The Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI)-Wellcome Trust Research Programme is facing discrimination charges brought by six former employees.
The group, dubbed the KEMRI six, are accusing the programme of exploiting African employees, impeding their career development, and giving preferential treatment and pay to researchers from developed countries. They also allege their work was stolen and given to researchers from developed countries.
Samson Gwer, Michael Mwaniki, Nahashon Thuo, John Wagai, Moses Ndiritu and Albert Komba — former medical or clinical research officers working towards PhDs — have described their treatment at KEMRI as "modern day slavery".
KEMRI denies the charge, saying the employees' complaints were dealt with fairly, that they had been well-paid by Kenyan standards, and that allegations of intellectual property theft were unfair and unsubstantiated.
Many consider the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme to be a model North-South partnership, praising its substantial support of African researchers.
According to scientists in Africa and Europe, partnerships between rich and poor nations often generate tensions.
"There are tensions everywhere in science — but where the former colonial master is involved, it takes on a different dimension," Kelly Chibale, a Zambian-born biochemist who trained in the United Kingdom and United States and now works at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, told Nature.
Marcel Tanner, from the Commission for Research Partnerships with Developing Countries, in Switzerland, said that the case underlines the pressing need for "respect and transparency" between African and non-African partners, and the importance of empowering all partners to drive research agendas.
The court has asked both parties to provide more evidence.