United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
UNESCO organizes seminar: UNESCO and NEPAD, from vision to action

Paris – Some 200 policy-makers, representatives of regional, sub-regional and non-governmental organisations, donors, members of parliament and experts will meet in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) from March 5 to 8, to examine the issues of education, water, biodiversity, cultural diversity and access to information and knowledge in Africa. These topics will form the core of debate at the seminar UNESCO and NEPAD: from Vision to Action, which will be followed by the first meeting of the UNESCO Committee for NEPAD.

Following its November 2001 international seminar on Forward-looking approaches and innovative strategies to promote the development of Africa in the twenty-first century, which defined the guidelines of its actions on behalf of Africa, UNESCO is now moving to the operational phase of its collaboration with the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), launched on October 21, 2001, in Abuja (Nigeria). The Ouagadougou seminar marks the start of this new phase. Blaise Compaoré, the president of Burkina Faso, and John Kufuor, the president of Ghana and of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), will participate on March 7 in a high-level session chaired by UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura.

“UNESCO has developed an ‘African version’ of its Medium Term Strategy (2002-2007) to further ‘personalise’ its cooperation with Africa, by taking into account its specific characteristics, concerns and aspirations,” Mr Matsuura said. “This strategy provides the framework of our action in Africa. In order to guarantee the continuity of the work that will begin in Ouagadougou, I have formed the UNESCO Committee for NEPAD, composed of nine leading Africans and UNESCO members, which will meet in the same city for the first time, after the seminar.”

Preceded by three round tables (March 4 and 5) bringing together representatives of NEPAD, UNESCO and donor organisations, the seminar opens March 6 and will tackle three themes:

  • How can UNESCO help its African member states to integrate NEPAD’s objectives in their national programmes?
  • What are the best ways to involve parliamentarians, the private sector, NGOs, and civil society in strategies for development and the struggle against poverty?
  • How can UNESCO, through its African offices, help in building capacity and encouraging the implementation of regional and sub-regional projects?

    Each of the sessions will focus on established priorities such as Education for All (EFA), water, biodiversity, cultural diversity and access to information and knowledge.

    The seminar will deliberate on the means to help African countries integrate NEPAD’s goals, which coincide with UNESCO’s, into their national programmes. It will also reflect on the involvement of parliamentarians, the private sector and civil society, particularly women, in national development strategies.

    Today, three-quarters of the population of sub-Saharan Africa survives on less than two dollars a day. Of the 49 least developed countries (LDCs) in the world, 34 are African. If the current trend continues, by around 2005 absolute poverty (less than a dollar a day) will affect 51% of the population of this region. To reduce by half the number of people living in poverty by 2015, Africa must reach an annual economic growth rate of 7% and official development assistance (ODA) needs to double (with an annual increase of US $10 billion). In the 1990s, however, average annual economic growth amounted to only 2.1%, less than the population growth (2.8% p.a.), while total net capital flows into Africa were lower than in the 1970s. With scarcely 1% of the world’s total gross domestic product (GDP) and 2% of international trade flows, Africa’s share of exports in manufactured goods is almost non-existent. Average GDP per state hardly exceeds US $2 billion. Yet, sub-Saharan Africa’s foreign debt reached US $206 billion in 2000, with some countries posting a ratio of debt to exports of 180.2% and a ratio of debt to GDP of 66.1%.

    All 19 of the world’s countries with the lowest human development indicator (HDI) are in Sub-Saharan Africa. One major reason is the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The virus claimed 2.1 million lives in the region in 2001. According to UNAIDS and WHO, the number of infected people in Africa has risen to an estimated 30 million, out of 42 million worldwide. Mass urbanization (about 50% of the population) is leading to social marginalization and environmental degradation. In some countries, the HDI in rural areas is 50 % lower than in urban zones, pointing to dire socio-economic disparities. These particularly affect African women, whose social and economic situation is more worrisome than in other areas of the world. The maternal mortality rate in 15 countries is between 1000 and 1800 per 100,000 births. The child mortality rate is 140 per 1000 children under the age of five.

    By founding NEPAD, African political leaders have given themselves a common framework to resolve these problems, which have a devastating effect on all aspects of social life. Their goals include achieving a 7% growth in GDP over the next 15 years, to eliminate gender disparities in education by 2005, and to reduce, by 2015, the number of people living in extreme poverty by half, infant mortality by two-thirds, and maternal mortality by three-quarters.

    UNESCO’s Medium-Term Strategy, which outlines the main axes of its contribution to NEPAD’s goals, provides for appropriate action, in all of its fields of competence: education, natural sciences, social sciences, culture and communication.

    The adult illiteracy rate in Sub-Saharan African is 41%, and about 40 million children do not attend school out of a global total of more than 100 million. There are gender disparities in three-quarters of the region’s countries, although the number of girls attending school is rising in South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho. With the highest rates of school dropout and grade repetition in the world, the region must overcome serious handicaps in teaching quality. The average pupil/teacher ratio in Central and Western Africa rose from 50:1 in 1990 to 52:1 in 1998. AIDS threatens all progress made in education. In the next five years, 10% of teachers are likely to die of the disease, while 20% of the school-age population will consist of Aids orphans. Half the countries are unlikely to reach the goal of universal primary education by 2015, set at the Dakar World Education Forum in April 2000.

    UNESCO’s principal objective will be to help countries reach the goals defined at the Dakar Forum (see box). By providing technical support to countries to draft their EFA national plans, the Organisation will encourage an increase in human and financial resources and reinforce cooperation between countries and also between EFA’s principal partners. It will assist countries in the training of qualified teachers and will promote wider access to scientific and technological education, notably for women and girls. Special programmes will be established for preventive AIDS education and non-formal education for young people not enrolled in school, particularly in rural areas.

    Exact and natural sciences
    Poverty, illiteracy, diseases, social problems and exclusion are the principal obstacles to the socio-economic growth of African countries, which have not been able to invest adequately in scientific and technological research. In a number of these countries, investment in research and development does not exceed 0.01% of the GDP, compared to 2% or more in industrialized countries with much bigger GDPs.

    To support NEPAD in this area, UNESCO’s programmes will focus on local initiatives likely to contribute to the eradication of poverty. The Organisation will promote scientific education - from primary to advanced levels - that is coherent with the socio-cultural environment, using, for instance, local languages. Its efforts will contribute to the creation or reconstruction of scientific institutions, centres of expertise and networks. While mobilizing expatriate African scientists for the benefit of scientific and technological development in Africa, UNESCO will foster the creation and capacity building of scientific associations on the continent. By stressing the recognition and development of indigenous scientific and technological knowledge, it will encourage recourse to traditional methods to resolve environmental problems. It will promote the use of renewable energies, initiatives to combat desertification, protection of wetlands and natural ecosystems, coastline management, monitoring the impact of climate change, and good environmental governance.

    Social and Human Sciences
    Out of 44 sub-Saharan African countries, 27 have the lowest human development indices in the world and 34 countries are now defined as Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs). Wars, affecting even stable and relatively prosperous countries, are one of the main causes of poverty. They have also helped spread HIV/AIDS. At the end of 2000, there were 6 million refugees and displaced persons in the region, out of 21.8 worldwide. Half of African states are currently in a conflict situation.

    In this domain, UNESCO plans not only to encourage research on the nature, causes and extent of poverty, but also on the respective roles of the State and civil society. It will promote the fight against ethnic and racial discrimination, exclusion and xenophobia, as well as recourse to the traditional mechanisms of conflict resolution. Furthermore, the Organisation will support research on the social impact of HIV/Aids and will help countries to adopt national policies to combat the pandemic, aiming at a 25% reduction of the rate of infection among young people between the ages of 15 and 24.

    At this time, in a number of African countries, no cultural policies have been formulated and specific cultural characteristics are not sufficiently taken into account in development strategies. Traditional ways of life, knowledge and know-how are thus disappearing with the onslaught of foreign cultural models. African cultural industries and the media have no real impact on society and the cultural sector does not truly participate in the continent’s economic development. Out of nearly 900,000 book titles published every year in the world, only 1.5% are published in Africa, against 73% in developed countries.

    UNESCO’s actions in the cultural arena will stress three themes: safeguarding of heritage (rehabilitation and conservation, education on heritage in schools and universities, revitalization of intangible cultural heritage such as traditional know-how and oral traditions, fight against illegal traffic), the promotion of cultural diversity (cultural tourism, action to safeguard languages in danger of becoming extinct, programmes to collect and spread national cultures) and the reinforcement of links between culture and development (support for the creation of cultural micro-enterprises, participation of local communities in projects for environmental protection, urban conservation, Aids prevention from a cultural perspective).

    Communication and Information
    Its poor communications infrastructure keeps Africa off the “information highways” and out of the globalisation process. Insufficient financial resources and persistent
    illiteracy are among the main obstacles to access to information and the media. For 100 people there are 17 radios, compared to the global average of 36; 3.5 televisions against 23; and 0.3 computers versus the world average of 4.4. The cost of internet access is 5 to 10 times higher in Africa than in northern countries. In 1996 the number of main telephone lines per 1000 inhabitants was estimated at 14 (world average, 131) and the number of mobile subscribers at 2.1 (world average, 25.7). Newsprint consumption that same year was estimated at 1.6 kilos per inhabitant, while the world average is 20.9.

    To boost means of communication and bridge the digital gap, the first goal of UNESCO is to promote the free flow of information through word and image. This means, in particular, reinforcing pluralism and independence in the independent media, and extending interactive access to information through libraries, archives, information services, networks and community centres. Second goal: to promote the expression of pluralism and cultural diversity in the media. This means, for instance, helping states to adopt national legislation concerning public service radio and television and information and communication technologies, as well as facilitating access to world markets for African productions and coproductions. Third goal: to make information and communication technologies available to all, while working to increase the production and dissemination of local content in the media and via electronic networks. This will mean digitalising more information materials and establishing virtual libraries, setting up networks and university exchange programmes, and increasing international cooperation through the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) and the Information for All Programme (IFAP).

    Education for all. Dakar’s six goals
    (adopted by the World Education Forum, Dakar, Senegal, 26-28 April 2000)
    (Dakar Framework for Action, par. 7)

    We hereby collectively commit ourselves to the attainment of the following goals:
    (i) expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children;
    (ii) ensuring that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality;
    (iii) ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes;
    (iv) achieving a 50 per cent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults;
    (v) eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls' full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality;
    (vi) improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence of all so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.

    Author(s) UNESCOPRESS
    Source Press Release N° 2003-17
    Generic Field
    Editorial Contact: Jasmina Sopova: Office of Public Information. Editorial section. Tel. 33 (0) 1 45 68 17 17
    - Email j.sopova@unesco.org
    Publication Date 28 Feb 2003
    © UNESCO 1995-2007 - ID: 10052