The African Regional Institute for Geospatial Information Science and Technology (AFRIGIST), under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has met with the University of Liberia (UL) on collaboration and partnership  for the establishment and execution of PhD programs in Geography or Demography on the proviso that Liberia becomes a member of this body.

During a visit on the Capitol Hill Campus Thursday, June 17, 2021, Dr. Adewale Akingbade, Executive Director of AFRIGIST told the President of the University of Liberia Rev. Dr. Julius J.S. Nelson, Jr. and his team that the purpose of the visit was to explore ways to build links and forge  a working relationship with the UL. Dr. Akingbade suggested the need for a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to be established between AFRIGIST and UL for an exchange of students and faculty. “So, we can have a collaboration to have a PhD program in Geography, on Land Administration or Demography,” Dr. Akingbade, adding that AFRIGIST’s entry point at the University of Liberia will be the Department of Geography. He continued: “…our request is that we should have a collaboration, which we will implement very well when Liberia becomes a member state.” Apart from their long term courses from technology to PhD levels, Dr. Akingbade revealed that AFRIGIST also runs consultancy, standard short courses as well as customized training, among others, noting that these are areas where they can collaborate with the University of Liberia.

He suggested further that the University of Liberia, AFRIGIST, Liberia Institute for Geo Information Services (LISGIS) and the Ministry of Mines and Energy can brainstorm and to meet specific needs of Liberia.

Giving a historical background of the institution, Dr. Akingbade recalled that AFRIGIST was established in 1972 by the UN, and to date, it has trained people from about 30 African countries. According to him, there are eight countries that are making contributions to the institution, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Egypt, host country Nigeria, and Senegal, among others. He said Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau and Liberia have shown interest, but AFRIGIST is seeking political support for the membership of Liberia because it is very important.

Explaining the procedure in acquiring an AFRIGIST membership, Mr. Joseph Olouroi, one of the delegates,  said the first step is to express interest in joining  the institution, something he said Liberia has already done since 2015 through a communication written by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He added that the next step is the payment of membership fees after which the Flag of Liberia will be put [among the member states’ flags] before the country can start sending students for scholarships. “And also there is a possibility for Liberians to work [with] AFRIGIST as lecturers. In fact, we can have people here that can be coming to teach from the university, and vice versa,” he said.

Mr. Olouroi noted that the University of Liberia is a key stakeholder and there’s no way AFRIGIST can be discussing capacity building and leaves the university aside. He noted that for the university, AFRIGIST is training at the Postgraduate level, stressing that university plays a key role.

Dr. Akingbade (L) in conversation with UL President Dr. Nelson
Dr. Akingbade (L) in conversation with UL President Dr. Nelson

The President of the University of Liberia, Dr. Nelson, thanked the team from AFRIGIST and LISGIS for including the University of Liberia on their schedule. He expressed happiness that Ambassador Al – Hassan Conteh, Liberia’s Ambassador to Nigeria, had earlier contacted and urged the university to meet with the AFRIGIST delegates because it would be in the interest of the university. He indicated that his administration will do its part to make sure that the partnership between UL and AFRIGIST is consummated.

Accordingly, Dr. Nelson presented UL Vice President for Institutional Development and Planning, Prof. Weade Kobbah – Boley who he said will coordinate the university’s team to see how the institution can explore the possibility for the memorandum of understanding with AFRIGIST.

Dr. Nelson promised to follow-up with LISGIS and the Government of Liberia to ensure that the country’s quota is in place, as the university is happy to work with AFRIGIST.

Giving her perspectives, UL Vice President for Institutional Development and Planning, Prof. Weade Kobbah – Boley, said when it comes to determining what goes into the MoU from both sides, that’s where her roles and functions are, disclosing that most of the programs at the University of Liberia are being improved and upgraded, and her role is to forge partnership and monitor, once they are established.

Dr. James McClain, Dean of the College of Science and Technology at the University of Liberia said in order to sustain the program, the University of Liberia is needed to be a part of it, stressing that the program is applied in UL’s Climate Change Program. “But when it comes to the academic side, we are prepared to work with you and so whatever needs to develop the program up to Master’s level, PhD level, we are prepared for you,” he said. The Dean of the Science College explained that the university has the facility and expressed hope that the process of garnering the required political support will be accelerated so that Liberia can quickly become a full member to benefit from faculty or students exchange programs, among others.

Dr. Nelson (middle) with his guests from AFRIGIST on Capitol Hill
Dr. Nelson (middle) with his guests from AFRIGIST on Capitol Hill

Also speaking at the courtesy meeting, Assistant Prof. Thomas Kaydor said all that is needed has been done and all that is required now is for Liberia to pay its quota. “Once Liberia pays her quota and we are officially accepted, you can imagine you might have 15, 20 students, 25 going for PhD, going for Master’s. You have the institution already sitting, established, so Liberian students can then go to those institutions. In fact, without being a member, they’ve already trained Liberians,” Prof. Kaydor said.  

The team representing the UL at the meeting included the Executive Director for Research Institute Dr. Agnes Reeves Taylor;  Dr. Darren Wilkins, Vice President for Information Technology; Dr. James McClain, Dean of the College of Science and Technology; Mr. Aaron Tobgah of LISGIS; and Mr. Torwon Tony Yarthy, Adjunct Faculty, Geography Department  and Executive Director, Liberia Geographical Society (LGS).