U. N. urges donors to reconsider deep cuts to education for Africa

Outdoor classroom in Malawi

Outdoor classroom in Malawi

June 12, 2017 (GIN) – Sharp cuts in education aid to sub-Saharan African countries in the last six years have unraveled progress made in basic education, adult education and literacy programs. That was one of the findings of a new report by Global Education Monitoring and presented to UNESCO, the U.N.’s educational, scientific and cultural organization.

Specifically, donor aid to basic education at $5.2 billion is six per cent lower than the 2010 allocation while secondary education received $2.2 billion, or 19 per cent of total aid to the sector, the report researchers found.

“The U.S. and the United Kingdom remain the two largest donors to basic education, but they reduced their allocations by 11 and nine per cent respectively between 2014 and 2015,” observed UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova. “Norway and Germany on the other hand, increased their allocations to basic education by 50 and 34 per cent respectively,” she said.

In Ghana, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo recently offered a pep talk at the opening session of the 14th General Conference of the Association of African Universities, hinting at the donor problem.

“African governments should never have to rely on the World Bank and other institutions to decide on the choices they have to make concerning policies and the funding of education on the continent.

“We should not get into arguments with foreign agencies about our priorities. We must set our own priorities and we must accept that we must provide the funds to translate our plans into reality,” he said.

The President’s stance speaks to several decades of decline in African universities following the World Bank’s directive on education reforms in the 1960s and 1970s when it advised African governments to redirect support away from tertiary education towards primary and secondary education.

At that time, the bank argued that such a policy was justified by the desperate need for basic education across Africa, but the directive contributed to the deterioration in African universities. It resulted in run down, under-resourced universities which now also face a huge demand for places — as a result of successfully increasing the provision of secondary education.

Virunga Park warden in the Congo tapped for Grassroots Activist Prize

Rodrigue Katembo
Rodrigue Katembo

Apr. 24, 2017 (GIN) – As a child soldier at the age of 14, Rodrigue Katembo learned his survival skills in dangerous times. Belgium had granted independence to the Congo but it was little more than a piece of paper after years of colonial rule.

After a U.S.-led coup in 1961 that removed legally-elected Patrice Lumumba, the nation’s prime minister, years of repression would follow under the dictator Joseph Mobutu. Foreign companies quickly moved in to exploit the Congo’s rich natural resources.

Despite the destructive actions of poachers and oil drillers, the nature sanctuary known as Virunga National Park continued to be a refuge to invaluable biodiversity and rare animals such as the legendary and critically endangered mountain gorillas. Africa’s oldest national park and the crown jewel of Congo’s ecotourism, Virunga was named a World Heritage Site in 1979. And as fate would have it, a former soldier, Rodrigue Katembo, would become its protector.

Rescued from war, Katembo returned to school, studied biology and soon became warden of Virunga’s central sector—an area of interest to oil explorers. A British company Soco had already begun seismic testing in the area by the time Katembo arrived. Refusing their bribes, Katembo instead gathered video footage of their actions – a dangerous task – that was later compiled into the Academy Award-nominated Netflix doc ‘Virunga’.

Amid growing public outrage by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, conservation groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, citizen petition drives, UNESCO, among many others, Soco gave up its oil license in Block V. Declining populations of hippos and elephants have stabilized. Civilians are free to access water and fish at Lake Edwards. And Katembo continues to protect the park.

Katembo paid an enormous price for his activism, however. In 2013, he was arrested and tortured for 17 days. He returned to duty immediately after his release.

Now the 41 year old warden’s good deeds will be rewarded. This month he was named one of six winners of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s largest award honoring grassroots environmental activists.

In addition to a monetary prize, Goldman Prize winners each receive a bronze sculpture called the Ouroboros. Common to many cultures around the world, the Ouroboros, which depicts a serpent biting its tail, is a symbol of nature’s power of renewal.

More information about the prize and this year’s winners can be found on the website www.goldmanprize.org