On 25th May 2020, Malta celebrated the 57th Africa Day with a webinar chaired by Dr Alex Grech, Executive Director of the Commonwealth Centre for Connected Learning (3CL). Africa Day was established in 1963 and commemorates the accomplishments of the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union) and Africa’s struggle against colonialism and apartheid.
Webinar participants included African students studying at the University of Malta along with guests including the Hon. Evarist Bartolo, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs, Parliamentary Secretary for European Funds Hon. Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi, Ambassador Ronald Micallef, and Professor Godfrey Baldacchnio, Pro-Rector for International Affairs at University of Malta.
Africa Day: an opportunity for Malta to share its strategic brokerage role
Minister Bartolo said that the connection between Malta and Africa goes beyond geographical proximity, and incorporates a shared history of colonisation and a post-colonial culture. Over the past decades, Malta embarked on a programme of sustained change, often levering on emerging technologies which eventually transformed the islands into a confident country that can now share acquired knowledge with its ‘neighbour to the south’. This message was underscored by the Parliamentary Secretary for European Affairs who highlighted the strategic role that Malta can play in promoting the values of mutuality and partnership in an ongoing discussion on the urgent need for European Union Strategy for Africa.
“Africa is the continent of the future. It is a continent that changes its energy every 17 years due to the demographics of its youth,” said Ambassador Micallef. “Malta can play a vital role in Africa as a country that listens, and absorbs concerns and opportunities and in articulating those concerns in the European Union.”
The University of Malta currently hosts 135 full-time African students and Masters and Doctoral students from Nigeria, Ghana, Tunisia, Ethiopia and the Seychelles joined the webinar. The students are pursuing studies in a range of subjects from medicine and biology to humanitarian action and psychology.
The discussion covered several practical issues on how Malta and Africa can create networks of trust between thinkers, students and policy-makers from Africa and their counterparts in the European Union and Malta. Reliable access to learning and academic resources in home countries was highlighted as an overriding challenge for students upon their return to the home countries. Dr Grech identified ‘open access to quality education and skills resources’ as a potential project for collaboration between the University, the 3CL and African states which would facilitate future communities of praxis and co-learning. COVID-19 has highlighted the urgent need to address online learning pedagogies, and to bring these to the mainstream.
A student from Nigeria reading for Masters in gender equality proposed that exchange programs should be bi- or tri-lateral if inter-cultural relationships between Africa, Malta and the EU were to improve. There was much that Africa could offer to foreign students spending time as researchers and academics embedded in the Continent. Another suggestion was the introduction of African history studies in relevant University study units. Core education classes in Africa include European history, but courses on African history tend to be missing in many European academic institutions. This exacerbates the problem of many people only knowing Africa continent from the media.
Africa Day was an opportunity for the students to voice their personal experiences. During the webinar, students also described their personal experiences of living and studying in Malta, with the conversation including integration, intercultural exchanges with Maltese and other African students studying in Malta, racism and the long-standing migration issue. All the students saw their time in Malta as a unique opportunity to experience other cultures while being away from their home country.
Minister Bartolo confirmed Malta’s commitment to invest in improving Malta-Africa intercultural relations by focusing on tangible projects that contribute to exchanges of expertise and resources. These include investment in technologies and online learning platforms, sharing of expertise and experiences on nation-state projects and advocacy for Africa Studies resources at the University of Malta.
“The development of mutually-beneficial socio-cultural and economic relationships with the African continent is of vital importance to Malta. We need to challenge old models of engagement by learning: building bridges and trust will depend on our ability to listen to and understand each other’s experiences. Malta will become increasingly proactive in identifying solutions that serve the identified needs of African youth in partner countries. Our collaboration must be built on praxis”, concluded the Minister.
For further background on Malta-Africa relations, see the Malta-Africa Strategy 2020-2025 published earlier this year.