Sub-Saharan Africa region | University of Oxford
Medical student in lab coat
Medical students studying bones and cartilage in the Medical Centre, Oxford.
(Image credit: Oxford University Images / Rob Judges Photography).

Sub-Saharan Africa region

The University of Oxford is one of the world's leading centres for the study of Africa. In every Division and almost every Faculty across the University there are active research programmes focused on the continent.

Oxford's African Studies Centre

The African Studies Centre, within the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, acts as a focal point for graduate level work and faculty research on Africa. The centre’s MSc in African Studies, inaugurated in 2006, is recognised as Europe's most prestigious and successful training programme in its field. The Centre brings together scholars from across disciplines, including politics, history, and anthropology. For instance, Professor Wale Adebanwi (Director of the African Studies Centre)'s research and teaching focusses on the processes of the social mobilisation of interests and power, particularly as these manifest in and through ethnicity, nationalism, race and racialisation, culture, democratic politics and social thought. Professor Miles Larmer's research interests focus on political and social change in southern-central Africa in the second half of the twentieth century. The Centre also connects with other scholars across the University, including economists and migration experts.

Research about Africa at Oxford

The International Growth Centre (IGC) is a research institute based jointly at LSE and Oxford University which aims to promote sustainable growth in developing countries by providing demand-led policy advice based on frontier research. It directs a global network of world-leading researchers and in-country teams in Africa and South Asia and works closely with partner governments to generate high quality research and policy advice on key growth challenges.

The Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE) carries out economic research with a particular focus on Africa. The CSAE uses modern research methods with the aim of helping to improve economic and social conditions in the poorest societies.

Oxford's Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine is currently conducting research in Guinea Bissau on the HIV2 virus, a strain of the virus that does not cause AIDS. The hope is that this work on immune response to this virus may help contribute to the search for a vaccine for HIV-1.

Libraries and museums

Scholars of African studies can draw on the exceptional resources of the Bodleian Library and the University’s museums. The Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House holds extensive research collections on the history, current affairs, culture and anthropology of Sub-Saharan Africa including books in English, Afrikaans, French, German, Portuguese and other European languages. 

Collaborations with institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa

In addition to studies of the region, Oxford is engaged in a wide range of collaborations and research projects with African partners spanning the University’s four divisions.

Medical Sciences collaborations

Oxford’s research into global health issues on the African continent is extensive. The KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme (KWQTRP) was formed in 1989 in partnership with the University of Oxford. Over the years, the Programme has grown from a small group to over 100 researchers and 700 support staff working across Kenya, Uganda and the region. Their research focuses on the major causes of morbidity and mortality in the region, in order to provide the evidence base to improve health, and addresses key health priorities such as malaria, respiratory diseases, malnutrition, reproductive health and HIV/AIDS. Their comprehensive approach focuses on the basic biology, clinical descriptions and intervention, epidemiology, social and behavioural sciences and health systems ethics and policy of each disease. They also train an internationally competitive cadre of Kenyan and African research leaders to ensure the long-term development of health research in Africa.

The INTERGROWTH-21st study on foetal and infant growth looks at ascertaining how foetuses and babies from different parts of the world grow if they experience similar maternal health, environmental and socio-economic conditions. One of the study areas for this project is Kenya. A further collaboration is the INTERBIO-21st study on nutrition and foetal growth, which examines why foetuses grow less well when mothers are exposed to malnutrition and infection, especially in resource-poor settings. Much of this work is taking place through Oxford’s unit in Kenya which is part of its Tropical Medicine Network.

Social Sciences collaborations

The Young Lives study on childhood poverty, headed up by researchers at Oxford’s Department for International Development, is an ambitious large-scale study tracking the lives of children from four different developing countries over a period of 15 years. One of the study countries is Ethiopia where Young Lives works in partnership with the Ethiopian Development Research Institute (EDRI) and Save the Children-UK, Ethiopia. Young Lives researchers are based in 20 communities in the states of Amhara, Oromia, the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNP) and Tigray, as well as in the capital, Addis Ababa.

Oxford's WildCRU wildlife conservation research unit was the first university-based conservation research unit in Europe, founded in 1986. Today WildCRU is recognised as a world leader in conservation. WildCRU was founded and developed by David Macdonald, Oxford's first Professor of Wildlife Conservation, who continues to guide its development. Since 1986, WildCRU, now with over 50 researchers, has grown to be one of the largest and most productive conservation research institutes in the world. Its members have been drawn from more than 30 countries and its projects have a similarly international reach, ranging from the Scottish Highlands to Mongolia, West Africa and Borneo. Most recently, its longstanding specialisation in wild carnivores has led to a partnership with Panthera, with whom WildCRU is developing its aspiration to become the world's foremost university centre for field conservation research, made possible through the generous support of the Recanati-Kaplan Foundation.

The Oxford Central Africa Forum (OCAF) seeks to push forward research on the multitude of challenges faced by the populations of Central Africa. OCAF brings together academic researchers, graduate students, development practitioners and policy-makers from the African Studies Centre and across the University to discuss current events as well as historical developments. OCAF supports the diffusion of research and provides a platform for exchanges of ideas between stakeholders who otherwise find it difficult to have a dialogue with each other.

The Oxford University China–Africa Network (OUCAN) brings together scholars, graduate students and experts from the field to research and evaluate critical political, cultural and socio-economic trends. The rapid deepening and broadening of ties between the African continent and China has been evident recently; it is the single most important geopolitical trend of the 21st century for Africa, and China’s economic miracle cannot be understood without analysing its multifarious partnerships with African countries. OUCAN's focus is thus a broad and multifaceted one, with research and analysis including study of cultural bodies, NGOs, small and medium-sized businesses, minorities and ordinary people in addition to governments and state-owned enterprises.

Humanities collaborations

The Early Mother Tongue Literacy for Sustainable Development in Sub-Saharan Africa project is a partnership with NGO Saide (South African Institute for Distance Education). Piloting in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa, Oxford is contributing research expertise to the African Storybook Project (ASP), to provide stories in local (and other) languages to assist children to read initially in their own languages and develop multilingual literacy. Almost half of primary school-aged children in sub-Saharan Africa reach adolescence without achieving basic literacy and numeracy skills. Mother tongue literacy represents the best foundation for acquiring proficiency levels needed for understanding school materials, and learning additional languages to access wider opportunities and participate in life beyond their communities. Literacy in local languages is key to sustainable development because literacy is a core component of the right to education and an indispensable prerequisite to lifelong learning.

Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences collaborations

Oxford's Department of Earth Sciences is collaborating with the Geological Survey Department of the Ministry of Mines and Minerals Development, Zambia, to study the geology, geophysics and tectonics of Zambia. The project involves fieldwork in the Luapula, Northern, Muchinga and Eastern Provinces of Zambia.

Interdisciplinary collaborations

The Africa–Oxford Initiative (AfOx) is a cross-university network established to bring the University of Oxford’s long-standing, multi-disciplinary engagement with Africa under one platform, whose overarching goal is to ensure Africa remains a strategic priority for the University. AfOx supports research and academic excellence by facilitating sustainable and equitable research partnerships between researchers based in African institutions and Oxford. AfOx is working with colleagues across Oxford to develop a university-wide strategy to increase the number of African students studying at Oxford and increase the University’s engagement with research institutions and universities based in Africa. AfOx uses its expertise of the dynamic African academic landscape to mobilise resources for Africa-focussed research, working with departments and colleges across the University of Oxford and with universities, research institutions, governments and NGOs across African countries. Such collaborations have facilitated new breakthroughs in the fields of medical sciences, big data engineering and astrophysics, conserving environments and ecosystems, archaeology, and preservation of ancient languages amongst other research areas. To enable effective partnerships that are genuinely co-developed, they offer two researcher mobility schemes – the AfOx Visiting Fellowship Program and the AfOx Travel Grant.

The Pitt Rivers Luo Visual History is a database of around 350 historical Luo photographs from the collections of Oxford's Pitt Rivers Museum, taken between 1902 and 1936. The website is the result of a collaborative project between the Pitt Rivers Museum and members of the Luo community of Nyanza Province, western Kenya, with the assistance and co-operation of National Museums of Kenya. Besides making these collections available to the research community, this project resulted in a series of four local exhibitions in Nyanza in early 2007, centred upon locations where the original photographs had been taken. Exhibiting these images locally enabled further research with members of the community and descendants of those photographed.

African Research on Ageing Network (AFRAN) is part of the Oxford Institute on Ageing, one of the research programmes of the future-orientated Oxford Martin School. AFRAN sets out to link African researchers with colleagues at Oxford and to facilitate research with Oxford and other universities and research organizations. Current AFRAN members include Africa-based individual and institutional members, as well as members from European and international research institutions.

Harnessing Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) for Agricultural Development and Rural Transformation in Ethiopia: Lessons from China examines how lessons from China’s experience of using ICT systems in agriculture can be transferred to Ethiopia.  Specifically, the project examines innovative and inclusive IT experiments like farmers’ mailbox and smart phone apps in use in Zhejiang Province and Guangdong Province, and evaluates their applicability for smallholders and stakeholders in agricultural chains in Ethiopia.  The project is led by Professor Chunhui YE of Zhejiang University. The other project partners are based at the Institute for Science and Sustainable Development at Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia, and the Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum, India.

The Planned Violence: Post/colonial Urban Infrastructures and Literature network, a collaboration with Jawaharlal Nehru University and the University of the Witwatersrand, sets out to explore the shifting relationship between urban planning, violence and literary representation from colonial into postcolonial times. The project examines the complex role of literature in theorizing the city: how contemporary patterns of violence are embedded within urban stories of the past, and how narrative complicates official histories of post-imperial, multicultural London, and postcolonial Delhi and Johannesburg. The network brings the insights of critical geographers and historians into dialogue with cultural and literary critics, identifying literary texts as key to interrogating current theoretical debates on space and social control.

African students at Oxford

Oxford attracts some of Africa’s best and brightest students. The University currently has over 370 students from sub-Saharan Africa, with a particular concentration in the Social Sciences division.

Scholarships for students from Africa

There are many schemes offering funding for international undergraduate students and particularly funding for international graduate students to study at Oxford, as well as schemes to help students already at Oxford travel abroad.

The prestigious Rhodes Scholarships, which are awarded to outstanding all-round students and cover the costs of graduate study at Oxford, are available to applicants from Kenya, Southern Africa (including South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, and Swaziland), Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Scholarship opportunities specifically aimed at African students include:

Student societies

The Oxford University Africa Society (AfriSoc or OUAS), founded in 1959, focuses on African affairs at the University of Oxford. AfriSoc seeks to set the agenda for the future of the African Continent by providing a platform for students hailing from or interested in Africa to critically engage. Above all, AfriSoc is a community of change agents passionate about Africa.

The Oxford African and Caribbean Society is Oxford's largest society for African and Caribbean students. Its members consist of undergraduates to postgraduates, scientists to lawyers from nations all over Africa, the Caribbean and beyond. They are committed to exploring, promoting and celebrating African and Caribbean culture within Oxford University. 

African academics at Oxford

Oxford is currently home to 63 staff members (academics and researchers) from Sub-Saharan Africa, with a notable concentration – around half – working in the Medical Sciences division.

Dapo Akande (Nigeria)

Dapo Akande is Professor in Public International Law, Co-Director of the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict (ELAC) & the Oxford Martin Programme on Human Rights for Future Generations and Yamani Fellow at St Peter's College. He is Co-Director of the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict (ELAC), an interdisciplinary research programme based in the Oxford Martin School that aims to strengthen law, norms and institutions to restrain, regulate and prevent armed conflict.

In addition to his academic work, Dapo Akande has advised states, international organizations and others on matters of international law. He has advised and provided expert opinions in cases before national courts and international tribunals. He has acted as Consultant for the African Union on the international criminal court and on the law relating to terrorism. In addition, he has provided training to diplomats, military officers and other government officials on a range of international law issues, especially international criminal law and the law of armed conflict. Akande was born in Nigeria where he studied for his law degree at Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly the University of Ife).

Dr Philippa A Hulley (Zimbabwe)

Dr Hulley is a university lecturer in Musculoskeletal Sciences based in the Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences and a Tutorial Fellow of St Hilda’s College. Since moving to Oxford, Dr Hulley has been awarded a number of fellowships and research grants including a 5 year Arthritis Research UK Fellowship in 2004 and a 5 year Research Councils UK Fellowship. The research group that she leads explores cell signalling in bone and joint degeneration and regeneration with a focus on tendon biology.

Dr Hulley was born in Zimbabwe and gained her developmental biology PhD at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Oxford alumni in Africa

With almost 3,000 alumni across Sub-Saharan Africa, Oxford has alumni groups based in Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Notable African alumni

A number of key historical political figures in post-independence Africa and key academics were educated at Oxford. These include:

  • Edward Akufo-Addo, 2nd President of Ghana
  • Zeinab Badawi, journalist and broadcaster
  • Henry Bonsu, journalist and broadcaster
  • Dr Kofi Abrefa Busia, former Prime Minister of Ghana
  • Dr Frene Ginwala, former Speaker of the South African National Assembly
  • Seretse Khama, first President of Botswana
  • John Kufuor, former President of Ghana
  • Festus Gontebanye Mogae, former President of Botswana
  • Arthur Mutambara, politician, former Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe
  • Kumi Naidoo, former International Executive Director of Greenpeace
  • General Emeka Ojukwa, led the ill-fated secessionist struggle of Biafra shortly after Nigerian independence
  • Pixley Seme, founder of the African National Congress
  • Aaron Sloman, Zimbabwe-born pioneering thinker in the area of artificial intelligence