On 11 March, the Kyoto University Interdisciplinary Unit for African Studies (Africa Unit) held its kickoff symposium at Inamori Center.
Generations of KU researchers, from both natural and social science disciplines, have traveled to Africa over the years to work on a variety of projects. The Africa Unit was launched in July 2016 with the aim of connecting all of the University’s Africa-related endeavors, including research, and educational and public-service activities, across departmental boundaries. The Unit is comprised of faculty from 10 academic departments, and is working to collect information related to the continent from across the University and share it with the wider world. The plan is to eventually establish a KU representative office in Africa.
The kickoff symposium was attended by about 100 people, including not only researchers and students but also representatives of collaboration partners in Africa and funding organizations in Japan.
The event opened with remarks from Dr Kayo Inaba, executive vice-president for gender equality, international affairs, and public relations, speaking on behalf of the University. She explained that African studies at Kyoto University have consistently addressed the issues of poverty and ecological destruction, and that the University aims to intensify this focus over the coming years as part of its commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015.
This was followed by a greeting from the guest of honor, Deputy Executive Director Sotaro Ito of the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST). He expressed his hope that Kyoto University will play a leading role in Japan-Africa science and technology cooperation, just as it is promoting collaboration between Japan and Southeast Asia through the Japan-ASEAN Science, Technology, and Innovation Platform (JASTIP).
Dr Mitsuo Ichikawa, professor emeritus at the Center for African Area Studies (CAAS), then delivered a keynote lecture on the “History and Prospects of African Studies at Kyoto University”.
This part of the event ended with a screening of Kyoto University and Africa: Challenges of Fieldworkers, with an introduction by Professor Masayoshi Shigeta, director of the Africa Unit and CAAS, and assistant to the executive vice-president for international affairs. Produced by the Africa Unit in collaboration with the Kyoto University Research Administration Office (KURA), the 18-minute documentary film chronicles 60 years of African studies at the University, beginning with the first-ever Japanese research expedition to the continent. It also highlights the depth and breadth of KU scholars’ ongoing Africa-based projects, ranging from a study aimed at solving the mysteries of human evolution, to an initiative to help local communities unlock their potential.
The second half of the symposium featured presentations by representatives of African academic-exchange partners. Dr Daniel Baheta, chair of the recently formed Kyoto University African Alumni Association (KUAAA) and chief of education at UNICEF Kenya, urged KU officials to take active advantage of the local alumni network in implementing future Africa-based University projects. He added that a KU representative office on the continent would greatly facilitate such collaborations.
The event concluded with a signing ceremony for an academic-exchange partnership between CAAS and the Institute of African Studies, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS), Korea.
The symposium was followed by a reception, where attendees, all with a connection to Africa, enjoyed networking across diverse sectors.