UNESCO: A New Role in Africa?

  • Sagarika Dutt


When UNESCO1 was established in 1945 only one African state — Egypt — participated in its creation, and by 1958, UNESCO still had only eight member states from this region: Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia. However, following decolonisation, the African states joined UNESCO in large numbers, mainly in 1960/1, and at the time of writing number fifty in total. This chapter traces the history of UNESCO’s involvement in Africa’s development in response to African member states’ needs and expectations, and UN initiatives. It argues that UNESCO’s approach to peace and development is particularly appropriate for Africa as it stresses the development of endogenous capacities and the cultural dimension of development2 rather than neoliberal models of development often imposed on African countries by international financial institutions, which have not brought peace and prosperity to Africa. UNESCO believes that peace and development are ‘indissolubly linked’ and are ‘two sides of the same coin’.3 Peace, in the longer term, is not dependent on successful peacekeeping, as Malcolm Harper pointed out in Chapter 11 of this volume, but on ‘constructing the defences of peace in the minds of men’ as the preamble to UNESCO’s constitution asserts.4 Since the late 1980s UNESCO has considered Africa to be a priority and this trend is likely to continue well into the twenty-first century.


Civil Society African Country Cultural Dimension African Continent African State 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) was set up to ‘contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms that are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion, by the Charter of the United Nations’ (Article I, Constitution of UNESCO).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The director-general of UNESCO stresses that UNESCO has always stressed the importance of the cultural dimension of development and sought ‘to look beyond the purely economic aspects of development and assign to human beings their rightful place in this process so that they become not merely an object or instrument but also the ultimate goal of development’ (UNESCO (1989) UNESCO and Africa (Paris: UNESCO), p. 4).Google Scholar
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    UNESCO (1996) Medium Term Strategy — 1996–2001, Document 28/C4 (Paris: UNESCO), p. 9, para. 36.Google Scholar
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    UNESCO’s cross-disciplinary project, ‘Towards a Culture of Peace’ brings together the activities UNESCO intends to carry out in order to promote adherence to values that are at the heart of the ‘spirit of peace’: respect for human rights and democratic principles; the rejection of violence and all forms of discrimination, including discrimination between men and women; attachment to the principles of freedom, justice, solidarity, tolerance and understanding, both between peoples and between groups or individuals; and to foster the acquisition of the knowledge, skills and attitudes which reflect and embody these values (see UNESCO (1997) Approved Programme and Budget for 1998–1999, Document 29/C5 (Paris: UNESCO), p. 121).Google Scholar
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    To facilitate the acquisition, sharing and transfer of knowledge of the means of eliminating the obstacles to development is one of the priorities of the medium-term strategy. Other priorities include: encouraging the development of human resources; assisting in the creation or reinforcement of endogenous capacities; ensuring access by all to science and technology while halting the brain drain; reinforcing communication capacities and facilitating the free flow of information; and fostering social cohesion and democratic participation (UNESCO, Medium-Term Strategy, 1996–2001).Google Scholar
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    This was the first regional conference of ministers of education and economic planning in Africa (MINEDAF I). The themes of the following MINEDAFs were as follows: MINEDAF II (1964): Funding of National Education Plans; MINEDAF III (1968): Science and Technology Education; MINEDAF IV (1976): Educational Reforms and Innovations; MINEDAF V. (1982): Eradication of Illiteracy; MINEDAF VI (1991): Basic Education for All in Africa.Google Scholar
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    The UNITWIN/UNESCO chairs programme was launched in 1991 with the aim of promoting the transfer of knowledge and the institutional development of higher education, and mitigating the negative impact of the brain drain, especially in the least developed countries, through the establishment of inter-university networks. These networks are mainly inter-regional, but co-operation among institutions in different developing countries (South-South co-operation) is particularly encouraged. More than forty UNESCO chairs have been set up in Africa so far. These include Education for Human Rights and Democracy (Addis Ababa University); Democracy and Human Rights (University of Namibia); Oliver Tambo Chair of Human Rights (University of Fort Hare, South Africa); Culture of Peace, Preventive Diplomacy (University of Durban, South Africa); Human Rights and Democracy (National University of Benin); and Peace Education and Peaceful Conflict Resolution (University of Burundi). See UNESCO, Review of UNESCO’s Activities in Africa, p. 9 and annexe III.Google Scholar
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    This Programme of Action lays emphasis on research, higher education, information exchange, inter-university co-operation, the promotion of quality and innovation, and the steps to be taken in the context of preventive education against AIDS. In this regard, UNESCO should play a vigorous role as lead agency for the implementation of the priority programme ‘Human Resource Development and Capacity-Building’, by the United Nations system.Google Scholar
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    Review of UNESCO’s Activities in Africa, p. 2. Pursuant to the Audience Africa recommendations, the director-general of UNESCO set up an International Committee to follow up Audience Africa, which, at its first meeting on 10–11 September 1996, stressed that it was essential for Africa to take and sustain the initiative for its own development. The Committee, which acts as an observatory for the situation in Africa in UNESCO’s fields of competence and advises the director-general on further action, has identified a number of key fields for social development in Africa: promotion of a culture of peace; strengthening of co-operation and acceleration of the process of regional and subregional integration; improved resource management; education, especially of girls and women; training, science and technology; promotion of a maintenance culture; use of new information and communication technologies; universal health policy; and action to combat poverty in general.Google Scholar
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© Sagarika Dutt 2000

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