Vision and objectives

The Africa Hub was launched on the backdrop of collaboration by researchers from PUG, the UNESCO Chair in Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Expansion of Political Space at the University of York, Makerere University and others, focusing on the role of universities in protecting human rights and expanding democratic space. In 2023, PUG and the UNESCO Chair hosted a symposium at UWC, bringing together human rights defenders, academics, and civil society leaders to explore the role that universities can play as 1) instigators of activism in defence of democratic space, 2) incubators of values and ideas, 3) collaborators and partners in applied pedagogies and 4) protectors of particular people (activist, scholars, refugees). The symposium discussed universities’ practices, spaces, mechanisms or processes that prevent, reduce or redress the risk of harm to individuals and groups who fight for human rights within the universities (academics, students and staff) and outside their campuses (civil society). The symposium was well received, and the different actors involved in protection work voiced strong support for the formation of an African Hub to support and strengthen African universities’ role in protecting HRDs and democratic ideals.

African universities have a long history of protest and activism, including their roles in anti-apartheid and anti-colonial struggles. These universities also educate many who become key role players in the state and civil society. UWC, for instance, was founded as a ‘Coloured’ university during apartheid but soon became a home for those struggling against apartheid. Universities have the potential to play a multifaceted role in relation to the protection of human rights. They can foster and inhibit freedom of expression; provide ‘safe spaces’ and be sites of violence; facilitate the inclusion and exclusion of marginalised groups; and more broadly reflect, enhance and ameliorate societal tensions. This complexity is exacerbated at a time when universities are experiencing pressures ranging from privatisation to diversification (public/private, formal/informal), enhanced government scrutiny and budget cuts, and demands from students for affordable education. In many parts of Africa, shrinking civic and political space and democratic backsliding threaten the freedom and autonomy of academics, students and activists. The vision of the Hub is to support African universities to play a significant role in protecting emancipatory human rights, focusing on how universities can protect scholar-activists, staff and students within their campuses, and civil society activists and democratic freedoms outside the universities.

The Hub will act as both an ‘ideas lab’ and a conduit between activism (i.e HRDs) and academia (recognising these categories may overlap). The Hub will thus provide an ideal space for HRDs, students, academics and other actors to incubate ideas and reflect on ways to influence their political contexts. The Africa Hub is well placed to conduct this work within UWC, a university that fights against oppression, discrimination and disadvantage in contemporary South Africa, and supports activists and academics doing so elsewhere on the continent. 


AUH Objectives 

  • To provide protection programmes such as temporary relocation and psychosocial support for at-risk HRDs in Africa. 
  • To encourage and support African universities in developing mechanisms and programs to protect HRDs in the universities (academics, staff, and students) and civil society.
  • To strengthen the cooperation of universities with civil society in human rights and democracy work in Africa  
  • To develop thinking and practice on the relationship between universities and HRD protection in Africa.
  • To develop HRDs and academics’ capacity to defend human rights, respond to risks and expand democratic space on the African continent.

The African Hub has three programs

  1. The first is an annual Summer School for Human Rights Defenders, comprising civic activists and scholars from different parts of Africa. The school facilitate learning, networking, and identifying areas needing further research. The first will be in October 2024.
  2.  The second program is an HRD Protective Fellowship Programme. The Programme provides a rest and respite space for HRDs working in stressful environments. The Fellows are afforded unique opportunities to share their experiences as guest lecturers at UWC, give talks in and outside the university, connect with civil society organisations in Cape Town, and participate in activities promoting their well-being. 
  3. The third program focuses on research to contribute to democracy and human rights protection work in Africa. As a university-based program, we leverage our research capacity to provide thought leadership human rights protection and democracy. Our research outputs, including research papers, blog posts, and podcasts, will be shared on AUH’s repository on human rights and protection.


Read our annual report here.

Release: African Universities Hub for Human Rights Hub Report