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UNU’s Activities in and on Africa


Ethiopia, Deder district, Eastern Highlands — Sadia in her village shop. The shop is run with the help of a community cooperative, which is made up of 30 women. Photographer © Crispin Hughes

Completed projects appear below those ongoing.

Africa Series

UNU Food and Nutrition Programme (UNU-FNP) and UNU Office in New York (UNU-ONY)

Contact: Patrick Stover, Jean-Marc Coicaud

Time frame: 2007-2011

The series of symposia relates to Africa’s failure to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). UNU and Cornell University are collaborating to map out the state of scientific and policy knowledge in four critical areas: “The African Food and Nutrition System” (held November 2007), “From Governance and Development Crises to Security Crises” (April 2008), “HIV/AIDS and Public Health” (September 2008), “Higher Education in Africa” (pending) and “Environment and Sustainability” (pending). A final event, to take place in late 2011, will outline the lessons learned from the preceding events and will aim to develop policy recommendations.

The conferences have attracted leading international academics with substantial representation from African scholars and policy-makers. Book length volumes are being published by Cornell University Press based on papers from conference participants. Multimedia was used to maximize outreach efforts, including webcasting and digitally archiving the symposia. Through this process, the UNU and Cornell, in cooperation with other UN agencies and African academic institutions, aim to foster fundamental knowledge and policy formation in the aforementioned areas in the African context, which will strengthen future capacity development initiatives in the region.

The objectives of the Africa Series are to identify and address gaps in knowledge and policy as well as the problems preventing Africa from achieving the MDGs. As the UN Secretary-General mentioned in his opening message (November 2007), at the inaugural symposium of the Africa Series, the Africa Series is not an end in itself. UNU-FNP and the UNU office at the United Nations, New York, envision through this process and in cooperation with other UN agencies and academic institutions working in and on Africa, to contribute to advancing fundamental knowledge and policy formation in the aforementioned areas in the African context, and thereby strengthen future capacity development initiatives in the region.

Tags: Africa, development, nutrition, symposium, Africa Series, policy recommendation, MDGs, public health, HIV/AIDS, security crisis, governance

UNU-WIDER Ph.D. internship and sabbatical programmes

UNU World Institute on Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER)

Contact: Wim Naudé

Time frame: ongoing

UNU-WIDER aims to include African participants in its PhD research internship and visiting scholars programmes. During 2009 one intern and two visiting scholars from Ghana, Sudan and South Africa participated in the programme. Three interns from Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire, and Kenya and one visiting scholar from Nigeria will work at the Institute.

Tags: capacity development, Africa, economy, Ph.D. internship, sabbatical programme

Employment Generation and Innovation in Developing Countries

UNU Maastricht Economic and Social Research and Training Centre on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT)

Contact: Pierre Mohnen

Timeframe: 2008–2010

This project will undertake a global comparative analysis of available innovation survey data, from China, India, South Africa, Brazil, Russia and a number of additional countries, including Colombia, Malaysia, Tunisia and Estonia. The project team brings together six UNU-MERIT researchers and international research collaborators based at, among others: the Institute for Applied Economics Research (Brazil), ECLAC (Chile), Human Sciences Research Council (South Africa), MASTIC (Malaysia), Centre for Development Studies, Kerala (India), Renmin University, Centre for Applied Statistics, (China) and the Institute of Economics, and the University of Tartu (Estonia).

Location: South Africa, Tunisia

Tags: innovation, employment, economy

IT Training for African small and medium sized enterprises to enhance their competitiveness through the adoption of open source software business models

UNU Maastricht Economic and Social Research and Training Centre on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT)

Contact: Andreas Meiszner

Timeframe: 2008–2010

UNU-MERIT has led several landmark studies funded by the European Commission that have provided clear evidence of the potential of FLOSS business models in developing countries. FLOSS uses open standards, avoiding lock-in and allowing for flexible solutions. Programmes can easily be translated into local languages. The international developers’ community acts as a ‘free-of-charge’ training environment. Yet FLOSS use and development in the South has so far stayed below its potential. Funded by InWEnt (Capacity Building International, Germany), this new project is implemented in collaboration with the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT (AITI-KACE).

Location: Africa, Ghana

Tags: economic growth, ICT, innovation, IT, FLOSS

UNU-IAS Fellowship Programme

UNU Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS)

Contact: Taeko Morioka

Timeframe: 2006 to present

Publications: UNU-IAS Working Paper Series

The Fellowship Programme has been one of the Institute’s most important activities since its inception in 1996. The programme provides young researchers, scholars, and policy makers, particularly those from developing countries, with an opportunity to experience a unique international academic environment and to expand their intellectual vision beyond a single scientific field. It also provides opportunities to participate in the Institute’s programmes and projects, and to interact with the Japanese academic community.

The current programme includes the Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellowship Programmes, and the JSPS-UNU Postdoctoral Fellowship Programme.

Since 1996 the Institute received 30 Ph.D. and Postdoc Fellows from African countries including Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Gambia.

Tags: energy, Ph.D. programme, policy, rural, sustainability/sustainable development

UNU Africa Strategy

UNU Vice Rectorate in Europe (UNU-ViE)

Contact: Reza Ardakanian, Virginie Aimard

Timeframe: ongoing

The United Nations University plays a strategic role in Africa as a facilitator of dialogue, a capacity builder, a provider of postgraduate training, and a promoter of innovation. The UNU Council requested for the University to develop a roadmap for its activities in and on Africa and designated the Vice-Rector in Europe as the coordinator for implementation of the roadmap for UNU’s focus on Africa. The request for UNU to define an action plan for its activities in and on Africa has been motivated by the challenges the African continent faces, including the lack of human and institutional resources.

UNU-ViE in collaboration with the Office of the Rector and close supervision of the UNU Council is contributing to the drafting of a UNU wide Africa strategy to contribute to the integrated objectives of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) as well as to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals on the African continent. UNU activities in and on Africa aim to foster knowledge creation with a strong emphasis on home-grown and participatory “made-to-fit” solutions linked to UNU’s continuing efforts to promote endogenous capacity development.

Gemmology Course

UNU Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (UNU-INRA Mineral Resources Unit)

Contact: Dean, School of Mines; Coordinator, MRU,,

Timeframe: annual

Project website

The program is aimed at promoting the sustainable development of the Non-Traditional Mining (non copper-cobalt mining) Sector in Zambia as a means of addressing the issues of poverty alleviation and rural economic development. The program targets the small-scale mining industry because if well regulated, this industry has a significant potential to boost rural industrialisation or development.

One of the major causes of the poor performance of the small-scale mining sector is the inadequate technical and managerial skills of the miners. The acquisition of basic skills in identification and evaluation of gemstones has been identified as a major constraint for miners to obtain a fair price for their products. An introductory certificate course in gemmology has therefore been commissioned at the School of Mines, University of Zambia.

The course covers topics ranging from mineralogy, geology, exploration, mining techniques, gemstone identification, evaluation, faceting and design. The annual course is delivered jointly by the School of Mines and the UNU/INRA-Mineral Resources Unit (MRU) at the University of Zambia (UNZA), Lusaka, Zambia.

Location: Lusaka, Zambia

Tags: small scale mining, value addition, capacity building, gemmology

Entrepreneurship research in Uganda

UNU Maastricht Economic and Social Research and Training Centre on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT)

Contact: G. Rooks

Timeframe: 1998–2010

This project consists of ongoing survey research on small scale entrepreneurs in Uganda, focusing on innovative performance, economic performance and the role of networks, human capital and social capital. The research focuses on the determinants of innovative performance and on the nature and characteristics of small scale entrepreneurs. This is a joint work with Dr. Gerrit Rooks, Eindhoven University of Technology and Arthur Sserwanga, Makerere University Business School. Among others this project has so far resulted in two papers: "The Interplay of Human and Social Capital in Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries: The Case of Uganda," to be published in a UNU-WIDER conference volume (W. Naude ed. 2010) and "Social Capital and Innovative Performance. The Case of Small Ugandan Entrepreneurs" focusing on network characteristics of small entrepreneurs.

Publications: Rooks, G., A. Szirmai and A. Sserwanga, "The Interplay of Human and Social Capital in Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries. The Case of Uganda," WIDER Research Paper No.2009/09, Helsinki, 2009. To be published in W. Naude (ed), Entrepreneurship and Development, Palgrave, 2010.
Rooks, G., A. Szirmai and A. Sserwanga, "Social Capital and Innovative Performance in Developing Countries," Paper for the Globelics Conference, 4-7 October, Dakar, 2009.

Location: Uganda

Tags: economic growth, economy, income, innovation, entrepreneurship

UNU Conversation Series on Africa

UNU Office in New York (UNU-ONY)

Contact: Jin Zhang

Timeframe: 2009–2011

In June 2009, on the occasion of the UN conference on the world financial and economic crisis and its impact on development, UNU-ONY launched a multimedia intellectual forum on the economic crisis, the ‘UNU Conversation Series’. It aims to bring clarity to the key issues of the economic crisis, to explain what is at stake, and to explore what should be done to overcome the problems. It brings together some of the most important intellectual and policy voices from around the world, including experts on Africa. Those directly addressing the impact of the crisis on Africa include Augustin Fosu, Deputy Director, UNU-WIDER; Wim Naudé, Senior Research Fellow, UNU-WIDER; and Léonce Ndikumana, Director of the Research Department, the African Development Bank. The conversations are available at

To continue the efforts in this regard, UNU-ONY is preparing the ‘UNU Conversation Series on Africa’. In the fall of 2009, UNU-ONY organized two interviews (one in English and one in French) with Dr. Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, the Chief Executive Officer of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), discussing the role of NEPAD in the coming years. They are available at More interviews on Africa will be conducted in the coming months.

Socioeconomic and environmental impact of biofuels in developing countries

UNU Institute for Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS)

Contact: Gasparatos, Stromberg

Timeframe: 2009–2010

As part of a book edited by UNU-IAS researchers, three research teams based at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFRPRI) and the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI) assess the impacts of biofuel feedstock production in parts of eastern and southern Africa. The broad range of issues studied by the three teams include rural development, health, climate change, land tenure, household energy and water footprint. This volume is edited by Alexandros Gasparatos and Per Stromberg and will be published in 2011 by Cambridge University Press.

Location: Southern Africa, Eastern Africa

Tags: energy, rural, sustainability/sustainable development

Completed Projects

Impact of the global economic crisis on Africa

UNU World Institute on Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER)

Contact: Wim Naudé

Time frame: 2009

In order to understand the impact of the global economic and financial crisis on African economies, UNU-WIDER and UNU-ONY, in collaboration with the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA), the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS) organised a special event at UN Headquarters on 25 June 2010 as a side event to the UN Conference on the Global Economic Crisis and its Impact on Developing Countries.

Tags: economic growth, economy, policy, trade

Publications: Wim Naudé (2010). Reflecting on Africa's Resilience During the Recent Global Financial Crisis. UNU-WIDER, Angle Newsletter, March. Available here

Wim Naudé, & Augustin Fosu (2009). Africa's Recovery from the Global Economic Crisis. Angle Newsletter, June. Available here

Wim Naudé, & Augustin Fosu (2009). The Global Economic Crisis: Towards Syndrome-Free Recovery for Africa. WIDER Discussion Paper 2009-03, Available here

Wim Naudé (2009). The Global Economic Crisis after One Year: Is a New Paradigm for Recovery in Developing Countries Emerging? UNU Policy Brief, Available here

Entrepreneurship in Africa

UNU World Institute on Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER)

Contact: Wim Naudé

Time frame: 2008-2009

As part of its project on 'Promoting Entrepreneurial Capacity', UNU-WIDER studied entrepreneurship in Africa from a number of perspectives - both looking at how high-growth firms perform as well as considering female entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship in conflict situations. For further information see the project website.

Tags: conflict/post conflict, economic growth, economy, gender, peace-building

Publications: Wim Naudé (2009). Paul Collier and Marguerite Duponchel (2010). The Economic Legacy of Civil War: Firm Level Evidence from Sierra Leone. WIDER Working paper 2010-90

Topher L. McDougal (2010). How Production Firms Adapt to War: The Case of Liberia. WIDER Working Paper 2010-69

Eleonora Nillesen and Philip Verwimp (2010). Phoenix in Flames? Portfolio Choice and Violence in Civil War in Rural Burundi. WIDER Working Paper 2010-44

Imed Drine and Mouna Grach (2010). Supporting Women Entrepreneurs in Tunisia. WIDER Working Paper 2010-100

Ayal Kimhi (2009). Entrepreneurship and Income Inequality in Southern Ethiopia. WIDER Working Paper 2009-05

Micheline Goedhuys and Leo Sleuwaegen (2009). High-Growth Entrepreneurial Firms in Africa: A Quantile Regression Approach. WIDER Working Paper 2009-11

Mulu Gebreeyesus (2009). Innovation and Microenterprises Growth in Ethiopia. WIDER Working Paper 2009-51

Gerrit Rooks, Adam Szirmai, and Arthur Sserwanga (2009). Interplay of Human and Social Capital in Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries: The Case of Uganda. WIDER Working Paper 2009-09

Rosemary Atieno (2009). Linkages, Access to Finance and the Performance of Small-Scale Enterprises in Kenya. WIDER Working Paper 2009-06

African Development: Myths and Realities

UNU World Institute on Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER)

Contact: Augustin Fosu

Time frame: 2008–2009

Project website

UNU-WIDER’s research programme in 2008-2009 focused on studies on Africa and included African contributors. A project conference took place in Accra, Ghana, during 10-11 December 2009 in collaboration with the African Centre for Economic Transformation (ACET). The conference looked at the reasons put forward for Africa’s disappointing development record, attempting to differentiate between myth and reality and to seek a blueprint for public policy into the 21st century. A selection of the conference papers will be published in 2010.

Tags: Africa, development, myth, reality, lessons, blueprint

Overcoming Fragility in Africa

UNU World Institute on Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER)

Contact: Wim Naudé

Time frame: 2009

UNU-WIDER contributed background research to the first European Report on Development (2009), entiteld 'Overcoming Fragility in Africa: Forging a New European Approach. The background research paper, by Wim Naudé, is entiteld Africa And The Global Economic Crisis: A Risk Assessment And Action Guide.

The full European Report on Development 2009 is available.

Tags: economic growth, economy, fragile state, policy, trade, vulnerability/risk

Publications: Wim Naudé (2009). Africa And The Global Economic Crisis: A Risk Assessment And Action Guide

Survey of small and large footwear enterprise development in Ethiopia

UNU Maastricht Economic and Social Research and Training Centre on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT)

Contact: Mulu Gebreeyesus

Timeframe: 2008–2009

This is a new collaborative research project with the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) Tokyo, Japan and the Ethiopian Development Research Institute (EDRI). The study seeks to test the hypothesis that the declining imports of Chinese shoes in Ethiopia is primarily the result of increasing substitution by small and informal enterprises in Addis Ababa, located in cluster in the large market complex, Merkato. The survey thus aims to understand the dynamics and innovative practices of Ethiopian small-scale shoemakers.

Location: Ethiopia

Tags: policy, trade, income, sustainable development

Micro-based evidence research on innovation in developing countries

UNU Maastricht Economic and Social Research and Training Centre on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT)

Contact: Micheline Goedhuys, Pierre Mohnen

Timeframe: 2005–2009

This project seeks to build better linkages between the vast body of work in the area of innovation indicators, surveys and other measurement tools, and to apply these to the particular context of developing countries.

Location: developing countries including Africa

Tags: innovation, linkages

UNU-WIDER short-duration training courses on microsimulation (part of the project entitled “Designing Africa’s Poverty Strategies for Policy Simulation”)

UNU World Institute on Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER)

Contact: Asghar Adelzadeh

Time frame: 2006–2009

Participation in the short-duration training courses on microsimulation (a project on reform in taxation and transfer policies that aims at increasing the capacities of policy makers and researchers in Africa to simulate the impact of macroeconomic policies) increased over 2006-2007 from four to nine African countries (including Botswana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia, Ghana and Tanzania).

About 20 individuals of the country teams participated in ten training workshops, most of them held in Africa, but also in 2007 at international conferences held in Addis Ababa, Austria and Helsinki, as part of the capacity-building activities. The project held one workshop in 2008 and the final workshop took place in Kampala in May 2009.

Tags: capacity development, Africa, development, economy, short-duration training course, microsimulation

Designing Africa’s Poverty Strategies for Policy Simulation

UNU World Institute on Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER)

Contact: Asghar Adelzadeh

Time frame: 2006–2009

Project website

In 2003, UNU-WIDER launched its project on Designing Africa’s Poverty Strategies: Creating the Capacity for Policy Simulation to develop economic modelling capacity in African countries. The project director provided regular training workshops (14 workshops) and on-going technical support to research teams from Botswana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and Zambia that enabled country teams to build microsimulation models of tax and transfers or macroeconomic models of their economies.

The project also included construction of a user-friendly website that currently hosts 10 country-specific microsimulation models. The website enables policymakers and researchers to have direct access to the models to design tax and expenditure policies and quantitatively assess their impacts on poverty, inequality and the budget. This simulation website is the first of its kind developed for African countries.

Tags: Africa, development, poverty, income, Botswana, Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon, microsimulation, expenditure, model

The Impact of Globalization on the World’s Poor

UNU World Institute on Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER)

Contact:Erik Thorbecke, Machiko Nissanke

Time frame: 2006–2007

“The final output of the project on the Impact of Globalization on the World’s Poor is a volume encompassing studies from the conferences held in Asia, Africa and South America; the publication is foreseen in 2010. Within the framework of this project, numerous research papers focusing on African related issues have been published, for a complete list see: Impact of Globalization on the World’s poor webpage, as well as a special issue of the journal African Development Review (Vol 20, No. 1 (April) 2008).

Tags: Africa, development, globalization, poverty, globalization, impact, sub-Saharan Africa

Gender and Food Security

UNU World Institute on Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER)

Contact: Paul Silfvenius

Time frame: 2006–2007

The project on Gender and Food Security encompasses an Africa focus, and followed the earlier project on hunger and food security which aimed to examine the effect of the status of women relative to men on various aspects of food security. A project meeting was held in Accra, Ghana in May 2007, where one-half the participants were women. The project anticipated comparative (successful) policy lessons that can be transferred between Asia and Africa. A series of working papers have been published.

Tags: Africa, development, gender, food security, lessons

Southern Engines of Global Growth: China, India, Brazil and South Africa

UNU World Institute on Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER)

Contact: Guanghua Wan, Amelia Santos-Paulino

Time frame: 2006–2008

In 2007, UNU-WIDER ran a project on the Southern Engines of Global Growth: China, India, Brazil, and South Africa. Following on the fact that South Africa was selected as one of the growth drivers, a number of researchers from Sub-Saharan Africa were involved in the project, and a project conference was held in Johannesburg in September 2008.

Tags: Africa, development, economic growth, South Africa

National Human Development Report 2006, Liberia

UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP)

Contact: Ted Newman c/o Nicholas Turner

Time frame: 2004–2007

The UNU Peace and Governance Programme contributed to the 2006 National Human Development Report for Liberia which focused on human development and peacebuilding. The mission to Liberia, undertaken by a UNU officer at the request of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), involved consultations with a range of UN agencies based in Liberia and with local stakeholders – including civil servants, civil society, media, and the University of Liberia – to assess the peace-building and development process in the country.

The report, which focuses on the role of capacity development in reconstruction and peace-building, became a key instrument for stimulating debate within the country and amongst donors.

Tags: Africa, Liberia, development, Human Development Report, consultation

Regulation of Private Security Sector in Africa

UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP)

Contact: Ramesh Thakur c/o Nicholas Turner

Time frame: 2006–2007

The Peace and Governance Programme co-organized a conference on “Regulation of the Private Security Sector in Africa” in April 2007, with the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria, South Africa. The conference brought together academics, researchers, practitioners, government officials and representatives of foreign missions, interrogating the phenomenon of the private security sector industry in Africa, and the means appropriate and necessary to regulate it. The book Private Security in Africa: Manifestation, Challenges and Regulation was published in November 2007, based on the results of this research.

Tags: Africa, development, economy, private sector, regulation

The Secretary-General’s Report (2008) on “Africa’s development needs: state of implementation of various commitments, challenges and the way forward”

UNU Office in New York (UNU-ONY)

Contact: Jean-Marc Coicaud

Time frame: 2008

The United Nations University has been tasked by the UN Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA) to coordinate the drafting of the Secretary-General’s report on “Africa’s development needs: state of implementation of various commitments, challenges and the way forward” to be submitted to the high level Meeting on Africa’s development needs to take place on September 22, 2008. UNU-ONY will work with UNU-WIDER, UNU-CRIS and Cornell University to draft the report.

As Africa is increasingly the main focus of the international community, the report will examine Africa’s sustained development needs, the challenges it faces, as well as take stock of all main commitments made by the international community and by African countries and organizations to address these issues. It will also propose a set of practical, strategic and results-oriented recommendations for both the international community, including the United Nations system and African countries, and regional organizations to address Africa’s special needs.

The report will draw on the two previous reports of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Panel on International Support for NEPAD , as well as various reports from the Secretary-General on NEPAD (including the Progress in Implementation and International Support documents). As stipulated in paragraph 15 of the General Assembly resolution A/62/242, the report will be prepared in cooperation with relevant UN development agencies, the Bretton Woods Institutions, and other relevant regional and international financial and trade organizations. In addition to a short introduction laying out the background, the scope and the main vision, the report will include three main sections: Africa’s development needs and challenges; commitments and the state of implementation; and recommendations and the way forward.

Tags: Africa, development, UN Secretary-General’s Report, high level meeting on Africa

Threshold 21 Model

UNU Vice Rectorate in Europe (UNU-ViE)

Contact: Virginie Aimard

Timeframe: 16 June–5 July, 2008

Millennium Institute

UNU-ViE supported the training of a professional from the field of development from the Seychelles on the Threshold 21 Model in a course conducted in Mauritius by the Millennium Institute from 16 June – 5 July 2008. The training module was designed for professionals working in the field of development planning, including government officials and representatives of the civil society and academic community. The T21 provided a great opportunity to learn about the System Dynamics method that can be used for national planning purposes. After defining a countries’ vision and goals, T21 generates scenarios describing the future consequences of the proposed strategies. Thus it is also a tool for making progress to the MDGs and other national goals. The T21 encourages comparative analysis of different policy options. The knowledge of such a model that can help to overcome the obstacles often faced by Small Island Developing State (SIDS), such as limiting skilled manpower and inadequate financial resources.

Location: Mauritius

Tags: innovation, MDGs, policy, sustainability, sustainable development


Page last modified 2019.04.16.

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