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Opening Remarks by Regional Advisor to the RCE Community in Africa
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
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
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.
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
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.
5 August 2019