Dear Concerned Petitioners,
I would like to provide some factual information to clarify the nature, goals and operation of the new Gabon-Oregon Transnational Research Center on Environment and Development, as well as the use of the initial investment in this unique, two-branch center ($20 million from the Gabonese government, to be followed, we expect, by private sector investments).
My colleagues and I at the University of Oregon appreciate the urgent social, economic and environmental challenges facing the people of Gabon. Hoping to work with Gabonese scientists, students, and practitioners to address these challenges, we have proposed a new kind of development partnership, based not on Northern experts preaching to Southern recipients about best practices. Rather, we have crafted a two-way partnership in research, training, and community service.
The new Center thus has two branches. One, in Eugene, Oregon, will gather and focus US expertise in sustainable development to address types of challenges faced in Gabon, and will organize international internships and other educational opportunities in Gabon for US students. The other, at the Omar Bongo University in Libreville, will serve as the hub for sustainability research, training, and community service in Gabon. Research teams funded by the Center will be collaborative and joint, bringing together Gabonese scholars and students with counterparts from Oregon, the US, or other locales outside Gabon. No research or related projects will occur without training and human capital development for Gabonese partners.
I encourage you to please read the agreement signed on 31 October 2012 between the University of Oregon and the Government of Gabon, available at http://global.uoregon.edu/projects/gabonoregon-center (scroll to end of article for link to the agreement). There, you will find that the University of Oregon is not being funded in any way by the Government of Gabon. Rather, the Gabonese leadership is investing $15 million in a custodial account managed by the University of Oregon Foundation, whose prudent investment strategies have ensured reliable annual returns on investment even in years when more famous investment funds incurred severe losses. The annual distribution (interest earned) from this investment will cover no existing operating costs of any kind at the University of Oregon. Rather, these proceeds will be used to fund new research activities, training, internships for students, staff support, English language training programs in Libreville, conferences, symposia, and the public dissemination of research findings to K12 schools, journalists, and small businesses in Gabon and in the US.
Another $5 million will be dedicated to a start-up fund for the research center, covering the costs of initial research grants, a first wave of public intellectual community building events, and a first year of base staffing at both branches of the Center.
I should also note that a preliminary version of this agreement was signed at Blair House in Washington D.C. in June 2011 during the official visit of President Bongo Ondimba to Washington, and that the agreement has been facilitated and supported throughout the process by U.S. Ambassador to Gabon Eric Benjaminson and the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Libreville.
We all recognize that Gabon faces long-term challenges of natural resource management, environmental degradation, and unsustainable distribution of resources, access to health care, and education. We're launching a partnership to explore these challenges and provide evidence-based proposals for improving resource management, access to healthcare, and the social and economic underpinnings of sustainable development. The Government of Gabon is making an investment in the development of its human capital and in its long-term ability to develop creative new solutions to the challenges of sustainable development.
Do take a look at the detailed agreement. We are proud to launch a partnership that will benefit the Gabonese people, train Gabonese students, and foster outreach and public service to support Gabonese communities and environments.
Let me just add a personal note: I have worked as a researcher for almost twenty-five years, primarily in rural Senegal, on issues of underdevelopment, the inappropriateness of one-size-fits-all Western models of modernity, and the crucial role of local adaptation and local control in building sustainable forms of development. My career has been devoted to helping those without sanctioned authority, formal education, or resources to recognize their own ability to shape their own versions of development and modernity. This Center was proposed by people who deeply understand the dangers of top-down, centrally directed development. It is designed to put tools in the hands of people who need them. As I have read your many comments here, I sense that you too want empowerment for the least empowered Gabonese citizens. Let's work together to achieve that shared goal. I think if you evaluate carefully the details of this agreement, you will recognize a kindred spirit directed to practical research and training as a deep form of human capital development and empowerment.
If you have further questions or concerns of any kind about the Center, I hope you will be in touch with me and my colleagues at firstname.lastname@example.org
Vice Provost for International Affairs
Professor of Political Science & International Studies
University of Oregon