Newswire: UNESCO marks its 75th anniversary with an African spotlight

Forest Whitaker, UNESCO Ambassador

Nov. 15, 2021 (GIN) – The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) marked its 75 anniversary with a star-studded cast of artists and world leaders. Among the participants was American actor Forest Whitaker, a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation since 2011.
His organization, the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI), works jointly with UNESCO in South Sudan, Uganda and Mexico – areas affected by conflict and violence. In 2012, the WPDI launched the Conflict Resolution Education program in the U.S.  In South Sudan, the WPDI trained former child soldiers and orphans to become peacemakers for their communities.
Speaking at a special ceremony, he challenged the listeners. “If you see the beauty of the people that lies in every individual, you will wonder how racism could ever exist,” he began. “If you see the beauty that lies in a vibrant school, you will wonder how could we not have education for all. If you see the beauty that lies in a live coral reef or an old forest you will wonder how could we not preserve that for our future generations?”
“If you see the beauty that lies in an old city, a sacred site, a cave painted 20,000 years ago you will wonder how could senseless destruction be waged on the heritage of any nation of people.”
Musicians who followed the speaker were American cellist Yo Yo Ma and Beninese singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo, among others.
Another project of UNESCO, the Biennale of Luanda, will be celebrated this year under the African Union’s 2021 theme, “Arts, Culture and Heritage: Levers for Building the Africa We Want” and is available virtually from the UNESCO website.
In a message shown during the event, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres observed that UNESCO “was born as a pillar of the United Nations system, in the wake of one of the darkest chapters in human history” – namely two world wars. A conviction was born that political and economic arrangements between States are not enough to build lasting peace.  
“Reconciliation and development require stronger foundations, deeply rooted in societal interactions, and built upon intellectual and moral solidarity”, the agency explains.
Working with a diverse set of partners, Mr. Guterres said, Unesco is forging a new social contract for education and lifelong learning. 
The agency is also developing new tools to combat hate speech and misinformation while launching flagship initiatives in Iraq and Lebanon, using education and heritage to heal and rebuild. 
The international body has 50 field offices and a world headquarters located at number 7, Place de Fontenoy in Paris, France.  Its General Conference, underway in Paris until 24 November, is also marking the anniversary with global recommendations on the ethics of artificial intelligence and on open science. 




Newswire: U. S. upsets election of African candidate for top world trade post


Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Nov. 2, 2020 (GIN) – Backed by an overwhelming number of World Trade Organization delegates, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was on a fast track to become the head of the global trade group.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was set to become the first woman and first African to lead the global trade watchdog.  A selection panel of WTO trade ministers found she had far more support than a South Korean rival and it was expected that the Asian candidate would be withdrawn because the African candidate would be most likely to attract consensus among the members.
But the historic appointment hit a stumbling block with last-minute opposition from the Trump administration and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer who threw their support to Yoo Myung-hee, the current Minister for Trade of South Korea, calling her a “bona-fide trade expert”, and suggesting that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala was unqualified for the job.
“The WTO is badly in need of major reform. It must be led by someone with real, hands-on experience in the field,” the U.S. office said.
Molly Toomey, a spokeswoman for Okonjo-Iweala, rejected the comments, saying “WTO members wouldn’t have selected a Director General who is missing any skills or qualifications.”
A Nigerian-born economist and international development expert, Okonjo-Iweala sits on the Boards of Standard Chartered Bank, Twitter, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), and has held several key positions at the World Bank. She says the WTO should play a role in helping poorer countries access COVID-19 drugs and vaccines.
President Trump has shown animus to numerous world bodies and agreements, withdrawing from the World Health Organization, the Paris Agreement on climate change, the nonbinding Global Compact on Migration, the U.N. Human Rights Council, UNESCO, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, NAFTA, and the Iran nuclear deal, among others.
Trump has described the WTO as “horrible”, biased towards China and threatened to withdraw. Last month, the trade body found the U.S. had breached global trading rules by imposing multi-billion dollar tariffs in Trump’s trade war with China.
“We’ll have to do something about the WTO because they let China get away with murder,” Trump grumbled after the ruling.
The U.S. has paralyzed the WTO’s appellate body by blocking appointments to the seven-person panel for more than two years. A global court for trade, it has been unable to issue judgments on new cases since December 2019 because there aren’t enough active members.
Yoo presents herself as a “bridge” candidate, aiming to overcome the divide between the United States and China, however she is reported to be having problems solidifying support from some major Asian members – including China and Japan. The deadline for the appointment is Nov. 7. w/pix of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala   

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