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DIalogue Meeting on Safe Schools Initiative

The Royal Embassy of Norway in Addis Ababa co-hosted a dialogue aimed at galvanising support for the endorsement, implementation and reporting on the Safe Schools Declaration on 6 September 2017. On this occasion, the Embassy partnered with Save the Children International’s AU Liaison & Pan Africa Office, who have played an integral role in advocating for African Union member states to endorse the Declaration.

Several distinguished guests participated in the dialogue, among which were:

  • H.E. Smail Chergui, Commissioner for Peace and Security Department, AUC
  • H.E. Andreas Gaarder, Ambassador of Norway to the AU
  • Mr. Alejandro Piñeirof, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Argentina to the AU
  • H.E. George S.W. Patten Sr., Ambassador of the Republic of Liberia to the AU
  • H.E. Bankole Adeoye, Ambassador of the Republic of Nigeria to the AU

Several Defence Attachés also attended the meeting, including:

  • Brigadier General Gertrude Bili Mwale, Defence Attaché of Zambia to the AU
  • Colonel Carlos Francisco, Dean of African Defence Attachés to the AU

H.E. Ambassador Gaarder emphasised Norway’s prioritisation of education for development in his welcome address, wherein he noted that:

“Armed conflict has a debilitating effect on school infrastructure, but more importantly, it deprives children of their hopes and ambitions, and communities of the foundations on which they should be building their common future. It is imperative that we work together to protect schools and universities from military use and from attack”

Norway launched the Safe Schools Declaration in May 2015, in cooperation with Argentina and other partners. The Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment that stresses the importance of continuing education during armed conflict, and provides countries the opportunity to express support for protecting schoolchildren, students, teachers and educational facilities from attack.

Currently, 68states have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration: https://www.regjeringen.no/no/tema/utenrikssaker/utviklingssamarbeid/protecting-education-endorsed/id2460245/

Norway has doubled its aid for education over the past 3 years and more than 8% of our humanitarian aid is allocated for education. From 2016 to 2017, we have also increased our humanitarian budget by more than 50 % in response to the increasing needs for protection and humanitarian assistance in countries affected by crisis and conflict. As such, Safe Schools is one of our prioritised initiatives in both the humanitarian and development field.

Mr. Alejandro Piñeirof, in his welcome address, emphasised the need to create greater awareness of the progress that has been made on the implementation of the Safe Schools Guidelines. He also stressed the importance of mobilising for more endorsements, particularly from AU member states.

H.E. Bankole Adeoye argued forcefully on behalf of the Safe Schools Declaration, in a speech that drew on Nigeria’s recent experience with violent non-state actors. Eight million people have been displaced by Boko Haram’s actions, and schools are the primary target of the terror group. The Nigerian ambassador emphasised the need to ensure that people embroiled in armed conflicts see the value of education. H.E. Bankole Adeoye’s address highlighted Nigeria’s progress in protecting education facilities and schoolchildren from attack, and pointed to lessons learned, challenges, and the way forward.

Many of the points made by the Nigerian ambassador were quite bold, such as his expansion of the Safe Schools theme to former combatants, who must after all be reintegrated into society – through schooling. The ambassador also pointed to the need to provide victims of armed conflicts with necessary psychosocial support.

Several participants at the Dialogue Meeting pointed to the link between the Safe Schools initiative, and amnesty programs for SALW. It was argued that in order to protect education from attack, African states must support “Silencing the Guns” initiative.