (UP) newly launched African Centre for the Study of the United States (ACSUS-UP) is dedicated to studying the US as a nation and society in order to understand its social, cultural and economic developments and engagement with Africa and the world.
The University launched the ACSUS-UP to bridge the knowledge gap between Africa and the US based on multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary research.
UP’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Tawana Kupe, pointed out that top universities around the world have research centres and think-tanks dedicated to the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary study of other countries or regions, which is worthwhile not only for the sake of knowledge but also for formulating domestic and foreign policies to further the national interests of their states.
Highlighting the advantages that UP’s location in Pretoria that ACSUS-UP will leverage, Prof Kupe said “the University of Pretoria is located in a city that has 134 embassies and high commissions,” therefore the Centre “is well placed to convene and foster Africa-US engagements by leveraging its location to bring together various players in development dialogues – these include African diplomats, the African Union and its sub-regional bodies as well as other stakeholder groups in the South African and African economies, civil society and development partners.”
Forty institutions across universities in the US are dedicated to studying Africa, dating back to 1948 when the first African studies centre was established at Northwestern University in Illinois. However, there are only three similar centres dedicated to studying the US. According to Prof Christopher Isike, the newly appointed Director of ACSUS-UP, Africa lags behind in studying the US, a world power that it has engaged with since 1945 and which has several political, military and commercial interests and cultural connections due to its large African diaspora population.
“It is important to depart from the tradition of Global North and particularly North American approaches, in which the Global South, and more specifically Africa, is the subject of research and study,” Prof Isike says. He further highlighted what makes ACSUS-UP different from the two existing similar centres in Africa including those it will help to establish in other African universities in future. According to Prof Isike, “apart from leveraging the connectivity our location bestows, engaging in research that matters and specialised academic offerings for targeted capacity building, ACSUS-UP shall produce a prototype of how Africa should engage with global powers in the future irrespective of shifts in their influence across the global landscape.”
ACSUS-UP will achieve its vision through collaborative study, working on issues of common interest between Africa and the US through curriculum development, teaching methodologies and student-learning systems. In addition, the centre will facilitate academic exchanges between the staff and students of universities in Africa and the US, focusing on doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships. Finally, it will promote dialogues that will contribute to building a better world by fostering intercontinental conversations on mutual challenges and innovations in commonly identifiable domains. For example, ACSUS-UP will collaborate with the University of the Witwatersrand’s African Centre for the Study of the US (ACSUS-Wits), and also foster collaborative research with other African universities across the continent where more study of the US centres will be established in future.
The centre has adopted seven strategic goals that are in line with UP’s vision to be a leading research-intensive university in Africa, while creating knowledge and making a difference locally and globally. According to Prof Kupe, ACSUS-UP is aligned to UP’s strategic plan and key transdisciplinary platforms such as the Future Africa Institute, the Javett-UP Art Centre, Engineering 4.0, Innovation Africa @UP and the Centre for the Future of Work, all of which foster a collaborative research culture across the university community worldwide and help create a critical mass of researchers for new knowledge generation.
In pursuit of ACSUS-UP’s vision, the specialised academic offerings for targeted capacity building Prof Isike referenced aim to empower diplomats, members of the corporate sector, academics, the media and civil society through short courses, training and workshops in diplomacy, protocols and culture in Africa.
“Africa urgently needs good leaders in every sector; leaders who have foresight and wisdom, are well educated, well skilled and who understand local and global challenges,” Prof Kupe said. “The launch of ACSUS-UP is thus a prominent milestone for our university, country and our continent, and we look forward to great outcomes.”