Picture: Mike Hutchings /REUTERS – Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II receives a bunch of flowers as she visits the stalls of non-governmental organisations before the start of the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) summit meeting in Durban, November 11, 1999.
By Edwin Naidu
Africans must start investing in their children instead of the unnecessary, unhealthy obsession with the British royal family. The Queen is dead! May she rest in peace. But charity begins at home. It is time governments on the continent started putting the children and women of Africa first rather than wasting time and resources on people who do not care about the continent.
While messages of support for the royals is ones democratic right, some African nations, despite the pressing needs of their citizens, have gone overboard with mourning for a royal as removed from reality as Queen Elizabeth II was from Africans.
In some countries, they are flying the flag at half mast and declaring a mourning period, while in Nigeria, one person has proposed renaming a university after the Queen. What nonsense!
Last Thursday, the Queen’s death detracted from two significant events on the African continent on Friday – the first African Union Day and the second, the International Day to Protect Education from Attack.
Armed conflicts bring many devastating barriers to learning, according to UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. The protracted nature of conflicts negatively affects the future of entire generations, particularly that of children and most vulnerable populations. The right to education must be respected, upheld and enjoyed by everyone, especially in situations of armed conflict and insecurity.
Through international co-operation in education, sciences and culture, UNESCO wants to build peace and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals defined in the 2030 Agenda, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015. Schools, universities and educational dwellings should always be safe havens to foster peace and development. Their civilian nature should be recognised and protected, never targeted. But this is far from reality.
Over the past six years, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) collected over 13,400 reports of attacks on education or military use of educational facilities worldwide – with more than 25,000 students, teachers, and academics injured, killed, or harmed in such attacks carried out in situations of armed conflicts or insecurity. While the world is taken aback by the bloody destructive of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, this is a pressing problem throughout many parts of Africa.
Of great concern, arising from another alarming UNESCO statistic published on Friday is that 244 million children are still out of school, with new estimates showing that sub-Saharan Africa remains the region with the most children and youth out of school – with 98 million children. It is also the only region where this number is increasing: out-of-school rates are falling more slowly than the rate at which the school-age population is growing.
Violence against women and children is another scourge. In May, the African University Gender Equality Forum, hosted by the Shared Value Africa Initiative (SVAI) and the #ITSNOTOK movement, heard that, although not enough, there was a growing number of women chancellors and vice-chancellors at tertiary institutions on the continent. Lindi Dlamini, CEO of the GBVF-Response Fund, hoped that having more women in leadership would lead to a more progressive way universities will deal with the challenges of gender-based violence.
Conversations around gender diversity, gender equality, gender equity and gender inclusion should not continue without giving a voice to the issue of gender-based violence, according to Titilope Oguntuga, Head of Sustainable Development and Corporate Brand at Lafarge Africa.
Oguntuga cited the Institute of the International Journal for Environmental Research and Public Health, which states that the highest prevalence of intimate partner violence reported included emotional violence at 29.4 percent, physical violence at 25.87 percent, and sexual violence at 18.75 percent.
The Africa Strategy launched by the United Nations Global Compact was hailed as a step in the right direction aimed at driving the private sector to develop family-friendly policies while also ensuring the elimination of violence and harassment in all its forms. This is just one challenge among many affecting the education sector in Africa. But words need to become active to stamp out this horrible scourge.
On African Union Day, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said 9 September 1999 was a date on which to recall the critical questions raised by its leaders at the meeting in Sirte, Libya, about the level of the strategic relevance of the Organisation of African Unity in the face of the upheavals that occurred at that time in geopolitics on a global scale.
Refusing complacency despite the significant victories won over colonialism and the odious system of Apartheid in favour of the liberation of the Continent, Heads of State and Government, under the impetus of unfailing determination, decided to chart a new path for an Africa open to the horizon of modernity and the collective well-being of the peoples. This was the operational action of the African Union in 2002. But how much progress has been made when children and women of the continent bear the brunt of corrupt leaders – and poverty?
Invoking the memory of many late African leaders, Mahamat paid tribute to those still alive for ensuring this fortunate change. But, it is cold comfort when the continent sheds tears for the Queen, not her women and children. What is the African Union doing to teach African children about our history?
Yet Agenda 2063 is regarded by African leaders as the strategy for transforming Africa into the global powerhouse of the future. But for it to become more than lofty words annually spewed out by politicians, it needs to become a meaningful part of the psyche of all citizens. One of the sore points is that there is little possibility of mobility of people, goods and services between the Union Member States. Yet little is done to address this. Africans come together as politicians, but the primary business on the continent is done with the West or China. How are women and children going to benefit from the so-called economic boom which is yet to come?
Mahamat urged Africans from the Continent and the Diaspora to join in the collective effort to build “the Africa we want” through a permanent desire to transcend ourselves, expressed by the routine exercise of critical thinking as the ideal means of access to excellence. For Africans, there is no clarity in the classroom or lecturer hall about the type of content we want – and deserve.
Lost in the African tears for the Queen, it’s clear that despite what the critics say about colonialism, Africa loves Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family. Those Rip Van Twinkle blabber-mouths who suddenly awoke after her death calling for a return to Africa and South Africa or India, jewels taken from those continents, should not be miserable opportunists.
No one demanded that the Queen returned those jewels when she was alive and on the throne for seven decades. Neither did the loud moans one is witnessing manifest in protests around Buckingham Palace or the British High Commission offices throughout Africa. To vent anger at someone after her death, as politicians and academics have done ad nauseam, is cowardly. Politicians and civil society may need a reminder. The Queen is dead. Long live the children and women of Africa!
Naidu is a seasoned journalist and communications expert. He also heads up Higher Education Media Services – a social enterprise start-up committed to stimulating dialogue and raising awareness around education and the socio-economic, environmental and political factors it influences in South Africa and the African Continent.