High-level Panel Discussion Highlights the General History of Africa Project
10 July 2015 -- The Department of Public Information and UNESCO held a high-level panel discussion on “The General History of Africa: Learning and Teaching about African Heritage" in New York on 10 July 2015. The aim of the pedagogical project is to elaborate common contents for use in primary and secondary schools in Africa and the Diaspora, and develop teaching materials for introduction in to national curricula. These materials will also include units on slavery and the slave trade.
Participants included Ms. Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, Mr. Maher Nasser, Officer-in-Charge of DPI, the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kenya, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Brazil, the Senior Advisor of the Permanent Observer Mission of the African Union and expert members of the Scientific Committee for the pedagogic use of the General History of Africa. The event was open to all and held in cooperation with DPI's Remember Slavery Programme.
Ms. Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, noted that Africa was the cradle of all humanity. “Better knowledge of African history is decisive to fostering global citizenship in today’s world,” she said. Maher Nasser, Officer-in-Charge of the Department of Public Information, moderated the event and emphasized that the history of the transatlantic slave trade should not be taught in isolation from the important contributions that Africans have made to humanity.
H.E. Mr. Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations, eloquently emphasized how essential this project remains to countering the dominant Western perspective on the history of Africa. He stressed to participants that it was imperative that this project continue to receive strong support.
H.E. Mr. Guilherme Patriota, Deputy Permanent Representative of Brazil to the United Nations, noted that this project is of particular importance for Brazil since it is the country with the largest number of people of African descent outside of Africa. In his view, the project was a crucial step in shaping a new level of awareness and knowledge concerning an essential element of Brazil's identity as a society and as a nation.
Mr. Adonia Ayebare, Senior Advisor, Permanent Observer Mission of the African Union to the United Nations, highlighted the importance of teaching an African version of history that emphasizes solidarity, political and economic integration, as well as the important African contributions to humanity. He offered
Reflecting on the General History of Africa project, the panel members presented their views on the successes and challenges of a project that has spanned over 35 years and involved more than 230 historians and the 54 countries in Africa.
Mr. Ali Moussa Iye, Chief History and Memory for Dialogue Section, UNESCO, noted that the project is “proposing an African perspective to this history.” While noting the challenges of integrating common contents in all African curricula and of drafting volume IX which will contribute to renewing knowledge in African history, he said, “the hope is that it will make a great contribution to the International Decade for People of African Descent and be a user-friendly resource.”
Mr. Jean-Michel Mabeko-Tai, Professor of History at Howard University, said that the aim of the project was really about giving African children a perspective that they are the citizens of the future united Africa. He stressed the relevance and importance of the project.
Professor Lily Mafela, speaking from the University of Botswana in Gaborone, a member and rapporteur of the Scientific Committee for the Pedagogic Use of the General History of Africa, said that the project promoted a positive perspective, tackling negativity about Africa’s past, which would help youngsters develop a sense of pride in their history. Professor Mafela noted that by working closely with UNESCO, the project would build bridges for Africans across the world.
Echoing the message of other panellists about the importance of providing a broader perspective on African history, Professor Mamadou Diouf, member of the editorial team of the Book II of Volume IX of the GHA: Beyond the Slave trade and slavery: Reconnecting with the African history, highlighted the importance of training the next generation of teachers to ensure the complexity of the history of Africa is understood.
Following the presentations, the panel members held a vibrant interactive discussion with the audience on various issues. The discussion was attended by more than 125 participants, including diplomats, academic experts, teachers, civil society groups and staff members.
In 1964, UNESCO launched the General History of Africa project with a view to remedy the general ignorance on Africa’s history. The challenge consisted of reconstructing Africa’s history, freeing it from racial prejudices ensuing from slave trade and colonization, and promoting an African perspective.