In 1994, more than 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda by ethnic Hutu extremists, a group targeting members of the minority Tutsi community and other political opponents, regardless of their ethnic origin. The world watched in horror as the bloodshed dragged on for 100 days.
Despite the atrocity in Rwanda, and the media attention it garnered worldwide, African nations have continued to experience countless incidents of human rights violations, many again, well known by the public – Darfur, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Libya, Nigeria, South Africa. Even now, there is an on-going war and associated atrocity crimes occurring in Tigray, Ethiopia. It is apparent that the legacies of violent pasts too easily find their way to the present.
With this in mind, the United Nations (UN) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have established the UN/UNESCO Advisory Group on Genocide Education in Africa. This joint effort is a new project aimed at strengthening the capacities of educators in African states to teach about genocide and contribute to the prevention of atrocity crimes in their respective national and regional contexts.
According to UNESCO, “the project posits teachers as agents of change and facilitators of learning about mass atrocity and global citizenship. Educating about genocide and other violent pasts can be a challenge for teachers: it entails extremely complex historical processes and confronts educators with navigating related political debates and conflicting narratives. Likewise, teachers need to develop awareness of their own biases, especially if the history they are teaching is lived experience, or within living memory. Access to guidance materials, relevant resources and training is therefore crucial to build the skills and confidence of educators in this respect.”
Due to his depth and breadth of knowledge in the field of Holocaust and genocide studies, Dr. Edward Kissi, an Associate Professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Global Studies at USF, has been invited by the UN and UNESCO to become a member of their Advisory Group on Genocide Education in Africa. The invitation extended to Dr. Kissi referenced his expertise in his field of study as critical to the group’s goal, noting:
“Experience from the field of Holocaust education has shown education about genocide and other atrocity crimes can contribute to peacebuilding and conflict transformation processes as well as prevention of conflict and genocide. Well-placed and contextualized genocide education can build learners’ critical thinking skills, strengthen their resilience to extremist ideologies, and help learners view themselves in the context of their country’s past, present and future.”
The first meeting of the Advisory Group, which was held virtually on July 6, 2021, gathered some of the most prominent educators in the field of historical and present-day genocide. The group discussed key themes and approaches to be included in a Teachers’ Guide for genocide education in Africa.
UN and UNESCO understand that genocide education, crafted by experts and educators, is key to creating a tailored approach to genocide education for teacher trainers to take back to their respective countries. It is also critical that this group takes into consideration regional histories of genocide and the diverse needs and realities of educators and learners on the African continent. Other participants included experts from six African nations (Namibia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, and Zimbabwe), and a select group of regional and international experts on genocide education.
The input provided during the Advisory Group meeting is intended to inform the first draft of the guide, which is set to be shared with the members of the Advisory Group for peer-review at a later stage.