The African Policy Centre at UCU

One of the most exciting recent developments at UCU is the launch of the African Policy Centre (APC).  Recognized in 2016 by the University Council, informally launched in late 2016, and then formally launched in November 2017, APC’s vision is to be “A Platform of Excellence for African Christian Public Policy, Research, Analysis, Evaluation, and Talent Training on the Continent and Beyond.”

In the past several months, APC has been working hard to finalize their set-up and to start their work. APC has hosted policies labs and worked on various research projects related to land policy, abortion law, proposed regulation related to faith organizations, and the 2017 national budget in Uganda. They have also been hard at work with forging various partnerships with their sponsor, the Church of Uganda, as well as other Ugandan and African organizations and organizations outside of Africa as part of their work. Next Generation, a student group for young policy makers and policy scholars at UCU, was launched at the university in the past year and currently hosts policy discussions and events for interested students.

In the next year, APC intends to continue their research, finalize a person as an acting director, appoint fellows of the Centre, develop new partnerships, build up programmatic and administration infrastructure, and develop the scope and size of their policy labs and Next Generation.  Additionally, several grant ideas and proposals are in progress and an anticipated website is soon to launch.

There is a great deal more to say about APC, and I am happy to share some thoughts in what follows from the current visiting professor and technical advisor of APC, Rev. Dr. Lawrence Adams from Charlottesville, Virginia relating some details about the history of APC, his involvement as well as the goals, work, and intended future for APC:

* Could you share a bit about yourself and what brought you to APC?

“I heard in 2016, through the UCU Partners USA organization, about hopes and plans for the establishment of an Africa Policy Centre at UCU – a think tank that would bring Christian truth, beauty and goodness into the public realm.  It was described as a think tank that would serve the University, the Church, the nation, and all of Africa.  This really caught my attention.  I had been a supporter and occasional visitor to UCU for many years, but this plan struck close to my heart.  I am a member of the Anglican clergy, but also a Professor of Politics and History in the United States, who has worked in the policymaking arenas of the US government and in think tanks. This was something I wanted to know more about.

I learned that in God’s providence, this desire came together from many different places – where such a vision was in the hearts of leaders and others – over some years towards the establishment of the APC.  The Vice-Chancellor, The Rev. Dr. John Senyonyi, in 2013 established the UCU Public Lecture, given in Kampala for the leaders of the nation and the church to come together to hear a prominent Christian thinker discourse upon pressing matters of public concern – including education, economic growth and development, and the challenges of secularism confronting family life and moral questions in Uganda.  He had a strong vision for an Africa Policy Centre and prayed for ways to see it come to life, and invited over the years Dr. Os Guiness, Dr. Wayne Grudem, Dr. Graham Walker and others to give the Lecture.

Also, in recent years, the bishops of the Church of Uganda have sought stronger foundations for their responsibilities to lead in careful, Biblical concern for the nation, its families, its communities, its political struggles and economic needs.  His Grace, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, has called for UCU to be “the think tank for the Church of Uganda.”

And in 2016 I learned that three young members of the UCU faculty – Dr. Kanakulya Dickson, The Rev. Feta Simon, and Mr. Omong Mark – along with some others, had been working on visionary plans that a strong Christian research institute in public policy and public life be established.  When they discussed it with the VC, he marvelled that God had been at work in so many quarters.  He placed these young men under the mentorship of Professor Ubamba-Jaswa Peter, Associate Dean for Research, and asked them to continue to develop their plans.  Then in 2016, the University Council recognized the establishment of the Africa Policy Centre, and gave it life.

While I was on a visit to UCU in October 2016, Professor Ubamba-Jaswa and the three young scholars discussed these plans with me at length, and got me involved in the planning process.  They asked me to join them as Visiting Professor and Technical Advisor, a post I took up in early 2017.”

Rev. Dr. Larry Adams in front of the Old Pitch at UCU

* What is your vision for APC as it starts? 

“I associate myself with the vision articulated by the Vice Chancellor, the Archbishop [of Uganda], and the founders of APC, and am called to assist them in realizing that vision.  I would only add to that my hopes that APC will fulfill  the intention to be a truly Christian centre for inquiry, research, analysis and service.  There is nothing else that fits that description in Africa, though there are some other “think tanks” and research centres at universities.  I also hope that APC will develop a distinctively Christian African voice; it does not need to be a “clone” of American or British institutions, though it can learn much from them.  There is much to learn from the experiences of African Christians, and to explore in the theology and other research of African thinkers. ”

* What are the key resources of the Christian political tradition that you wish APC could engage with more as we seek to develop indigenous African Christian political theology, thought, and policy?

“I believe, and know from experience, that deep study of the Bible and Christian theology can lead to sound thinking on all aspects of life, and that doing this is the mandate of APC as a “think tank.”  For example, the doctrines of Creation – that God created the world good, that he loves the world, that he created humans in His Image to be his stewards on the earth – have profound impact on how we think about many things.  Divine Creation speaks to the priority of the protection of all human life, of course, but also the centrality of the family to society, how we develop economically and give stewardship to the land, and how we relate to all human cultures – peacefully or in conflict?  If we believe God gave order and direction to his Creation, that Creation has purpose and a “telos,” and also realize that order to be disrupted by Sin, is it not our responsibility to work within God’s order for the good of all?   As well, consider the doctrines of Redemption – does our Lord only save his people to “go to heaven?”  No, he promises, “the resurrection of the body,” and promises the full completion and rescue from the ravages of sin of all his Creation.  Shouldn’t all of these things we affirm from revelation also inform our Christian politics, economics and culture-building?  Truth should have realization in art, architecture, community planning, education, health care and many challenges of life together.

Resources for biblical and theological reflection are available to us from many parts of the Church.  From our Roman Catholic brethren, the deep and rich tradition of Catholic Social Teaching offers not only helpful guidance on moral questions, but profound insights into human nature, the nature of the created order, and the place of the family, governance and other social institutions in complex societies.  From our Anglican world, the work of John Neville Figgis, Oliver O’Donovan, John Milbank, NT Wright and others offer similar guidance on “the politics of virtue.”  From the Reformed world, the work of thinkers associated with the “principled pluralism” and “sphere sovereignty” worldview schools that build their research on the “cultural mandate” of Genesis 1 are welcome contributions.  We need to be learned in these, and also work to engage African thinkers who see from the light of this continent.”

An APC Team Meeting with participants from other departments at UCU

* What are the key ways you hope APC will impact UCU, COU, and Uganda more broadly?

“Since beginning full operation, APC has been able to recruit Dr. Kanakulya as Senior Research Fellow,  establish offices on the campus of UCU, and begin to work on important policy issues presented to the nation.  We need more young men and women who are at work on these responsibilities, because people are the ones who think, and good ideas are guided by good people.  APC has written reports in response to potential changes in laws on abortion in Uganda, and taken up policy labs on questions such as regulation of religious organizations and land policy, and worked on an important research study on “The Church and Governance in Uganda.”  Meetings with government officers and leaders of the Church already have placed APC as a source of reliable guidance on policy issues and background research.  So the APC needs to continue to engage the pressing issues of the day, as well as cast longer-term thinking that will help set the policy agenda, and more importantly help inform the key “culture-building” institutions, such as the Church, the universities and schools, the professions.

Very soon APC will establish the Journal of Africa Policy, and embark on longer-term research projects that will deepen the basis on which Christians can think and act responsibly in public life.

APC is also involved, along with many other parts of UCU, in preparing for a major Conference on the Family to be held in 2018, in response to His Grace’s declaration of the Year of the Family. Understanding the centrality of sustaining healthy family life as the core of all else, whether cultural or political, is crucial. ”

Dr. Larry Adams hard at work in his office in the School of Post Graduate and Research Studies at UCU

* How can interested people best support the work of APC?

“All of us working on the Africa Policy Centre at UCU are grateful to God for bringing us this far in 2017.  APC is still small, an infant just getting on its feet.  It needs nourishment and resources to grow and be able to obey the Lord’s calling for many decades.  Pray with us for this great challenge and adventure, which is now one very important part of the larger calling on UCU to serve God, to serve His Church, and to serve the nations in which we live. The soon-to-be born website for APC will keep everyone updated on the current projects and activities.  And anyone interested and able to provide financial support can do so through UCU Partners, or in Uganda through UCU.”

Look for more APC news in the coming months!