Africa: Creating an Africa Ideal for Children

A student writes on the blackboard of a temporary learning space in a camp for internally displaced people in Mopti, Mali, in April 2019.

Senior Writer

For the 30th time today, Africans converge across the continent to celebrate the Day of the African Child (DAC) under the theme: "30 years after the adoption of the Charter: accelerate the implementation of Agenda 2040 for an Africa fit for children".

The theme was chosen by the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Committee), established under Articles 32 and 33 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (the Charter).

This year's theme recognises the role young people play in shaping the African continent's destiny, thus a conducive environment should be created for them to flourish.

History recalls that on June 16, 1976, close to 10 000 black learners from Soweto, South Africa, took to the streets to protest the unequal quality of their education.

They were particularly peeved by the Black Education Act, which segregated students based on their race.

In the ensuing ruckus, security forces shot hundreds of innocent black learners. The subsequent two-week protest, recorded by history as the Soweto Uprising, left over a 100 students dead and thousands others badly injured.

Instituted by the then Organisation of African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government in 1991, the Day of the African Child commemorates the children who were killed in the Soweto Uprising, South Africa in 1976.

The occasion also recognises the black students' courage to march for their right to equal education in their own languages.

It is crucial to note that the reasons that precipitated the Soweto Uprising were steeped in the unequal society created by apartheid.

The colonial education system was subtly designed to keep the African poor. He was not given opportunities to acquire skills.

It was a deliberate system skewed in favour of whites in terms of acquisition of skills.

There was a clear separation between knowledge and skills, starting from secondary school. Settler governments were aware that theory alone cannot build nations.

This is the reason why more emphasis was on practical skills gained through exposure and premised on talent. Africans were excluded from this system.

Chigwedere (2001:3), argues that at the level of colonial education, the African "was not to be given education that would enable him to compete with the white man . . . the European children were to be given the best possible education to keep their position of influence and power" over the African.

The curricula used were simply for propagation of white supremacy, and demonisation of the indigenous people and their cultural values.

Even when doors were opened for blacks through a bottleneck system, they were restricted to such careers that would not make them compete directly with whites.

Godfrey Huggins, known for institutionalising apartheid in Rhodesia when he became Prime Minister in 1933, summed it all up when on March 30, 1938 he said:

"This (good education) is essential if our children are to be given equal opportunity for progress and keep their position of influence and power. It will prevent the creation of a poor white class.

"Constant adjustment will take place and the result should be a system of education Rhodesian in character, and essentially suited to our own requirements (Chigwedere, 2001:3).

African governments, therefore, should not continue pivoting their curricula on such an unequal system. They should adopt systems aimed at building the complete individual in both cognitive and psychomotor terms.

Another gripe was that the South African education structure, as was the case across colonial Africa, was insensitive to local languages.

The black learners wanted to be taught in their indigenous languages.

Colonised people lost their languages, which they were made to believe to be the source of their backwardness. In essence, therefore, they lost their identity, self-pride and dignity.

Language carries a people's culture, and culture is the backbone of societal aspirations.

Loss of language equates to loss of culture, and ultimately loss of confidence, as everything that the colonised should be cherishing is reduced to "a quintessence of evil" (Fanon, 1967).

The death of language leads to loss of indigenous knowledge systems, which are an inheritance. It is this recognition of the essence of language that irked black South African students prompting them to protest 30 years to the mark today.

Foreign languages fall short in ferrying a people's mores and values from one generation to another.

They falter in articulating the gist of realities prevailing in communities and societies at any given time.

Although it is recognised that violence begets violence, and that decolonisation cannot happen without violence, as Fanon (1967) argues, African children should be taught to refrain from the same.

Violence on the African continent has led to death, abduction, rape and displacement of millions of children.

In the poem "Arms and the Boy" (1918), Wilfred Owen is contemptuous of the use of children for political or military expediency.

An innocent boy whose "teeth seem for laughing round an apple" is trained to become "keen with hunger for blood; /blue with all malice and thinly drawn with famishing for flesh".

As a consequence of the situation he finds himself immersed in, the adolescent soldier, rebel or protester, is robbed of his innocence.

Instead of being taught to value life by those who purport to be the custodians of his rights, he is tutored to destroy it, because to him all that resembles life is reduced to a madman's jaunt-trivialised.

Children displaced by war suffer scorn in the host countries because of their accents.

Even when the war ends, or is said to have ended in their homeland, their fragile minds refuse to grasp it all, since their idea of home is a devastated landscape devoid of hope. To them war never ends, as they relive the violence over and over again.

According to a Save the Children report dated October 15, 2019, one in four of the 152 million African children live in a conflict zone. The report also notes that a fifth of the globe's children living in conflict zones are in Africa. Also, sexual violence against children is rife in over a third of all conflicts worldwide.

Furthermore, as Save the Children observed, since December 2013, 19 000 new recruits in South Sudan were children; in the last two decades, about five million African children died as a result of conflict-related disease or hunger.

Reportedly, in 2018, over 2 000 children were kidnapped in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria. In the same year, in six African countries, close to 1 500 children were maimed.

The Southern African region has not been spared by armed conflict, leading to the beheading, maiming, displacement and raping of children.

A leading aid agency reported that children as young as 11 have been decapitated in Mozambique's Cabo Delgado Province.

More than 2 500 people have been killed, including a Zimbabwean national, and 700 000 have fled their homes since the insurgency began in 2017. It is reported that the rebels, locally known as al-Shabab, and claim allegiance to a terrorist group--(ISIS), are behind the conflict in the gas and mineral rich province.

The insurgent attacks in Mozambique have been roundly condemned by the United Nations. In April, 2021, SADC convened a Double Troika Summit in Mozambique and agreed to urgently resuscitate and capacitate its Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) to facilitate deployment in Mozambique in response to the terrorist attacks.

If children know only war, guns, forced marriage and conflict, instead of peace, love and school, they are prone to violence.

In "Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-Realization" (1950), Karen Horney (1950) avers that a child's interpretation of the world is shaped by his/her environment.

She posits that the inner conflicts that boil within the child as he or she grows up, simmer at adulthood as he/she attempts to find solutions to the predicament.

Symptoms of vulnerability will solidify, becoming expansive narcissism, or self-importance.

Therefore, an enabling environment, devoid of violence, in all its facets, should be put in place for the African child to thrive, not as an individual, but as part of a community.

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