President Yamagiwa visits Nairobi, Kenya (19-23 July 2016)

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Kyoto University's relationship with Africa dates back to the mid-20th century, to the decade following WWII when its primatologists and anthropologists began traveling to the continent on research expeditions. These ties remain strong to this day. When President Juichi Yamagiwa and other KU officials visited Nairobi, Kenya, from 19 through 23 July, they had fruitful opportunities to rediscover and build on those connections.

Shortly before this trip, Kyoto University launched an "Interdisciplinary Unit for African Studies" (see below), with a kick-off ceremony organized by a group of Africanists and held on 14 July at the Camphora restaurant on the University's main campus. Among the more than 50 attendees were students and scholars from African countries, including Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as President Yamagiwa.

Professor Oussouby Sacko of Kyoto Seika University, one of the first Africans to graduate from Kyoto U, delivered congratulatory remarks, saying: "The Interdisciplinary Unit for African Studies is the kind of organization that those of us from Africa have always wanted. Up until now, it's been difficult for students and researchers from African countries to network across departments. I hope this Unit will function as a hub for everyone with a connection to the continent."

Representing the Unit, Director Masayoshi Shigeta, who also serves as director of the Kyoto University Center for African Area Studies (CAAS), explained that his team would first concentrate on strengthening existing networks, and then work to launch new organizations, such as an alumni association and branch office in Africa.

President Yamagiwa also gave a speech, describing his long relationship with Africa, which he has visited over 50 times. He then delivered a toast to kick off the reception, where all enjoyed the opportunity to mingle and exchange information.

President Yamagiwa's trip to Nairobi later in the month centered around a series of events taking place 20-22 July, including a meeting with local alumni to prepare for the launch of the University's first Africa-based alumni association, and a symposium organized by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science's (JSPS) Nairobi Office in celebration of its 50th anniversary.

The alumni meeting took place on the 20th at a local hotel, where Professor Yoshihiro Tokuga, Vice-President for University Fund Administration and Alumni Affairs, welcomed 16 former students -- 11 Africans of nine nationalities and five Japanese nationals.

After the Vice-President outlined the basic rules and policies governing the association, attending alumni were invited to share recollections of their student days. Dr Daniel Baheta, chief of education at UNICEF Kenya, expressed his gratitude for the academic training he had received as a KU graduate student. "I think now it's our turn to give back to Kyoto University," he said on behalf of his fellow alumni. A discussion then ensued on what Africa-based KU alumni could do to help raise the University's profile and popularity in their respective countries.

The JSPS symposium was held the following day with about 150 attending. President Yamagiwa, who had directed JSPS's Nairobi Research Station in the early 1980s, delivered a keynote address reflecting on a half century of African studies at the University. Referring to his own and fellow scholars' experiences, he explained that KU primatological research in Africa had followed a trajectory from "discovery, through mutual understanding, to collaboration".

Professor Itaru Ohta, dean of the Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies (ASAFAS), joined the President and others in a panel discussion on future directions for African studies. He suggested that Japanese and African researchers should work together to address pressing global issues, such as climate change and poverty.

President Yamagiwa attended several more meetings during his stay in Nairobi, including the pre-event for the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI), organized by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and the general assembly of the Eastern Africa JSPS Alumni Association.

It is anticipated that this visit will lead to even more active research collaboration and academic exchange between Kyoto University and its partners in Africa.

Kick-off ceremony for the Interdisciplinary Unit for African Studies

Vice President Tokuga speaking at the Preliminary Meeting for the Kyoto University African Alumni Association

President Yamagiwa speaking at the JSPS Symposium

Preliminary Meeting attendees

About the Interdisciplinary Unit for African Studies

The Interdisciplinary Unit for African Studies aims to connect the University's research, education, and public service activities related to Africa across departmental boundaries, as well as serving as a hub for all members of the KU community with a connection to the continent. Over the next two years, its core members representing 10 different departments will lead efforts to collect relevant information from across the University, and make this available for Africa-related research and activities. Additionally, the Unit will work to promote academic exchange between the University and its African counterparts, serving as a main point of contact for matters related to the continent.