17.01.2013 - UNESCO Office in Dakar

Interview: Why teaching about the Holocaust is relevant in Africa

Yao Ydo of UNESCO Dakar © UNESCO/Anne Muller

On the occasion of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust on 27 January, Yao Ydo, Chief for Education for Peace and Sustainable Development at UNESCO Dakar, explains the importance of this day in an African context.

The day was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2005 to instil the lessons of the Holocaust in the minds of future generations so as to prevent acts of genocide.

Is teaching about the Holocaust relevant in Africa?

Yes! The Holocaust is an example of extreme human rights violations and the starting point for a reflection on the history and the prevention of genocide. Look at what happened in 1994 in Rwanda, where the genocide of Tutsi killed more than a million people in 100 days following unspeakable sufferings. Moreover, intercommunity violence on the continent has been reported on a regular basis.

Teaching about the Holocaust and, more generally about the history of genocides is thus key to prevent it from ever happening again in the world. This allows us to understand the mechanisms that lead to violence and protect ourselves against them. 

The Holocaust has a major educational value for Africa and the rest of the world to ensure the emergence of “new citizens” longing for peace, tolerance and respect for human life and dignity.

What are the main challenges when teaching about the Holocaust?

The main challenge is to succeed in including the issue of the history of genocides and its consequences into education systems through contextually adapted and acceptable contents.

What has UNESCO done so far to introduce this aspect in formal education?

UNESCO Dakar is currently advancing the reflections for the promotion of values education with a focus on respect of human dignity.

Our reflections and actions will contribute to the consideration of genocide and other massive human rights violations in educational contents and policies.

A recent meeting took place in Cape Town, South Africa (11-13 September 2012) on Why teach about Genocide? The Example of the Holocaust.

The meeting brought together distinguished figures (historians, professors, Ministries of Education executives from 14 sub-Saharan African countries) who debated on the teaching of genocide and on the role of education in managing traumatic pasts and preventing genocide and mass violence. 

What were the main conclusions of this meeting? 

The meeting recommended that each participant should implement the following actions in their respective countries: 

  1. Brief their Ministers, colleagues and collaborators on the outcomes of the meeting;
  2. Collect information on teaching about the Holocaust and genocide so as to become a contact person;
  3. Advocate for the consideration of Genocide Education in the teachings;
  4. Report to UNESCO the progress made in this field on a regular basis.

All participating countries also committed to include citizenship and human rights issues in their education contents. The Cape Town meeting contributed to collect items on Genocide Education to appear in the curricula.

What activities are you planning for this year's International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust? 

Already on 21 January, a videoconference will take place on the topic  of “The Medias and Genocide: Reflections on the Holocaust”.  Media professionals will participate together with UNESCO Headquarters and UNESCO’s Offices in Dakar, Kinshasa, Libreville and Yaoundé. The Senegalese Minister of Education will chair the meeting.

Another meeting will take place in Dakar on 28 January on the same theme. This activity has been initiated by the Embassy of Israel in Dakar with the support of the Senegalese National Commission for UNESCO and our Office.

We will make our input to this reflection and provide films on this topic so as to arouse and feed the debates.

What do you expect will come out of these events?

We expect these events to bring out reflections and suggestions on the role of the media in preventing genocides and, inversely, how to avoid that they become part of such extreme acts of human rights violations.   

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