Global citizenship in Sub-Saharan Africa

Akemi Yonemura




Abstract– Learners today are required to develop a comprehensive understanding of local, national and global challenges, so that they can infl uence the political, social, cultural, economic and environmental development both in their societies and their personal lives. UNESCO has been promoting education for peace and sustainable development as the overarching goal of its education programme, focusing on transformative education through Global Citizenship Education (GCED). This paper discusses GCED in Sub-Saharan Africa in the context of the post-2015 education agenda, with a particular focus on adult education.  

Efforts towards achieving Education for All (EFA) has since its inception in 2000 yielded significant progress. Even so, the EFA and education agendas of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) remain unattainable by the end of 2015 and continue to be relevant for years ahead. As a result, there is a strong need for a forward-looking agenda that will complete the unfinished business while going beyond the current goals.

“A future education agenda must explore how education systems should adapt to tackle new challenges and contribute to peace and sustainable development.”

There are emerging trends and development challenges in a globalised, inter-connected world, and their implications for education and training. In Africa, the rising issues, such as population growth, youth bulge, urbanisation, climate change and inequalities have urged policymakers to re-prioritise their policies, leading to structural transformation for inclusive and people-centred development (African Union 2014). A future education agenda must explore how education systems should adapt to tackle new challenges and contribute to peace and sustainable development. This will require rethinking of the kind of knowledge, skills and competencies needed for the future, the educational and learning processes, and policies and reforms that will help achieve renewed goals (UNESCO 2014a).

In this context, UNESCO has been promoting education for peace and sustainable development as the overarching goal of its education programme, focusing on transformative education through Global Citizenship Education (GCED).

The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning notes that, traditionally, adult education focuses largely on the development and upgrading of skills and competencies for the labour market (UIL 2010). Wider benefits of education, such as health, personal fulfilment, citizenship, social and democratic participation, were only included as goals of adult and lifelong learning in recent years. Even so, human resource development for economic growth dominates the contemporary fields of adult education. Meanwhile, the majority of countries have a law, regulation, or policy on adult literacy: 96 percent or 26 countries out of 27 African respondents of a survey (UIL 2013).

Growing need for Global Citizenship Education (GCED)

GCED is based on existing work in areas such as peace and human rights education, including culture of peace, where UNESCO has a longstanding experience in both the conceptualisation of the ideas and implementation. Recognising its importance, the Global Education First Initiative (GEFI), launched in 2012 by the UN Secretary-General, includes fostering global citizenship as one of its three education priorities (Global Education First Initiative 2015).

Education in a globalised world is increasingly putting emphasis on the importance of values, attitudes and communication skills as a critical complement to cognitive knowledge and skills. The education community is also paying increasing attention to the relevance of education in understanding social, political, cultural and global issues. This includes the role of education in supporting peace, human rights, equity, acceptance of diversity, and sustainable development. Global Citizenship Education represents a paradigm shift that recognizes the relevance of education in understanding and resolving global issues in social, political, cultural, economic and environmental areas. GCED applies a multifaceted approach, using concepts, methodologies and theories already implemented in different fields and subjects. While GCED has been applied differently in different contexts, including regional and community levels, it has a number of common elements, such as:

  • An attitude supported by an understanding of multiple levels of identity, and the potential for a “collective identity” which transcends individual, cultural, religious, ethnic or other diff erences;
  • A knowledge of global issues and universal values, such as justice, equality, dignity and respect;
  • Cognitive skills to think critically, systemically and creatively, including adopting a multi-perspective approach that recognises the different dimensions, perspectives and angles of issues;
  • Non-cognitive skills, including social skills, such as empathy and conflict resolution, communication skills and aptitudes for networking and interacting with people of different backgrounds, origins, cultures and perspectives; and
  • Behavioural capacities to act collaboratively and responsibly to find global solutions for global challenges, and to strive for the collective good (UNESCO 2014b).

Thus the goal of GCED is to empower learners to engage and assume active roles both locally and globally to face and resolve global challenges. It is built on a lifelong learning perspective, catering not only to children and youth, but to adults as well. It can be delivered in all modes and venues of delivery, including formal, non-formal and informal systems. Flexible pedagogical approaches may be useful in targeting populations outside the formal system and those who are likely to engage with new information and communication technologies, such as social media.

United Nations post-2015 development agenda

The framework of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has helped guide global national development priorities. While three of the eight MDGs have been achieved by some countries prior to the deadline of 2015, progress has been uneven both within and across countries. Thus, further eff orts are needed to accelerate development progress. In this regard, the UN Secretary General established the UN System Task Team for the post-2015 development agenda. One of the main outcomes of the Rio+20 Conference in 2012 was to develop a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs), which will guide the post-2015 development agenda built on the MDGs. There is a broad consensus on the need for close linkages between the two processes to arrive at one common agenda for the post-2015, with sustainable development at its centre (United Nations, 2010). The co-chairs of the Open Working Group on SDGs (OWG) have issued focus area documents as a basis to develop a set of goals and targets, for which UNESCO and UNICEF were designated co-leaders for the focus area on education.

Of the 17 draft SDGs proposed by the OWG, Goal 4, “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all” includes a direct reference to Global Citizenship Education (GCED) and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) through its target 4.7 “by 2030 ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development” (United Nations 2014). Furthermore, the Muscat Agreement, which was adopted at the Global Meeting on Education for All (2014 GEM), supports the same target through Goal 5: “By 2030, all learners acquire knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to establish sustainable and peaceful societies, including through global citizenship education and education for sustainable development” (UNESCO 2014c).

“Sankofa: wisdom”

In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), the outcome document of the Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Ministerial Conference on Education Post-2015, or “Kigali Statement” also explicitly endorses these goals, acknowledging, “the importance of GCED in promoting the development of values, attitudes and skills that are necessary for a more peaceful, just, inclusive, and harmonious world.” The Statement further proposes to institutionalise Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), a related initiative, and GCED, through all forms of education – formal, non-formal and informal – “by: a) promoting a humanistic approach to education (Ubuntu Spirit) that reinforces among others respect for self, others and the planet, b) involving all stakeholders in promoting the ESD-GCED agenda, c) using existing regional protocols and ongoing regional initiatives to promote the ESD-GCED agenda, and d) reviewing and integrating ESD-GCED components in curricula across all levels of education.” The Kigali Statement also notes the high level of adult and youth illiteracy, particularly that of women, and calls for “access to continuous lifelong learning and functional literacy, numeracy and requisite skills programmes for life and work” as well as the use of mother tongue instruction before transiting to national/international languages and the promotion of literacy programmes at the workplace (UNESCO 2015a).

Common African position on the post-2015 development agenda

The African Union (AU) prepared a Common African Position (CAP) on the post-2015 development agenda in January 2014, involving stakeholders at the national, regional and continental levels, including public and private sectors, civil society, and academia. The position paper notes the importance of prioritizing structural transformation for inclusive and people-centred development in Africa to respond to the emerging trends in Africa. In education, despite increased enrolment in primary schools, the quality of education remains 76 Adult Education and Development a concern. Learning from the implementation of MDGs, the position paper argues that the post-2015 development agenda should enhance countries’ ownership of development and respond to the emerging issues and implementation gap, particularly data collection and monitoring.

The position paper also acknowledges the outcome document of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, as well as the processes in the implementation of the Rio+20 outcomes, including the OWG and the Africa Regional Consultation on the SDGs (African Union 2014).

“Thus, peace is one of the principles of sustainable development, which is seen as fundamental to human dignity and development.”

Where do we stand in GCED in the SSA region?

One of the challenges to achieve Education for All (EFA) goals is a deficit in peace and security in SSA. The EFA Global Monitoring Report 2011 revealed that countries affected by violent conflicts are among the furthest from reaching the EFA goals (UNESCO 2011). According to the report, violent conflicts also reinforce inequalities, grievances and desperation that trap countries in cycles of violence.

Thus, peace is one of the principles of sustainable development, which is seen as fundamental to human dignity and development. Indeed, principle 25 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development mentions that “peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and indivisible”. Within the overarching framework of sustainable development, GCED aims at developing competencies that enable individuals to live together peacefully. Additionally, GCED can help to prevent insecurity and conflicts from thwarting progress. Education can also be instrumental in rebuilding a more sustainable society after violent conflict. By “learning to live together”, learners acquire knowledge, values, skills and attitudes for dialogue, cooperation and peace. GCED helps develop the capacity to respect diff erences and diversities as well as to build social tolerance.

Main achievements in GCED in SSA from 2000–2015

Numerous GCED activities have been implemented by governments, development partners, civil society and school networks since 2000. In view of the preparations for the post-2015 education agenda, key stakeholders of GCED participated in global consultations and conferences that UNESCO organised to address the issues of SSA. Most recently, experts from SSA participated in the Second UNESCO Forum on Global Citizenship Education (GCED): Building Peaceful and Sustainable Societies – preparing for post–2015 in January 2015 (UNESCO 2015b) to discuss GCED in the context of the post2015 education agenda including consideration of the emerging Framework of Action Post-2015, and the role of GCED for peace.

At the SSA regional level, UNESCO has been supporting the efforts of Member States by promoting a culture of tolerance, reconciliation and peace in formal and non-formal educational systems. The scope of intervention for peace education and democracy will be broadened by ensuring the integration in the national sector policy documents, learning/ training, curricula, teacher training and socio-cultural environment.

UNESCO Dakar has assisted countries in developing national capacities to mainstream peace education and conflict prevention and preparedness in the education strategic plans in West and Central Africa. It is within this context that UNESCO Dakar published the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Reference Manual on Education for Culture of Peace, Human Rights, Citizenship, Democracy and Regional Integration in 2013, in close collaboration with the ECOWAS and the African Development Bank (UNESCO, 2013). The manual includes seven modules: (1) culture of peace, conflict prevention and management, (2) human rights, (3) civic-awareness and citizenship, (4) democracy and good governance, (5) gender, prospect for peace and development, (6) public health, environment and sustainable development, and (7) regional integration. The manual is available in English, French, Portuguese and 28 local languages.1 In addition, 144 trainers of trainers are trained to use the manual. New topics, such as sport and value education and genocide education, are planned to be included in the manual. The reference manual has been used in various countries, targeting different thematic areas.

In East Africa, Kenya is a strong supporter and proponent of GCED, which is guided by a three-pronged approach: policy dialogue in connection with the post-2015 agenda; providing technical guidance on GCED and promoting transformative pedagogies and serving as a clearing-house. Kenya is currently also one of 5 pilot countries for UNESCO’s Teaching Respect for All programme. The latter was launched in 2013 with the objective of strengthening educational responses in Kenya to reduce discrimination and violence within the nation-state, and promote respect for all.

Priority actions and the way forward

The AU also acknowledges the proposed SDGs and the Africa Regional Consultation on the Sustainable Development Goals. It is expected that SSA will promote GCED through some of the key pillars of the Common African Position, such as “people-centred development”, and “peace and security”. To support the member state-driven development, the AU position paper proposes to negotiate an outcome that will lead to their collective ownership of the new agenda. GCED needs to be seen as a comprehensive concept by stakeholders. A lack of advocacy and GCED mainstreaming in national policies and strategies are priority areas to tackle. Finally, there should be documented eff orts (contextually driven) to integrate GCED competencies within sustainable development compliant curricula in all learning pathways.



1 / The online course for trainers is available in all three languages as well at:


African Union (2014): Common African Position on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Addis Ababa: African Union.

Global Education First Initiative (2015): Global Education First Initiative: The UN Secretary-General’s Global Initiative on Education. http://

UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) (2010): CONFINTEA VI: Sixth International Conference on Adult Education – Final Report. Hamburg: UNESCO UIL.

UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) (2013): Second global report on adult learning and education: Rethinking literacy. Hamburg: UNESCO UIL.

UNESCO (2011): EFA Global Monitoring Report 2011: The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education. Paris: UNESCO.

UNESCO (2013): Education for Culture of Peace, Human Rights, Citizenship, Democracy and Regional Integration. Dakar: UNESCO.

UNESCO (2014a): Position Paper on Education Post-2015. Paris: UNESCO.

UNESCO (2014b): Global Citizenship Education: Preparing learners for the challenges of the 21st century. Paris: UNESCO.

UNESCO (2014c):  2014 Global Education for All Meeting (GEM) Final Statement: The Muscat Agreement. UNESCO: Paris.

UNESCO (2015a): Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Ministerial Conference on Education Post 2015: Kigali Statement. Dakar: UNESCO Dakar.

UNESCO (2015b): Second UNESCO Forum on Global Citizenship Education (GCED). Paris: UNESCO.

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Aff airs (2014): Open working group proposal for sustainable development goals. New York: United Nations.

United Nations (2010): Resolution adopted by the General Assembly. 65/1. Keeping the promise: united to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. New York: United Nations. 

About the author

Akemi Yonemura Ed.D., is currently working for UNESCO Dakar, responsible for the programmes on Global Citizenship Education. She holds a doctorate in education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research interest includes education finance and planning, education and migration, skills development and community colleges.

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