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Opening Remarks by Regional Advisor to the RCE Community in Africa

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Opening Remarks by Regional Advisor to the RCE Community in Africa
Prof. Goolam Mohamedbhai
9th African Regional RCE Meeting
5-7 August, 2019, Luyengo, Eswatini

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Opening Remarks by Regional Advisor to the RCE Community in Africa

  1. 1. 1 9th African RCE Meeting: 5–7 August 2019, Luyengo, Eswatini “Accelerating Progress Towards the Achievement of SDGs in Africa” Opening Remarks by Goolam Mohamedbhai Hon. Minister of Tourism and Environmental Affairs Vice-Chancellor of University of Eswatini and former Vice-Chancellor of University of Swaziland RCE Africa President Representative of the UNU-Institute of Advanced Study for Sustainability Representatives of African RCEs, in particular RCE Eswatini Distinguished Guests Ladies & Gentlemen First of all, I wish to thank the Institute of Advanced Study for Sustainability of the UNU for inviting me to this regional RCE meeting and giving me an opportunity to address you. Let me say what a pleasure it is to be inthe beautiful country of Eswatini. This campus, which is hosting us and for which we are very grateful, is the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Eswatini. This campus is also the origin of the University of Swaziland when the regional University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (UBLS)broke up, each country setting up its own university. I would like to devote my opening remarks to the historical background of the RCEs. It might be beneficial to the new members of African RCEs and to the youth attending this gathering to understand how the RCE movement came about and who were the institutions behind it. It would not be exaggerated to say that the RCE concept is the brainchild of UNU, and in particular of its Rector at the time, Prof Hans van Ginkel. Prof Hans van Ginkel is a professor of geography and a former Rector of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. He served asRector of UNU for 10 years, from 1997-2007. He was also elected President of the International Association of Universities (IAU)for the period 2000-2004. Both the UNU and the IAU have been deeply committed to SD.Let me say a few words about each of them.
  2. 2. 2 a) The UNU: It was set up in 1973 by the United Nations, as a global think tank and postgraduate teaching organization, with its headquarters in Tokyo, Japan to contribute to efforts to resolve the pressing global problems of human survival, development and welfare that are the concern of its member states. In 1996, a year before Hans van Ginkel was appointed as its new Rector, the UNU established an Institute of Advanced Studies, located in Yokohama, Japan to explore interactions of social and natural systems, and identify strategic paths to sustainable development. In 2014 the Institute was merged with another UNU Institute and was named the Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability, now located in Tokyo at UNU’s headquarters. b) IAU:It was founded in 1950 and is the UNESCO-based worldwide association of higher education institutions. It brings together institutions and organisations from some 120 countries for reflection and action on common concerns. The IAU had adopted Higher Education and Sustainable Development as one of its priority themes since the 1990s, and its 1993 Kyoto Declaration on Sustainable Development is still pertinent today.Prior to his election as President of IAU in 2000, Hans van Ginkel was the chair of IAU’s Working Group on SD. During his IAU Presidency, I chaired the Working Group on SD. I also succeeded Hans van Ginkel as President of IAU, so I had the privilege of working closely with him. In 2002 was held the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, the Summit that really propelled SD to the forefront and sensitised the world not just about its meaning but equally about its importance. It was at that Summit that several ideas emerged, including: 1) SD cannot be achieved without education at all levels; 2) achieving SD requires action not just by formal education institutions but also by involving other non-education stakeholders; 3) the need to act local but think global, and also to act global but think local; and 4) the importance of partnerships and collaboration at all levels - national, regional, global - in achieving SD. These are key to the concept of RCEs. It was undoubtedly at Johannesburg that the seeds of RCEs were sown. A proposal was also made for the UN to launch a Decade of ESD. At the Johannesburg Summit, 11 of the world’s foremost global educational organisations and scientific academies came together to create a global alliance for SD, known as the Ubuntu Alliance.They issued a Declaration, known as the Ubuntu Declaration, calling for the importance of mainstreaming SD in the curricula at every level of education – from pre-primary to higher, from informal to non-formal and formal. The announcement of the Declaration was made by Hans van Ginkel, in his capacity as President of IAU and Rector of UNU.
  3. 3. 3 Subsequently, the United Nationspicked up the proposal of the World Summit on SD and announced the UNDecade of Education for Sustainable Development (UNDESD) 2005-2014, to be implemented by UNESCO as the lead agency for the Decade. It was in response to the DESD that in 2003, the United Nations University Institute for Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS) launched its ESD project, with funding support from the Ministry of the Environment, Japan. The ESD project comprised two flagship initiatives: 1) a global multi-stakeholder network of Regional Centres of Expertise on ESD (RCEs) and 2) a network of higher education institutions called the Promotion of Sustainability in Postgraduate Education and Research Network (ProSPER.Net).These two initiatives, although created separately, have the same objective of promoting ESD and universities serve as ideal linkages between them. Thus started the RCE movement. In 2005, the UNU-IAS launched the first seven RCEs for promoting ESD across the world, the RCE Ghana being among them.Since then, every year several RCEs are acknowledged by the Ubuntu Committee of Peers, a Committee comprising representatives of the Ubuntu Alliance and also representatives of the various regions of the world, which meets annually to provide advice to the Global RCE Service Centre located at UNU-IAS, and to assist in selecting and monitoring the progress of RCEs around the world. My friend Prof Akpezi and I have the honour to represent Africa on that Committee. There are now, 14 years later, 168 RCEs in 56 countries of the world. In Africa there are 38RCEsin 17 countries. This is far beyond the original expectation of having some 100 RCEs globally in a decade. Together, the RCEs form a Global Learning Space for SD. Most of the African RCEs are doing a remarkable job and have initiated some very interesting projects – some of these are going to be presented at this meeting. So, the annual meeting provides a great opportunity to discuss not only the achievements of the RCEs, but also the challenges some of them are facing, and perhaps look at ways of how the dynamic RCEs can share their experience with the less active ones – whether at national or regional level. The theme of this meeting is “Accelerating Progress Towards the Achievement of SDGs in Africa”. This is very pertinent. The 2019 report on the SDG situation in Africa mentions the following: “There has been notable progress towards only 3 Goals: SDG 5 Gender, SDG 13 Climate Change and SDG 15 Life on Land. With only 12 years remaining, progress on the other 14 Goals remains off-track and the Goals
  4. 4. 4 are unlikely to be met”. This is the challenge facing Africa and RCEs do need to step up their activities towards achieving the SDGs. One approach that I think we should consider – and here I wear my university hat – is how we can get universities to support and interact with the RCEs in achieving the SDGs. Most of the RCEs are hosted by a university or a university is a key partner of the RCE, as in the case of RCE Eswatini. But it is not enough to just host an RCE or provide support to it. I believe universities can learn from RCEs, which are very community-oriented, especially at a time when universities are also being challenged to reach out to their community and contribute towards achieving the SDGs. I have no doubt that an active partnership between a university and an RCE can be beneficial to both of them. The RCE would benefit from the huge human and physical resources of the university, while the university could use the RCE as its main vehicle to engage with the community. During the next couple of days, I look forward to listening to the various presentations on the activities of the RCEs, and also to try and understand the challenges that they are facing. I wish you all a very fruitful and enjoyable meeting. Thank you. ______________________________________________________________________________ Goolam Mohamedbhai 5 August 2019