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For better quality education in Africa
Africa Renewal
From Africa Renewal: 
Panos / Giacomo Pirozzi
By Kingsley Ighobor
For Africa to thrive in the 21st century, its students must be much better equipped with the necessary skills and capabilitiesFor Africa to thrive in the 21st century, its students must be much better equipped with the necessary skills and capabilities.
Photo: Panos / Giacomo Pirozzi

Amid continuing calls to increase primary school enrolment in Africa, a new report urges greater emphasis on the quality of what students learn. The Africa Progress Panel, a policy think tank chaired by Kofi Annan, a former UN secretary-general, noted in September that “many of the children in school are receiving an education of such abysmal quality that they are learning very little.” Its report, entitled A Twin Education Crisis Is Holding Back Africa, says that Africa’s children are leaving school “lacking basic literacy and numeracy” and without “21st century skills.” 

The report argues that while African governments have rightly stressed the importance of macroeconomic growth, such growth can only have a lasting impact if the continent’s people have the necessary skills and capabilities.

The report recommends a three-step solution. First, African countries must strive to meet the Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal primary education by 2015. Second, they must pay more attention to the quality of education. And third, they should ensure that poverty, living in rural or conflict regions, or being female do not impede children’s education.

According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the percentage of African children in primary school increased from 60 per cent in 2000 to 76 per cent in 2009, while the number of children out of school dropped from 42 million to 30 million. The panel report highlights progress in a number of countries. Tanzania had more than 3 million out-of-school children in 2000, but is currently “within touching distance of universal primary education.” It adds: “From Burkina Faso to Ethiopia, Mozambique, Senegal and Zambia, one country after another has made a breakthrough in enrolment.”

Still, Africa as a whole may not meet the 2015 MDG education target. “If the trend from 2005 to 2009 is continued, there will still be 17 million [children] out-of-school in 2025,” maintains the report.

Mr. Annan said, “Given the critical place of education in poverty reduction and job creation, we urge governments to deliver on the commitment to provide education for all by 2015 and to strengthen their focus on learning achievement.” 

No SMS incitement to violence in Kenyan elections 

In an effort to help forestall violence in the March 2013 general elections in Kenya, the Communications Commission of Kenya is requiring politicians to submit for screening all short message service (SMS) texts for bulk dissemination. The commission is also asking mobile service operators to block any SMS texts that it deems may incite violence. 

The new rules, which some consider overly stringent, stipulate that prepared text messages, which must be in KiSwahili and English, should be submitted to mobile telephone service operators 48 hours before scheduled dispatch. The messages also must be authorized by political parties and accompanied by signed copies of their registration certificates. 

The Kenyan government is seeking to avoid what happened in the 2007–08 elections, when hate messages were rampantly disseminated through SMS, helping to fuel violence that killed about 1,300 persons, reports IRIN, the UN humanitarian news service. 

Kenya is not the only country to clamp down on text messages. Following post-election violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in December 2011, that government ordered mobile phone service providers to block all text messages. 

There are concerns, however, that a blanket ban on text messages could also block efforts to prevent violence. Following the SMS ban in the DRC, Daniel Solomon, a blogger, started an online petition to reverse the ban and quickly collected thousands of signatures. He argued that Kenya's post-election violence was lessened because peace activists were able to put out their own messages through SMS.

 “SMS-based crowd-sourcing methods have become an essential tool of election monitoring and mass atrocities prevention in conflict zones,” Mr. Solomon maintains. “With few journalists reporting from the ground in the DRC, SMS technology represents the only opportunity for an active stream of information from grassroots actors and civil society.”

For now, Kenya’s new rules affect only politicians and political parties. This will permit election monitors and civil society organizations to continue using SMS to sensitize people against violence. 

Desmond Tutu honoured for ‘speaking truth to power’

No former African head of state will receive the Mo Ibrahim prize for African leadership in 2012 because “none met the criteria needed to win this award,” announced the selection committee. Those criteria include providing exceptional leadership and leaving office when the country’s constitutional term limit ends. But the Mo Ibrahim Foundation announced that a $1 million special grant would be awarded to veteran anti-apartheid fighter Archbishop Desmond Tutu, for “speaking truth to power.”

Since it was launched six years ago by Mr. Ibrahim, a Sudanese-born mobile communications entrepreneur and philanthropist, the prize is normally given to former leaders “for transformation of their countries and citizens’ lives during their tenure.” It consists of $5 million, paid over a period of ten years, $200,000 annually for life thereafter and another $200,000 per year to support the leaders’ “public interest activities.” 

So far, the prize has been awarded to three former leaders: Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique in 2007, Festus Mogae of Botswana in 2008 and Pedro Verona Pires of Cape Verde in 2011. There were no winners in 2009 and 2010. John Githongo, an anti-corruption fighter from Kenya, said “it is absolutely no surprise whatsoever” that there was no winner again in 2012, given the shortage of exceptionally good leaders in Africa.

In deciding to give a one-time special prize to Mr. Tutu instead, the foundation cited his long work in promoting peace, human rights and social justice in both his native South Africa and around the world. According to Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo, who presented the award at a ceremony in Dakar, Senegal, Mr. Tutu “continues to show himself to be the scourge of injustice, ready to rock the boat if necessary and speak out against those political leaders who he believes have let down their citizens and the wider world.”