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U.S. Universities Sign Environmental Research Deal with Gabon

By MacKenzie C. Babb | Staff Writer | 10 June 2011
Richard Lariviere, Ali Bongo Ondimba and Eric Benjaminson speaking after signing ceremony (AP Images)

University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere (left) speaks with Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba (center) and U.S. Ambassador to Gabon Eric Benjaminson (right).

Washington — President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon has met with President Obama in Washington during a trip in which he signed a “groundbreaking” research and training partnership agreement to establish two-way educational exchanges and create a transnational environmental research center.

The University of Oregon is partnering with Gabon to build the Transnational Research Center on Environment and Development, which will focus on “environmental management, sustainable development and the advancement of equitable and green forms of economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa,” according to a June 10 State Department fact sheet. The research center will have joint headquarters in Eugene, Oregon, and Libreville, Gabon.

“The University of Oregon is a leader in the fields of natural resources management, sustainable development, green technology and architecture, and urban planning — the foundations on which we aspire to build in Gabon,” Bongo said during the signing ceremony June 10 in Washington.

The university is leading the Oregon African Studies Consortium, a group of five major universities statewide that will participate in the project.

University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere told Bongo that the consortium is “very pleased and quite honored to be participants in the ambitious plans that you have to protect your natural resources and to develop your economy in a way that is sustainable.” He said during the ceremony that the University of Oregon is known for its “sustainable development approach to business planning and the marshalling and preservation of natural resources,” and that project participants in both the United States and Gabon can learn from each other.

The partnership demonstrates Bongo’s commitment to an “emergent Gabon that pursues green, sustainable development with robust expansion of services and industry,” according to the fact sheet.

U.S. Ambassador to Gabon Eric Benjaminson commended Bongo’s leadership and said the agreement has wide ramifications because it “shows an international response to good behavior and good economic and political practices.”

Benjaminson said the project meets U.S. global policy priorities of working toward environmental sustainability, fighting climate change, building public-private partnerships and increasing dialogue with Africa.

“It’s a way to bridge all of those needs at one time with one dynamic program of people who really care about what they’re doing,” he said, adding that the program is “one of a kind.”

In addition to the research center, the agreement establishes a set of targeted scholarships for educational exchanges of students from Oregon and Gabon. It also sets up research grants, provides for ongoing training through research collaborations and starts a series of outreach programs to make research relevant to society both in the United States and in Gabon.

In talks June 10, Obama and Bongo discussed further ways to increase environmental protection, as well as international security and the global economy, according to the White House. Obama recognized Gabon’s emerging regional leadership, and he commended Bongo’s reforms to bring more transparency and accountability to his country’s government. The two also discussed Gabon’s presidency of the United Nations Security Council for June, which will include its chairing of an important session on HIV/AIDS.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/iipdigital-en/index.html)