By Christina WilliamsUniversity of Oregon is establishing a joint research center headquartered in Eugene and Gabon, West Africa, to study sustainability, economic development and natural resource management.
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Richard Lariviere, UO's president, was in Washington, D.C., Friday to meet with Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba to sign the agreement, which will include research and training.
The Gabon-Oregon Transnational Research Center on Environment and Development is part of the university's Global Oregon Initiative, one of UO's five "Big Idea" priorities for research and teaching.
In a press release, President Ondimba emphasized the educational benefit the agreement will bring to Gabon.
"This unique cooperative agreement will enable us to address our urgent educational needs and also modernize our universities and research centers," he said.
The Oregon African Studies Consortium, which includes UO, Oregon State University, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland State University and Willamette University, will partner with the Gabonese government to create a new model for sustainable development in Africa.
Gabonese leaders are pushing to 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.
Gabon, nestled south of Cameroon and west of Congo, has a population of 1.5 million and its economy is supported by its coastal and offshore oil industry. It also boasts national parks covering 11 percent the country, with rain forests covering much of the rest.
While it's sometimes called the "Eden of Africa," Gabon is not without its problems. A meeting between President Ondimba and U.S. President Barrack Obama was called into question this week because of human rights and corruption charges leveled at President Ondimba's family.
"Gabon can be recognized as the place in Africa for a green, sustainable model of development," said Dennis Galvan, an Africa expert, associate professor of international studies and co-director of the Global Oregon Initiative at the UO. "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."
Collaboration in the project could include organizations such as the Smithsonian Institution, which has had a center in Gabon for several years and will help in developing a forest and ecosystem management curriculum