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#08 ‘We are Somewhat Competitors’: The Challenge of Coordination in International Cooperation in Education in Africa

As a preamble, let us recall that to compensate for African states’ financial incapacity to meet the educational needs of their populations, international cooperation has historically been present on the African continent. Aid to education in sub-Saharan Africa has seen an upward trend over the past five years. Between 2014 and 2019, it increased from US$1.4 billion to US$1.7 billion [1].

In this context, the 2000 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness is explicit: “Donors commit to harmonize their activities. Harmonization should focus on […] co-ordination of political engagement; and practical initiatives such as the establishment of joint donor offices” [2].

Indeed, aid coordination would make it possible to act more effectively in favor of populations in need, particularly in remote areas of the continent, by joining human and financial forces rather than leaving each party to act alone in its corner. This would be all the more the case in the context of a proliferation of cooperation institutions and new financing mechanisms in Africa.

However, these intentions, relevant as they may be, have been in vain for decades of cooperation in the education sector in Africa. As far back as 1967, the British think tank ODI pointed out the lack of coordination among aid agencies, criticizing the anomalies resulting from conflicts of interest, different administrative procedures, and contradictory prescriptions for the social progress of recipient countries [3].

In recent years, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which brings together a variety of entities from the international community, was created in part to address this challenge with the “by working better together, through collaboration and coordination, the aid regime will become more democratic and participatory” [4]. But the multilateral and bilateral cooperation institutions represented in the GPE continue to act independently according to their own agendas, which limits this coordination effort. Additionally, the instruments have been multiplying as new international financing mechanisms have been set up in recent years, even though the GPE could be able to accommodate these different funds.

We would like to illustrate this challenge of coordinating international cooperation actions in Africa with two concrete examples. We recently conducted research [5] on the practices of NGOs based in Switzerland whose context of action is mainly on the African continent. These NGOs have clearly shown that it is at the level of coordination of actions on the ground that the challenges remain difficult to address. Only 50% of respondents in a questionnaire think that their actions in the field are coordinated with similar actions of other institutions: « There is a special atmosphere among the actors. We are somewhat competitors, » said an informant during an interview. More concretely, dozens of NGOs intervene in the area of in-service training for teachers with their own approaches and their own programs, without necessarily consulting each other on the possibility of joint actions. Moreover, « the big and small actors are not at the same level, » since some institutions have a more privileged place than others in the decision-making process at the national level, and not all have access to the same level of information about the actions carried out in a given country.

Another example is the action of French cooperation in the context of the G5 Sahel. The effects of a lack of coordination can be dramatic in these contexts of extreme adversity: schools are closed by the hundreds, leaving thousands of children are unable to attend. These challenges have been amplified by the COVID-19 crisis. Key people in the French cooperation system go so far as to say that « if we take this a little further, the problem of financial resources is not a problem. There are about 40–50 projects and dozens of actors, often with a lack of coordination and an overlap of projects.” A report published in 2019 by the French Coalition Education network showed that the inventory of actions in the field does not reveal any real overall coherence, which poses the risk of amplifying existing imbalances [6].

But beyond the necessary efforts on the part of international cooperation institutions, the primary responsibility for this coordination effort lies with the states; not only are they responsible for the development of the education systems, but their lack of centralized coordination can lead to an unequal supply of education and cause harm to already vulnerable areas. We observe that this lack of coordination can be convenient for some people in the state machinery who see it as an opportunity to multiply financial inputs.

This brings us to the question of capacity building, which should be at the heart of international cooperation actions at all levels (from international to local). In this case, how can we ensure that the state is able to effectively regulate the education system rather than substituting itself for it? Also, in a growing context of decentralization, it is more than recommended to refer to state authorities at the local level to make known the action taken. In this way, they have a better knowledge of the activities on the ground and can better coordinate them.

Finally, we would like to highlight the existence of positive experiences in favor of better coordination. Let us mention the “Education Champions” initiative launched in France by the French Development Agency (AFD) and Coalition Education, and the Thematic Days of the Swiss Network for Education and International Cooperation (RECI). Based on common issues, these actions aim to encourage dialogue and strengthen partnerships by sharing the existence of activities in the field and identifying best practices. In addition, more and more consultation frameworks are being created in the field, bringing together the country’s Ministry of Education and major cooperation institutions. In Mali, for example, the Education Cluster, jointly managed by the Ministry, Save the Children, and UNICEF, aims to develop capacity and coordination mechanisms to improve responses in humanitarian crises and to strengthen the capacity and readiness of humanitarian staff and government authorities for planning and managing the quality of education programs in emergency situations.

TO CONCLUDE, LET US REMEMBER THAT INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION ACTIONS IN EDUCATION CANNOT BE IMPROVISED BECAUSE, IN THE END, IT IS THE BENEFICIARIES OF THESE ACTIONS, OFTEN AMONG THE MOST VULNERABLE, WHO SUFFER. THIS COORDINATION WILL BE MORE CRUCIAL THAN EVER IN THE COMING YEARS; FOLLOWING COVID-19, GOVERNMENTS IN 65% OF THE POOREST COUNTRIES HAVE REDUCED THEIR FUNDING FOR THE EDUCATION SECTOR, AND INTERNATIONAL AID IS LIKELY TO DECREASE BY 12% BY 2022 [7].


Références

[1] World Bank & GEMR-UNESCO. (2021). Education Finance Watch 2021

[2] OCDE. (2005). Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness

[3] ODI. (1967). Aid coordination

[4] Menashy, F. (2017). Multi-stakeholder aid to education: power in thecontext of partnership

[5] Lauwerier, T. (2019). Profils et pratiques des acteurs de la coopération internationale en éducation. le cas des coopérants basés en Suisse

[6] Coalition Education. (2019). Relever les défis de l’éducation dans un Sahel en crise

[7] World Bank & GEMR-UNESCO. (2021). Education Finance Watch 2021

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