Building peace in the minds of men and women

25 years of Culture of Peace: Reflections by Director of UNESCO Dakar

The Culture of Peace movement is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and a major event was organized on 21-23 September 2014 in Yamoussoukro, Cote d'Ivoire to discuss progress made and future directions. The Director of UNESCO's Regional Office in Dakar, Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta attended the event, where she shared her reflections and the experience of UNESCO Dakar. Some excerpts:

On the arduous task of building and promoting a culture of peace

The founding fathers of UNESCO targeted the minds of men, women, youth and children for the building of peace. They would ensure the transformation of persons, in their relationships with one another, be it at the family level, community, society at large or state level. Targeting the mind is therefore ensuring that UNESCO touches the heart and soul of humanity, which it had done through Education, the Sciences, Culture and Communication.

The promotion of the culture of peace is channeled through UNESCO's various fields of competences. The concept has continued to be revived and renewed over the years and even as we celebrate 25 years, the discernment on making more road ways and mind waves to reach the heart and soul of humanity continues unabated. UNESCO cannot do it alone but needs a multiplicity of champions from every work of life. Building and promoting a culture of peace is for infinity and eternity. Therefore it can never be a finished work. It is an undertaking which is life long and life wide.

On lessons learned:

One would have thought that in the 21st century the world would be a better place to live given the huge surge in the number of educated persons, explosion of knowledge, advancement in science and technology etc. The contrary is true. The 10-20 per cent who enjoys the most of the advancements continues to monopolize and hold the 80-90 per cent of humanity ransom. This then becomes the measure for success played out at every strata of society as a norm for success. Therefore where there should be fair play and justice, there is a competition to outwit and outsmart the other. This is not to say that nothing is being done about it.

Noble men, women, foundations and organizations like UNESCO continue the fight for justice and peace. The battle takes on new forms and expressions and therefore the approach cannot be static but dynamic. One needs different formulas for different situations and UNESCO and its networks of partners-- foundations, civil society and philanthropists -- must continue the reflections, and actions for a culture of peace.

On UNESCO Dakar's experiences in Sahel countries:

UNESCO Dakar is working on multi-sectoral and inter-disciplinary responses to contribute to a culture of peace in the Sahel region.

All interventions are underpinned by principles of rights -- inclusion, equity, quality, peace and integration through education, sciences, culture and communication.

In education we mobilized to defend the rights of children to an uninterrupted basic education of quality of nine years with emphasis on early investments for early childhood education and care for the returns on investment in basic education. Early education to build a clever nation is the motto and in partnership with ADEA we have had some good breakthroughs with governments and financial partners alike.

In higher education there are on-going partnerships with DAAD and IIEP together with the UNESCO Abuja Office on quality assurance. Supported by UEMOA and financed through the African Development Bank, the eight main universities of UEMOA countries benefit from support to use ICTs to improve governance and quality assurance for the LMD-reform in higher education. There is also a joint action with UNESCO Abuja in partnership with Rutgers University on developing curriculum on gender transformative leadership. We have also made interesting in-roads in adult literacy and the promotion of intergenerational learning and mother-tongue instruction, which borders on our work with culture. Education and culture together address the employability of youth through creative industries, cultural, natural and world heritage.

In social and human sciences we tackle the twin issue of gender based violence and social inclusion. Imagine that in the 21st century the exclusion of witches in Burkina Faso is a phenomenon that UNESCO is addressing -- the same phenomenon exists in Côte d'Ivoire where a legal framework to punish witches has been introduced. This seems to keep Africa fossilized in thinking of the middle ages. There are intellectuals who still reason on legal frameworks against witchcrafts is justified. The question is how we handle this act in the light of cultivating a culture of peace.

In communication, UNESCO strives to regulate the airwaves especially through community radios and community multi-media centres through which all sectors could communicate better, inform and educate rural populations. Journalists’ rights are protected and press freedom is championed.

Through natural sciences UNESCO is among the few UN sister agencies who tackles the issue of biosphere reserves, surface and trans-boundary water aquifers to ensure effective management -- access to quality water, thus working in anticipation of managing potential conflict as a result of scarcity of water or in semi-arid areas or in situations of drought. The Transboundary Water Acquifer Project (TWAP) is among the Sahel Strategy interventions.

An intersectoral activity on peace funded through ECOWAS by the African Development Bank has become a prized intervention we have scaled up and which now covers the 15 West African States. Teachers have been trained; modules developed and translated in the official languages in the region as well as selected number of local languages. There is a lot of scope going further. It’s available online for use by schools and universities. There are also soft copies available. Together with the UN Office in New York on anti-terrorism, we are about to launch, with the Prime Minister of Burkina Faso, an intervention to develop a communication strategy and training on the manuals targeting the communities affected by the inflow of refugees and returnees from the Mali crisis.

On conference achievements and next steps:

Mrs Ndong-Jatta represented UNESCO's Director-General at the closing ceremony. She welcomed the rich reflections, analysis and appreciation of the road travelled to arrive at the 25th Anniversary and from which lessons have been drawn to fuel the next 25 years to higher heights. She commended the finalization of the setting up of the Network of Foundations and Research Institutions on Culture of peace, which will remain important in the annals of the history of the movement for building a Culture of Peace in Africa.

She also highlighted that the celebration was an important occasion to build collective intelligence to brainstorm and plan for the first-ever Pan African Biennale on Culture of Peace to take place in Angola in September 2015.

"Angola is leading the way for the important role of Heads of Governments to ensure that peace happens in Africa and that soon in the near future all guns would be silenced across Africa," she said.