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A man rests on the octagon surrounding the destroyed plinth upon which a colonial era statue of H.M. Queen Victoria had stood in memoria since it's unveiling in 1906, at the Jevanjee gardens in Nairobi on June 13, 2020. The statue was removed following a vandalism incident a few years ago.  Statues of controversial historical and political figures are under scrutiny worldwide. TONY KARUMBA / AFP
A statue of Queen Victoria stood on this plinth in Jevanjee Gardens in Nairobi, Kenya, from 1906 to 2015, when it was removed after it had been vandalised. (Tony Karumba/ AFP)

The murder of George Floyd, an African American man, by police officer Derek Chauvin for the alleged crime of spending a $20 counterfeit note has resulted in widespread anti-racism protests under the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement across the United States and the globe. One aspect of this movement has been the reconsideration of public monuments to historical figures connected to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

In Bristol, England, BLM protesters brought down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston and dumped it in the nearby harbor. In Oxford, calls to remove a statue of colonialist Cecil John Rhodes have gained renewed interest, reviving a 2015 campaign modeled on the #RhodesMustFall student movement in South Africa.

 

Newer memorials dedicated to Kenyans include a monument in honor of Tom Mboya

 

Similar sentiments have bubbled over in Kenya, which is dotted with its own assortment of statues, hotels, parks, and street names honoring former colonial figures such as Queen Victoria and Hugh Cholmondeley, an influential British settler and landowner in then British East Africa Protectorate, now Kenya.

Newer memorials dedicated to Kenyans include a monument in honor of Tom Mboya, one of the founding fathers of the independent Republic of Kenya, in the Nairobi CBD; a UK-funded memorial to Kenyans killed by British forces during the Mau Mau Uprising in the 1950s in Uhuru Park in Nairobi; and a recently unveiled statue of Dedan Kimathi, the spiritual leader of the Mau Mau Uprising, in Nyeri.

 

School Girls Burkina Faso
A policeman walks behind schoolgirls in Yemboate, a village in the far north of Togo, as they cross the border into Burkina Faso on February 17, 2020. Togolese security agencies have intensified surveillance around the border to prevent incursions by jihadists.

Human Rights Watch has reported that over 2,500 schools in Burkina Faso have been forced to close in response to escalating numbers of terrorist attacks, holding back around 350,000 primary school-aged children from receiving an education. Since 2017, the country’s Ministry of Education found that at least 222 education workers have been deliberately targeted and made “victims of terrorist attacks”.

The report documented 126 attacks and threats of violence against educators, learners, and schools, more than half of which occurred in 2019 alone. This added security concern compounds the risks posed to Burkinabe children, who are set to return to school in nine days following countrywide closures put in place on March 14.

Armed Islamist groups have targeted schools in opposition to the teaching of French and other forms of Western-based education.

 

Joint Military Operation

The marked negative impact that terrorism has had on Burkina Faso’s schools reaffirms the importance of a joint military operation with Côte d’Ivoire, dubbed Operation Comoé, which recently reported a successful raid on a jihadist base in the border town of Alidougou in southern Burkina Faso.

 

 

Students walk towards the General Education College (CEG) in Godomey, as school resumes on May 11, 2020. Schools in Benin reopened on Monday, with strict instructions on distance, hygiene and distribution of masks, after several weeks of closure to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
Students walk toward the General Education College (CEG) in Godomey, as school resumes on May 11, 2020. Schools in Benin reopened on Monday, with strict instructions on distance, hygiene and distribution of masks, after several weeks of closure to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

 

Benin’s decision to reopen schools after six weeks of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic has made the small West African country the only one on the African continent to do so. Except for nursery schools and universities, all educational establishments have reopened, and the government has said they would be providing hand sanitizers, masks, and viral screenings for learners.

 

The demonstration led to the death of one protestor.

 

In March, students at the University of Abomey-Calavi demanded the closure of the university during the pandemic. Police arrested three students trying to empty lecture theaters, and there was a confrontation following a demonstration to demand their release that led to the death of one protestor.

Parents remain cautious about the reopening, and many want to verify that proactive measures have been taken. Despite government promises of providing personal protective equipment like masks for free, several students reported having to procure their own for the first day of resumed classes, and some didn’t have a mask.

 

European Learners are Also Returning to School

Benin joins countries like Denmark, Germany, Israel, and the Netherlands in resuming schooling for some of its learners. There is limited research, but a recent survey of the literature couldn’t find an example of a child under ten passing the SARS-CoV-2 virus on to others, and studies show children are less likely than adults to get infected. Skeptics have argued that the data available are not statistically significant, and urge governments to be cautious about allowing young children to gather in crowds until more research has been conducted.

Despite these warnings, a handful of other African countries, including Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Niger, Burkina Faso, Togo, and Guinea, are expected to open up schools over the next few weeks.

 

One of the first things many national governments in Africa did when faced with the first cases of COVID-19 was to close the schools. This closure has affected about 300 million African learners, who since have had to rely on alternative means of continuing their schooling, such as radio, TV, and online platforms.

 

Digitalization and Inequality 

The main problem for Africa is that access to digital technology, not to mention affordable and reliable Internet coverage, remains unevenly distributed. Even with notable improvement in communications infrastructure in the past few years, Internet penetration in Africa still lags far behind the global average, at just 39.3 percent as of March 2020 compared with the rest of the world at 62.9 percent.

 

Africa has the most expensive mobile data in the world.

 

The number of mobile phone users on the continent has increased dramatically in recent years; not that it would help much, given that Africa has the most expensive mobile data in the world.

 

Children take school lessons on television at their home in Abidjan on April 10, 2020, after the Ivorian Ministry of National Education initiated on April 9, 2020, teaching on television for primary and secondary school children in since the closure of schools in the country following the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus. ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP
Two children do their lessons in front of the television in their home in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, after the Ministry of National Education initiated television programs on April 9 to teach primary and secondary school subjects. (Issouf Sanogo / AFP)

 

Window of Opportunity

The COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity for educators and administrative bodies to assess current gaps in delivering quality education to the continent’s most marginalized communities. As African heads of state petition international financial institutions and other countries for aid to help them through the pandemic, perhaps there can be special funds established exclusively for the purpose of improving at-home educational tools, especially for families where both parents must work full time and lack the means to assist their children with schoolwork.

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Jul 11, 2020