How can Education “Silence the Guns in Africa”? UNESCO IICBA Asks Experts Across Africa: Lessons from UNESCO IICBA’s Consultation and Experience Sharing Meeting on Silencing the Guns in Africa through Investing in Youth Education

Peace and resilience education are needed more than ever as African countries look to emerge from the chaos and disruption of COVID-19. The pandemic has deepened already-festering inequalities throughout Africa, making young people more vulnerable to discrimination, disenfranchisement, and violence. UNESCO Institute for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA) has embraced the challenge of building a sustainable, peaceful Africa through education, and on October 26 and 27, IICBA brought experts to the virtual table for a critical discussion on the possibilities for peace education in a post-COVID-19 Africa.

Sculpture "Non-Violence" by the artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd. UN Photo.

The two-day online consultation meeting was co-hosted by UNESCO IICBA, UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa (ROSA), and Arigatou International, and focused on the African Union’s agenda of “Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020”. The purpose of the meeting was to bring together and share the experiences of countries which are at different stages in implementing peace education policies and practices. For two days, around thirty country educational experts and participants from Ministries of Education and UNESCO National Commissions analyzed challenges to peace in their contexts, and identified opportunities for educational interventions, specifically in Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe; the participants mingled the knowledge from these Southern African countries with the knowledge of Algeria, Kenya, and Somalia, which reported on the lessons they have learned while putting into practice the training they received from UNESCO IICBA in peace, resilience, and transformative pedagogy. 

The participants examined the root causes of violence, discrimination, and xenophobia in their national contexts. Several participants drew attention to the problem of historical and structural violence like colonialism, imperialism, apartheid, and poverty. A participant from South Africa, Dr. Abdul Rashid Omar, remarked, “The direct physical violence which we can see has its roots causes in the structural violence which is unseen, and it festers for a long time.” Transformations cannot take root until the root causes of violence and discrimination are understood and addressed through education and re-education.

The meeting gave the participants the chance to reimagine peace education in their contexts and identify the competencies teachers will need to deliver it. Socio-emotional learning, transformative pedagogy, and integrating innovative ideas and concerns of the youth were discussed as crucial strategies for sustainable change. Moreover, participants cited the need to introduce peacebuilding in early childhood education and across all subjects in a holistic, interdisciplinary approach. “We need conflict resolution skills amongst teachers, and [for teachers] to be able to embed peace values in all subjects and teachable moments, not just in a dedicated peace subject,” expressed Mr. Chifuniro Chikoti from the Malawi National Commission for UNESCO.

The two-day consultation and experience-sharing meeting resulted in critical dialogue on the opportunities and gaps in peace education in Southern Africa. UNESCO IICBA, UNESCO ROSA, UNESCO country offices, and Arigatou International plan to hold follow-ups to support the participants’ work. In the words of Ms. Nora Tairi from the Ministry of National Education in Algeria, in the end, the participants learned how “education can be used as a strong tool to prevent violence and intolerance and to foster respect of human rights and diversity.”

Dr. Yumiko Yokozeki, the Director of UNESCO IICBA, and Dr. Hubert Gijzen, UNESCO Regional Director for Southern Africa, gave the participants a send-off with words meant to inspire action. “Our education systems of today need to emerge from the past and look towards the future and enable youth to live together and face challenges with resilience and peaceful intentions,” said Dr. Yokozeki. Dr. Gijzen reminded participants that their work can achieve the highest and original purpose of UNESCO: “This very principal is deeply rooted in the first line of the constitution: ‘Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.’”

To learn more about UNESCO IICBA’s peace education work, please see these publications:

Youth empowerment for peace and resilience building and prevention of violent extremism in Sahel and surrounding countries: A guide for teachers Transformative pedagogy for peace-building: A guide for teachers

Learn more about UNESCO IICBA’s objectives and work in Africa here.

Participants from Southern, Eastern, and Northern Africa discuss opportunities and gaps in peace education in their countries. Photo: UNESCO IICBA