UO reaches ground-breaking research deal with Gabon

Partnership will allow for shared research, student training

The University of Oregon has entered into a groundbreaking research and training partnership with the west-central African nation of Gabon.

The agreement will result in creation of the Gabon-Oregon Transnational Research Center on Environment and Development, jointly headquartered in Eugene and the Gabonese capital of Libreville. The center represents a new partnership that will enable developed and developing countries to benefit equally from shared research and two-way training of students from both global regions.

UO President Richard Lariviere was in Washington, D.C., Friday to meet with Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba and sign off on the deal.

The partnership was established as part of the UO's Global Oregon Initiative, an internationalization effort that was selected as one of five "Big Ideas" to define university-wide priorities for interdisciplinary research and teaching. (Story continues below video.)

"Gabon's emergence requires the establishment of a world-class system of education," Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba said. "We need to not only reinforce our training programs, but also establish strong and deep partnerships like the one we are creating with Oregon.

"This unique cooperative agreement will enable us to address our urgent educational needs and also modernize our universities and research centers," he said.

The UO-led, five-campus Oregon African Studies Consortium – which also draws from academic experts at Oregon State University, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland State University and Willamette University – will partner with the Gabonese government to fulfill its vision of turning the country into a laboratory for a new model of development for Africa.

Gabonese leaders are pioneering a move from an economy based mainly on oil to sustainable natural resource management, low-impact ecotourism and significant investments in education and human capital development.

"Oregon and Gabon share abundant natural beauty, economies traditionally based on natural resources and a strong commitment to green, sustainable development," Lariviere said. "These similarities will make for a wonderful partnership.
UO President Richard Lariviere speaks with Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba"Gabon is at an economic crossroad that can never be revisited," he said. "The University of Oregon is recognized as a world leader in research and teaching in the areas of sustainable development, environmental conservation and green business. We are honored to be able to share our experience and expertise with the Gabonese government as it strives to make critical decisions about the country's future."

Gabon, with a population of 1.5 million, is one of the richest nations in its region after 50 years of coastal and offshore oil production. But its leaders acknowledge that oil will not last forever, and its democratically-elected president has introduced a sweeping "Gabon Emergent" program to shift the country's economic focus, eliminate government corruption that existed before his 2009 election, and modernize the country's workforce.

The Gabon partnership with the UO and other members of the Oregon consortium will have a double focus: two-way, mutual training of students from both Gabon and the Oregon universities; and long-term research collaborations on topics including ecotourism, environmental governance, land use near national parks and partnerships with forest residents to search for new medicinal resources.

"Gabon's leaders have a desire to preserve their amazing tropical forests and protect their herds of elephants, lowland mountain gorillas, leopards, hippos and other wildlife," says Dennis Galvan, an Africa expert, associate professor of international studies and co-director of the Global Oregon Initiative at the UO. Galvan led the development of the Gabon proposal this spring.

"Gabon can be recognized as the place in Africa for a green, sustainable model of development," Galvan said. "There are few places where you can learn about how to do this in the U.S., and Oregon is at the cutting edge of sustainability and green development. So Gabon is making a strategic investment for its future by partnering with the UO."

With the signing of today's agreement, the government of Gabon will join with the UO to create a joint, networked Transnational Research Center in Eugene and Libreville to promote research, internships, study-abroad placements and other shared programs. Collaboration in the project will extend beyond the five universities in the Oregon consortium and could include organizations such as the Smithsonian Institution, which has had a center in Gabon for several years and will help in developing forest and ecosystem management curriculum.

The arrangement will create opportunities for students from the five Oregon universities to engage in study-abroad, internship and research programs in Gabon, and for Gabonese students to study in Oregon. About 250 Gabonese students currently study in the U.S. under scholarships from their government, but they are sprinkled among colleges in 49 states. The new partnership will promote a clustering of Gabonese students at campuses in Oregon, with improved academic and social support systems.

"The potential and possibilities are exciting," Lariviere said. "This could serve as a model for how the U.S. can work in collaboration with other developing nations."

Gabon, which straddles the equator on the west coast of Africa, has national parks covering 11 percent of its land mass and rain forests covering 85 percent. It has been called "Africa's Eden," and also boasts a 63 percent literacy rate and compulsory education for children between the ages of 6 and 16. About 80 percent of citizens in the former French colony speak French, while an estimated 73 percent practice some form of Christianity, 12 percent practice Islam and 10 percent adhere to indigenous religious beliefs.

Lariviere was joined at today's signing of the Gabon partnership agreement by staff from the offices of Oregon's U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.