In the early 1980s, United Methodists in Africa, led by Bishop Arthur Kulah of Liberia and Bishop Emilio J. M. de Carvalho of Angola, set a challenge before the church to design, site and build a new university for the continent of Africa.
As a member of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) team that rose to that challenge, Dr. Kenjiro (Ken) Yamada played a pivotal role in the establisment and growth of Africa University.
This weekend, Africa University celebrated its 25th commencement ceremony and recognized Yamada with an honorary doctorate for all that he has done to build and grow the university.
Professor Pamela Machakanja, dean of Africa University’s College of Business, Peace, Leadership and Governance, introduced Yamada and praised his work on behalf of the assembled students, faculty and staff.
“Dr. Ken Yamada, to all of us, you represent a global authentic leader, an educationist [and] an architect of a global agenda who has supported equity and equal opportunity for all. You have shaped policies crucial to the realization of the Africa University dream and Africa at large,” said Machakanja. “You have focused your extraordinary capabilities and your deep concern on the betterment of the lives of all people – most importantly, the younger generation and those who come from disadvantaged communities and countries.”
Through the efforts of a passionate group of advocates that included African church leaders, bishops of The United Methodist Church (UMC), Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR) and leaders at GBHEM, a petition to the United Methodist General Conference to grant initial funding for Africa University was approved in 1988.
Following that approval, Yamada worked with the new Africa University Board of Directors on the development of a master plan for the university and negotiations with the government of Zimbabwe to secure a charter for the first private, pan-African university located in Zimbabwe.
After the university opened in March 1992 – with 40 students from six African countries – Yamada worked closely with the United States Aid for International Development (USAID) and the Assistance for Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA) Grant program to secure critical funding for world-class teaching and learning facilities. Through his leadership and tireless efforts, Africa University received funding for five buildings which currently house its library and IT center as well as close to 80 percent of teaching, learning and research activities on the main campus at Old Mutare, Zimbabwe.
For more than 30 years, Yamada has remained a steadfast supporter of the university. Even in his retirement, he continues to provide technical assistance to the school.
“I am humbly honored to receive this honorary degree today with you,” said Yamada. “I receive this honor on behalf of many of my colleagues who have walked with me to establish this Africa University…When I first came to this site in 1988, I asked myself if we could build a university here. It seems an impossible dream, yet today we stand high on the campus of Africa University.”
Today, Africa University serves more than 2,500 students in three colleges and has more than 9,000 alumni at work on the continent of Africa.
“Nurturing and empowering people through education is a core mission of The United Methodist Church,” said Yamada. “I think it is amazing how much of a benefit Africa University provides. I feel very fortunate to be involved in the school and get to play a role here.”
Watch more of Yamada’s reflections on Africa University and his work at GBHEM here.
About GBHEM: As the leadership development agency of The United Methodist Church, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s mission is to build capacity for United Methodist lay and clergy leaders to discover, claim and flourish in Christ’s calling in their lives, by creating connections and providing resources to aid in recruitment, education, professional development and spiritual formation. Every elder, deacon and licensed local pastor benefits from our training and candidacy programs. Many young adults find help in clarifying their vocation and God’s call in their lives through our leadership and discernment programs. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @GBHEM.