A high-level side meeting was held on the 9th of May 2024 to bring together the ACE Impact Project Steering Committee members and the ACE II Regional Steering Committee members to share lessons and discuss their strategies for sustaining the Africa Centers of Excellence (ACEs) beyond the World Bank and French Development Agency funding. Other participants included the representatives from the World Bank, and the leadership teams of the Association of African Universities (AAU) and the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA). This meeting was hosted as part of the ACE International Partnership Workshop, held in Mauritius, by the project.  

Dr. Kokou Kouami the Chairperson of the ACE Impact Project Steering Committee and Professor Goolam Mohamedbhai the Chairperson of the ACE II Regional Steering Committee jointly chaired the session to engage the seventeen (17) countries that were present. 

ACE II was launched in 2016 and supports 24 centers in 8 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa – these include Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia – and is supported by the IUCEA. In 2022, the World Bank provided additional financing to the ACE II project, supporting 6 agriculture centers in Malawi and Mozambique.  

In 2019, the World Bank, together with the French Development Agency (AFD), launched the third phase of the program: the “ACE for Development Impact Project, ACE-Impact”, following the successful implementation of the ACE I project by the AAU. The ACE Impact project covers 54 centers across 11 countries mostly in Western Africa – these include Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Niger, Nigeria, Togo, and Senegal. Across the series of ACE projects, the World Bank has committed US$ 657 million in support of African governments and under the ACE Impact, the AFD is co-financing with a total amount of US$ 72 million. 


How ACE II and ACE Impact countries are addressing the sustainability of the Africa Centers of Excellence (ACEs) 

  1. Integrating the ACEs with their host universities – the countries present said that they were making the ACEs part and parcel of the host universities so that they could benefit from annual budget allocations to support their activities. The representatives from Senegal emphasized that the integration of their ACEs to their host institutions also allowed the Senegal ACEs to maintain their financial autonomy so that they are motivated to generate additional resources. 
  2. Lobbying for financial support from national governments – the countries underscored the importance of their governments committing resources to the running of the ACEs. Several countries spoke about embedding the ACEs into national statutes so that they are supported by their national governments. Mrs Jane M. Chinkusu from Zambia shared that they had lobbied their government to direct national scholarships for funding students from their ACEs. In addition, several countries were reported to be lobbying their governments to prioritize contributions to the national research funding agencies who would in turn support the ACEs. The government of Nigeria was reported to have created an annual budget line for the ACEs in Nigeria. 
  3. Leveraging the uniqueness of the ACEs to engage in consultancy and training services was highlighted as an important strategy. The ACEs were initially selected for funding because of the unique niches that they occupy. To sustain their operations, it was recommended that the ACEs should leverage their uniqueness and provide excellent consultancy and training services to their specific thematic areas, industries, and communities. Dr Fahmi Ahmed, from Djibouti mentioned that they were demonstrating the importance of their ACE by designing and delivering unique training services to the logistics and transport industry in Djibouti. 
  4. Focussing on solving real problems and graduating to commercialization and patenting of research products. The ACEs have debunked the myth that African Universities were irrelevant and could not support their national development strategies. Countries that were present agreed that “solving national / regional challenges, being relevant and engaging in commercialization and patenting of products could be an effective sustainability strategy”. 
  5. Engaging in strategic partnerships and joining thematic networks was highlighted as a long-term strategy for achieving sustainability because this enables the ACEs to participate in joint research and collaborations that open avenues for additional funding and support. Mr Carlos Mataruca from Mozambique shared that their ACE for oil and gas was strategically collaborating with SASOL, a global chemicals and energy company. 
  6. Proving the viability of the ACE Model and making achievements visible were also pointed out as being crucial. Dr Edmund Aalangdong mentioned that Ghana was leveraging its national facilitating unit to create visibility of the work of their 9 ACEs and build their capacities. A national tertiary education conference is planned as a national event to create a platform for continuously demonstrating the viability of the ACE model and showcasing the benefits of funding higher education institutions. 
  7. Seeking financial resources from elsewhere by responding to calls for grant funding was also highlighted as another method of sustaining the ACEs. Through partnering and joining thematic networks the ACEs could jointly respond to grant calls to increase their chances of success.  
  8. Leveraging the national facilitating units / national steering committees to strengthen the ACEs was also mentioned by several countries during the meeting. Paul Mungai from Kenya indicated that their National Steering Committee would continue to offer strategic directions to the Kenya ACEs beyond the World Bank funding. Mr Chris Jibreel Maiyaki the acting Executive Secretary of the Nigeria National Universities Commission emphasized the importance of political will in sustaining the ACEs. The Nigerian government has established additional ACEs funded through its national funding agency called the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND). 


Feedback from the Regional Facilitating Units – AAU and IUCEA 

The Secretary General of the Association of African Universities (AAU), Professor Olusola Oyewole emphasized that 10 years support was too little to create sustainable ACEs, he therefore appealed to the World Bank to continue supporting the ACEs. He also said that both the AAU and IUCEA should not abandon the ACEs but continue supporting them, promoting their achievements and lobbying for their support. Professor Oyewole shared eight key points in relation to suggestions for sustaining the ACEs: (1) African governments must prioritize support for their national research funding agencies; (2) African Universities must urgently move from laboratory based research to innovations so that they could attract industry partners; (3) African countries must demonstrate their ownership of the ACEs by supporting them financially and in other ways; (4) Centers of Excellence need to prioritize alternative resource mobilization opportunities; (5) ACEs have introduced excellent practices that should be adopted at the university level – adopting these practices of accountability, procurement, performance based financing and monitoring would lead to the sustainability of the ACES; (6) Partnerships are a great way of building sustainability of the ACEs; (7) When ACEs run demand-driven programmes they are more likely to be sustainable and (8) ACEs are encouraged to learn about the “Study in Africa project”, which is an initiative of the AAU and the European Union.

Professor Gaspard Banyankimbona the Executive Secretary of the Inter-University Council of East Africa (IUCEA) said that the results-based funding model had been proven to be effective during the implementation of the ACE projects – and it could be adopted in a follow up ACE project, as it promoted sustainability. He called on the funders of the project to renew their funding and support for the project, given the key achievements obtained and significant impacts made. He highlighted, that as a regional project, the ACE project created important avenues for knowledge sharing, academic mobility, and networking. The East African Community has an existing framework for mobility which could be used to support the sustainability of the ACE projects. Professor Banyankimbona also stated that investing towards incubation centers was key in promoting external funds generation, promoting industry partnerships and eventually leading to sustainable ACEs. 


Summary and Conclusions 

Dr Ekua Bentil from the World Bank and the Task Team Lead for the ACE Impact Team said that the meeting had provided an important learning platform. She indicated that several partners were keen and impressed by the work of the ACEs. She concluded by saying that the ACE at ten events planned around July 2024 would be a great opportunity to showcase the project results and create buy-in for additional project support. 

Dr Roberta Bassett, from the World Bank and supporting the ACE II Project stressed the importance of the participating governments expressing their interest in support from the World Bank. 

Professor Goolam Mohamedbhai, the Chairperson of the ACE II Regional Steering Committee summarised the meeting discussions by acknowledging that the meeting had been an enriching opportunity. There was no doubt that the ACEs had achieved exceptional results, impacted their communities, and positively impacted their host universities. Professor Mohamedbhai stated that the sustainability question was inevitable and that the proposed solutions seem to border around institutionalization, governments support and actively seeking alternative financial resources. “It is important to market the ACE model to other African countries and share the lessons with them” – said Professor Mohamedbhai.  “The collaboration of the ACEs at a continental level is a great opportunity that the AAU and IUCEA could jointly explore through the ongoing African Union / European Union innovation fund” – concluded Professor Mohamedbhai.