The development of Africa University is a consequence of the growth of United Methodism in Africa. The growth in membership and the emerging socio-economic and political needs in their countries led the African bishops of the United Methodist Church (UMC) to call on their church to invest in higher education provision in Africa. In 1980s, Bishop Arthur Kulah of Liberia and Bishop Emilio J. M. de Carvalho of Angola took the lead in advocating for ?a university for all of Africa?. Their efforts generated a positive response within the United Methodist Church worldwide and in 1985 the ?Africa Initiative? was born.
Various consultations on higher education challenges in Africa took place between 1985 and 1986. A site selection committee chose Zimbabwe as the location for the new university. In 1987, the UMC in Zimbabwe donated 1542 acres of land in the Nyagambu River Valley, across the road from the Old Mutare UMC Mission Centre, as the University site. In 1988, the General Conference of United Methodist Church unanimously approved the founding of Africa University and made a commitment to provide financial support for the University from the general church budget, (US$2.5 million annually). In April 1991, thousands of people converged on the site for an official groundbreaking ceremony. On 21 January 1992, the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, His Excellency Robert Gabriel Mugabe, issued the Africa University Charter by official proclamation, making the institution the first recognised private university in Zimbabwe. The University?s founders chose an indigenous tree, the flat-top Acacia, set against the backdrop of a rising sun, as the most prominent feature of the institution?s logo. Their desire was to nurture an institution that would be deeply rooted in Africa?drawing its agenda and priorities from the challenges of African communities and combining the social wisdom and indigenous know-how of African people with new knowledge to aid development and improve quality of life on the continent. The rising sun symbolizes a new day and renewal for a beloved continent.