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06PARIS3362 2006-05-19 08:52:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Paris
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1. Summary and Comment: To explore issues relating to
decentralization, Ambassador Oliver and Science Officer met with
Lalla Aicha Ben Barka, Director of the UNESCO Office in Dakar and
the regional office for Education in Africa (BREDA). Although the
UNESCO secretariat often highlights its decentralization efforts,
Ben Barka described a challenging situation, including limited
resources and lack of strategic coordination from headquarters. Ben
Barka explained that a key challenge has been identifying a niche
for the office, particularly with respect to other UN agencies and
aid bodies. She is pursuing a role for the office as a purveyor of
information, for example in advancing education goals via sector
analysis. Another potential niche for UNESCO in Africa might be in
providing information on methods of civic education, Ben Barka noted

2. As this conversation highlights, the panel reviewing UNESCO's
Natural and Social Sciences sectors should examine carefully the
issue of decentralization. The Dakar office serves as the regional
office for education. But its staff also includes a science officer
-- reporting also to the regional science office in Nairobi -- who
has a limited program budget (80,000 USD over two years). Given the
lack of strategic direction from headquarters, it is perhaps no
surprise that many complain that UNESCO programs, including in the
area of hydrology, have limited impact in Africa. End Summary.

A Key Challenge: Strategic Coordination from Headquarters

3. Ambassador Oliver opened by querying Ben Barka on challenges
facing the Dakar office. Ben Barka explained that the office has
limited means. As a regional office for education, it is meant to
provide technical assistance to 46 sub-Saharan countries. In
addition, it serves as a cluster office for 7 countries in West
Africa promoting activities across the range of UNESCO's mandate.
In principle, the office is meant to have eight officers, four
working on regional educational issues (two of those posts are
vacant), four in the cluster function in the areas of culture,
natural sciences, social sciences and communications. (Note:
According to the Dakar office website, it is the largest UNESCO
office in Africa. End Note.)

4. One related issue is that of the profile and distribution of
UNESCO's presence in the field, i.e. cluster offices versus national
offices. Ben Barka explained that national offices were meant to
enhance the visibility of UNESCO in the field, particularly with
regard to other UN agencies, but they have not reached a size that
allows them to have much impact. That said, national offices could
play a role in post-conflict situations, Ben Barka noted. In
addition, the national offices need enhanced support from the
regional offices; regional offices should build a "roster of
expertise" and work with headquarters and UNESCO institutes to
address needs identified on the national level.

5. Then there is the question of the Dakar office's mission. Ben
Barka described lack of communication with headquarters as "a major
problem." Action requests from headquarters arrive with no context,
and often at the last minute; in addition, two or three departments
sometimes ask for the same thing. She noted that ADG for Education
Peter Smith is working with a consultant to ameliorate the problem
of communication between headquarters and the field, including
UNESCO's education institutes. On strategic planning, Ben Barka
described consultative regional meetings meant to inform UNESCO's
medium-term strategy as inefficient. Although field offices are
represented at the meetings, they do not really contribute
substantively to the process. Field offices should be involved in
advance, contributing quantitative and qualitative information on
in-country conditions before the meeting. (The regional meeting for
Africa on the Medium-Term strategy will take place in Rwanda in

Carving out a Role for UNESCO in Sector Analysis...

6. Ambassador Oliver queried Ben Barka on the coherence and impact
of the office's work, given that it is meant to implement 130
activities. Ben Barka stressed the need to clarify the niche of the
office. Given limited human and financial resources available, it
would make most sense for the office to serve as a producer and
purveyor of knowledge, including to other UN agencies, rather than
as an implementer of programs. Ben Barka reported that her
predecessor had begun to carve out a niche for the office in this
area. Thanks to the French aid agency, young statisticians,
planners and economists were seconded to the office to do a sector
analysis report on Dakar plus five goals (on education). One goals
of the analysis was to help the four sub-Saharan LIFE ("Literacy
Initiative for Empowerment") countries formulate, implement and
assess the impact of their national policies. In general, sector
analyses of needs are key to building in-country capacity. Other
initiatives informed by this type of sector analysis include AIDS
education and Education for All (EFA).

7. Of course, sector analysis is not enough; it is important that
the resulting information be disseminated, for example via regional
workshops involving civil society, or meetings with parliamentarians
in advance of national budget votes. Ben Barka noted that the Dakar
office had launched a forum for parliamentarians to train lawmakers
on education issues. In June 2005, the Dakar Office organized a
conference on Education for All meant to track progress and analyze
obstacles faced by national education systems in meeting EFA goals.

8. Ben Barka observed that neither UNICEF nor the World Bank is
involved in this type of work - doing upstream analysis and working
with national governments to enhance their own analytical capacity.
To promote education in Africa, UNESCO should focus on production of
knowledge to put at the disposal of the World Bank, UNICEF,
bilateral aid missions and national governments.

.... and Civic Education in Africa

9. In addition to sector analysis, Ben Barka saw another possible
niche for the Dakar office in providing guidance to national
governments in the field of civic education programs. This would
include good governance, the electoral process and democratic
decision-making. 45 years after independence, this is imperative
for continued African progress in establishing sound government
services and systems. How can national educational systems be used
to build transparent societies? This also touches on issues
relating to identity and language, Ben Barka noted.