Supraregional activities in sub-Saharan Africa

Germany has a long tradition of scientific cooperation with the countries of sub-Saharan Africa in the fields of education and research. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) laid the foundations for this cooperation back in the late 1970s.

Landscape in Africa

© David Strydom / Hemera / Thinkstock

Political framework

Government agreements on cooperation in the fields of science and technology, such as that concluded with the Republic of South Africa (1994), strengthen existing links. The cooperation with certain sub-Saharan African countries has since been driven forward in cooperation with various German educational, research and agency organisations (e.g. DFG, DAAD, FhG, MPG, HGF and many others). The Africa-specific expenditure by the BMBF and the organisations for cooperation in education and research, which is now nearly five times as high as it was in 2005, emphasises the value of intercontinental partnerships. The DLR Project Management Agency cooperates closely with the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in these processes; along with the International Bureau, it supports measures for exploring the possibilities of, initiating and implementing bilateral and multilateral international partnerships in various areas of education and research.

The current partnerships are part of a larger strategic process, firstly between Europe and Africa, secondly bilaterally between Germany and African partner countries:

Joint Africa-Europe Strategy

The aims of the „Joint Africa-Europe Strategy“ (PDF 250 KB) (JAES) agreed between Europe and the African continent include the improvement and intensification of their cooperation in the areas of science, technology and innovation. Since then, three action plans have been developed to implement the strategy (running from 2008-2010, 2011-2013 and 2014-2017). Moreover, the third Africa-Europe summit held in Tripoli, Libya, in 2010 saw the creation of the Senior Officials Meeting (SOM), a dialogue forum for research and development (R&D) policy at a higher decision-making level. In 2013, the SOM became High Level Policy Dialogue (HLPD). The HLPD Bureau was set up to support this process and is chaired by the Commissions of the European and African Unions; the other members are Algeria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Germany, France, Britain, Portugal and South Africa. The International Bureau supports the BMBF in its active role as Germany’s representative in the HLPD Bureau; meetings are prepared and followed up together with the BMBF, and the IB sometimes also represents the BMBF at the meetings. This means that the International Bureau has a direct insight into current strategic processes and, based on its regional expertise, can help shape them in an advisory capacity on behalf of the BMBF. With regard to the ongoing implementation processes of the roadmap for Food and Nutrition Security and Sustainable Agriulture (FNSSA), the International Bureau also acts as a link to other organisations active in this area.

Support for the BMBF’s Africa strategy

The strategic orientation of the national partnerships with the African countries in the fields of education and research was described in the document The BMBF’s Africa Strategy 2014-2018 (PDF 4,4 MB) which explains the basis of the cooperation and presents thirty cooperative measures in the fields of education and research. This raises Germany’s profile in Africa as a central research and education partner. The International Bureau is the contact and implementing organisation for many of these 30 measures and thus plays a central role in the realisation of political strategy. The BMBF’s Africa strategy was first presented to a wider public by Federal Research Minister Johanna Wanka during an event organised by the International Bureau that took place in June 2014.

Kick-off workshop on the measure 'Promoting measures for research and integrated postgraduate education and training'

group photo kick-off workshop | © Margot Weiler / DAAD

© Margot Weiler / DAAD

The kick-off workshop on the funding measure of 'Partnerships for sustainable solutions with sub-Saharan Africa: Promoting measures for research and integrated postgraduate education and training' took place in Bonn, Germany, on 1-2 December 2016 upon the invitation of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). More than 50 scientists from German and African institutes, organisations and companies took part.

With this innovative funding measure, research and measures for postgraduate education and training (master and PhD) are interlinked within the projects. The knowledge generated by the research can flow directly into the education and training of postgraduates, thus preparing the next generation of scientists. The main focus of the call was on bioeconomy, sustainable urban development and resource management (raw materials).

13 projects will be supported over a period of up to four years: 5 projects are funded in the bioeconomy sector, 2 in the area of ​​urban development, 4 at the interface between bioeconomy and urban development and one in the area of ​​raw materials / resource management.

The projects involve partners from 13 African countries (Ethiopia, Algeria, Botswana, Cote d'Ivoire, Malawi, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Zambia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda).

BMBF-project on water and energy security in Africa with the Pan-African University

The development of the Pan-African University (PAU) is advancing. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is supporting the Algerian PAU Institute for Water and Energy Sciences (PAUWES) with the three years project “Water and energy security for Africa” (WESA). The project is coordinated by the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security ( UNU-EHS) and includes a consortium consisting of PAUWES, the University of Abou Bekr Belkaid in Tlemcen (UoT), the Center for Development Research (ZEF) of the University of Bonn, and the Institute for Technology and Resources Management in the Tropics and Subtropics (ITT) at the TH Köln (University of Applied Sciences) .

PAUWES is one of five hubs of PAU and hosted at the University of Tlemcen in Algeria. PAU was initiated by the African Union Commission (AUC) in 2008 with the objective to promote higher education, science and technology on the African continent at a high academic level. The focus is on the development of post-graduates, PhD-candidates and applied research. The PAU is guided by the vision of an Africa managed by its own citizens and acting as a dynamic force in the international arena. PAU is a broad, integrated system of higher education institutions across the African continent which include the PAU institute on the topic of "Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation" institute in Kenya, the PAU institute on the topic of: "Life and Earth Sciences, including Health and Agriculture” in Nigeria, the PAU institute on the topic of “Governance, Humanities and Social Sciences" in Cameroon and the PAU institute on the topic of “Space Sciences" in South Africa.

The project – “Water and Energy Security in Africa (WESA)”, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF), aims to support the development of PAUWES by enhancing its research activities in water and energy sciences.

The project WESA focuses on the development of innovative research, adapted to local contexts and applicable in the areas of water and energy security in Africa. It is the first step towards the implementation of a research agenda at PAUWES and at the same time offers several PAUWES graduates the opportunity to conduct PhD studies. Support of young scientists plays a central role in the PAUWES research agenda with the goal to develop and implement scientific results. Besides the institutional and scientific objectives, the integration of PAUWES into scientific networks and the establishment of PAUWES as Pan-African (and beyond) hub/platform in the topic of Energy, Water and Climate Change is an important objective of the WESA project.

The BMBF supports PAUWES in close cooperation with the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The BMZ and BMBF divide their support in a complementary manner. While the BMZ and the implementing organizations GIZ and German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) are mainly supporting the development of Master degree courses and general management structures, the BMBF contributes to the development of research activities at PAUWES.

BMBF Africa Days

The BMBF Africa Days were an initial step and important contribution to the development of the BMBF’s Africa Strategy. More than 600 participants, including 180 from 38 African countries, came to Berlin for two days at the invitation of Federal Research Minister Johanna Wanka to conduct both subject-specific and interdisciplinary talks on the cooperative projects, the results of which were to flow into future strategic plans such as the BMBF’s Africa strategy for 2014-2018. This major event, that took place in March 2014, was prepared by the International Bureau and realised on behalf of the BMBF.

Focal points of the bilateral cooperation

The International Bureau has organised the educational and research cooperation with African countries into several regions (North Africa, East/Central Africa, Southern Africa, South Africa and West Africa), each of which receives separate scientific supervision.
The measures currently in place focus for example on the areas of bioeconomics, health and climate research, educational research, information & communication technology and environmental research.

The following projects co-initiated and/or supervised by the International Bureau are particularly noteworthy:

  • Science Service Centres for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management in southern and western Africa; these focus on dealing with the consequences of climate Change (SASSCAL / WASCAL – Southern bzw. Western African Science Center for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Use)
  • The set-up and development of health innovation networks in sub-Saharan Africa, that are making an integrated contribution to improving health research and establishing a health infrastructure in the African partner countries.
  • The pan-African initiative AIMS (African Institutes for Mathematical Sciences), in which the BMBF is promoting the establishment of five research chairs in mathematics.

The close organisational proximity between the DLR Project Management Agency’s subject-specific departments, the International Bureau and the links with other project management agencies, scientific and intermediary organisations facilitate direct communication and interaction, which means that the subject-specific and regional expertise in the projects can be applied jointly and purposefully.

The International Bureau as a partner in multilateral cooperation processes

The experience gained by the International Bureau with bilateral and multilateral cooperation also flows into European and international bilateral and multilateral projects, in which it functions as a cooperation partner or project coordinator.


One outstanding example is the ERAfrica network financed by the EU, for which the International Bureau played a central role in the first multilateral initiative financed by both Africa and Europe, ERAfrica. The International Bureau was closely involved in the preparation of the basic documentation for the joint implementation of this initiative, the only one of its kind to date, in which 20 European and African program-executing agencies from 15 different countries (Egypt, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Germany, Ivory Coast, Finland, France, Kenya, Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Switzerland, South Africa, Turkey) implemented a joint initiative. The International Bureau played a central role as the secretariat that coordinated and implemented the peer review process for the applications submitted and thus functioned as a contact and intermediary for all funding bodies and applicants. 17 projects were funded in all. In its supervisory capacity, the International Bureau kept monitoring these plans not only for the national funding body, the BMBF, but also for the other international partners.
During an independent assessment, the role played by the International Bureau within the ERAfrica secretariat was rated “very good”. This evaluation was performed by JOYN-COOP.

For other EU-subsidised projects in sub-Saharan Africa, the International Bureau functions as a project partner in political dialogues (e.g ESASTAP Plus – focus on cooperation with South Africa – and CAAST-NET Plus – Africa as a whole, supraregional) and acts as a coordinator for RINEA (Africa as a whole, supraregional).


For RINEA (Research and Innovation Network for Europe and Africa), the International Bureau coordinated an Afro-European consortium of ministries and funding organisations. The superordinate organisation, the African Observatory for Science, Technology and Innovation (AOSTI), part of the African Union Commission, was likewise involved. The RINEA project assisted the High Level Policy Dialogue (HLPD), for example by conducting analyses and drawing up statements commissioned by the Bureau. RINEA also aimed to support joint initiatives between European and African funding organisations, e.g. by assisting with the planning and preparation of funding initiatives. Moreover, RINEA operated an Internet portal that focused specifically on cooperation between both continents in the fields of science, technology and innovation, besides reflecting the political background documentation for the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) and the current state of affairs. These documents are officially provided by the HLPD Bureau.