Co-created by Africa’s major higher education (HE) and academic constituencies and launched in July 2023, the Africa Charter is an Africa-centred framework for the pursuit of transformative research collaborations as an entry and leverage point for advancing and upholding the continent’s place in the global production of scientific knowledge.

This brief outlines key processes and perspectives that underpinned the development of the Charter; the core principles, aspirations and ends that are captured in the framework; its evolving endorsement and resonance; and major plans for a wider effort to advance the realisation of the Charter, globally.


Development of the Charter 

In January 2023, Africa’s major HE constituencies – including the Association of African Universities (AAU)African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA)African Academy of Sciences (AAS)CODESRIA and International Network for Higher Education in Africa (INHEA) – came together[1] to co-create and assert the Africa Charter for transformative research collaborations.

The Charter initiative was facilitated by, and built on a foundational, now published, conceptual and analytical frame and argument developed by the Perivoli Africa Research Centre (PARC) at the University of Bristol (UoB) together with the Chief Albert Luthuli Research Chair at the University of South Africa (UNISA) and the Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA) at the University of Cape Town (UCT).  More broadly, the collective Charter effort was driven by a shared embrace of pan African concerns and perspectives articulated in a long history of critical anti-, post- and de-colonial intellectual thought from the continent.

The process of constructing the Charter framework was accompanied by engagement with various research, funding and policy actors in the continent, including the Institute for Security Studies, Future Africa at the University of Pretoria, African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC)  and National Research Foundation (NRF) – as well as in the ‘global North’, including the UK Collective for Development Research (UKCDR), Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), Universities UK International (UUKi), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the British Academy, UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Africa (APPG-A), the Coimbra Group of Universities, Berlin University Alliance, University of Toronto (U of T), the University of Leeds and International Science Council, among others.

The Charter was launched formally on 5 July 2023 in Windhoek, Namibia, in conjunction with the AAU conference of rectors vice chancellors, and presidents (COREVIP).



Charter principles, aspirations, ends

The Africa Charter asserts a fundamental need to rebalance the global scientific effort: to redress Africa’s present unfavourable positioning, and ensure that scholars, institutions and knowledges produced from the continent take their rightful place.

The Charter asserts that such rebalancing is imperative: as a matter of social justice, undoing legacies of colonialism, upholding Africa’s aspirations, and fostering a richer, more potent scholarship that offer alternatives to the ‘monochrome logic’ of Western thought.

And the Charter understands that international research collaborations between Africa and the global North — because they dominate the continent’s scientific effort — are a critically important entry and leverage point for rebalancing the global academic system as a whole.  Such collaborations, in other words, have the potential to be transformative.

The Charter’s 12 principles insist that for collaborations to be truly transformative, they must not only guarantee fairness in concrete cooperation arrangements, such as the division of labour, decision making and access to ‘rewards’.  In addition, collaborations must actively redress the multi-layered underlying power imbalances in that arise through the dominance of ‘Western’ epistemologies, languages, theories and concepts, and the development framework employed in the knowledge generation in/for/about/with Africa, as well as in the disparities in institutional resourcing and capacities.

The Charter’s 6 aspirations call for structural changes in the policy and regulatory frameworks of HEI, funders, publishers, research review and assessment bodies and academic governance entities. These changes aim to systematically enable, mandate, and incentivize a transformative collaboration model, gradually establishing it as the benchmark and standard practice within the scientific community and beyond.


Endorsement and resonance

Since its launch the Charter has garnered extraordinarily widespread support and formal endorsement from already over 100 bodies including major global university networks, academic associations, and key HEI in the UK, Europe, North America, Latin America and Africa.

Signatories to the Charter have affirmed its principles and aspirations, committing to support efforts to realise them.  Multiple other bodies are actively considering or preparing to do the same, while several research funders, publishers and policy actors have begun to explore implications of the Charter for their operations.

The broad-based ‘community of interest’ rallying around the Charter underscores its relevance as a catalyst for change whose time has arrived.  More specifically, it reflects a growing acknowledgment, both within and beyond academia and across various regions, that perpetuating unjust hierarchies rooted in colonial legacies is untenable.  It further highlights a realization that Western knowledge systems, having contributed to the world’s myriad crises, are insufficient to address them – and that alternative paradigms, discourses and approaches are needed.


Toward implementing Charter principles and aspirations

Within this context, the Steering Committee for the Africa Charter (SCAC), comprising the initiative’s founding steward- and champion institutions[2], has now developed plans for a first, ground-laying phase in a longer-term effort to propel and sustain the realization of Charter principles and aspirations, globally[3].

Programme of critical review, inquiry, pathfinder interventions and joint learning

In this first 3-year phase (2024-2027), the SCAC member institutions will collaborate as a consortium to drive a multi-pronged programme of critical review, inquiry and joint learning within HE and academic sectors in Africa and the ‘global North’[4]. The aim is to establish the foundations for- and set in motion wider processes of change in scholarly ecosystem discourses, practice norms and structures.  The overarching objective of the programme is to nurture the development of a ‘community of practice’ aligned with the principles of the Charter, leveraging the existing community of interest.      


To these ends, the five-fold aims of the programme will be to:

  • Develop a ‘theory of change’ for the Charter and for the effort to advance its implementation


  • Generate grounded understandings of where and how extant policies and regulatory architectures, practice norms, and individual mindsets and capabilities either help sustain, redress, or mitigate the multiple layers of power imbalances in collaborative research


  • Identify, critically analyze and test feasible approaches and intervention points for shifting policy and regulatory frames to better enable and incentivize such a mode of collaboration


  • Identify, critically analyze and test feasible approaches and intervention points for implementing a transformative collaboration model across the scientific disciplines.


  • Develop an understanding of desirable outcomes, impacts and unintended consequences of such partnership initiatives.


  • Foster active reflection, exchange and joint learning on the generated insights, among the Community of Charter signatories, and with the wider spectrum of HE/academic ecosystem stakeholders


  • Develop and share, building on 3), resources to support and sustain the pursuit of Charter-aligned policy/regulatory changes and transformative collaboration practices across disciplinary fields




The eleven member institutions of the SCAC, in their resolve to champion and model the Charter, will spearhead the critical reviews, inquiry and intervention approaches, focusing on their own organizational settings- and spheres of engagement.  As such, this work will evolve as a set of discrete projects, prosecuted variously by SCAC members or partners, likely drawing on a range of funding sources.

Coherence and compatibility of approaches and findings- and a unified distillation of learnings across projects and spaces will be ensured through the use of common conceptual and analytical frames, and through a common platform for structured reflection and consultation with the community of Charter signatories and wider HE/academic ecosystem stakeholders.

An overall intellectual oversight and coordination function operating for the consortium will lead the development of the frames and an overarching theory of change.  The SCAC has mandated the three core facilitating institutions (HUMA, UNISA Research Chair and PARC) to fulfil this function[5].  AAU, drawing on its continent-wide remit, will provide the central platform for programme convening and unified stakeholder engagement. A strategic programme advisory group comprising key HE/academic ecosystem actors will provide recommendations on overall directions and foci for the programme (see Figure below).  As a next step the three core facilitating institutions will drive the development of funding proposals for the envisaged programme of work.

[1]  A first meeting of representatives of these, and of other key continental or regional bodies (IUCEA, AWAU, ASAAA, AUC) was convened on 26 January 2023 in Accra, Ghana, hosted by the AAU.


[3] SCAC members came together to develop the plans in a four-day workshop, 11-14 March 2024 in Cape Town hosted by HUMA

[4] including HEI-and HEI networks, research institutions, academies of science, think tanks, funders, publishers, research assessment and academic governance bodies

[5] A tri-partite agreement among the three facilitating institutions will underpin their collaborative efforts in this regard