This is an interview with Ousmane Diagana, Mauritanian, Vice President of the World Bank for West and Central Africa since 01.01is July 2020. In this role, he coordinates the World Bank’s relationships with 22 countries and manages a portfolio of projects, technical assistance and financial resources of more than US$47 billion.
What are the challenges facing young people in the Sahel today?
The history of the Sahel is thousands of years old. Its population has always attached particular importance to the mingling of people, the promotion of cultures, the production of knowledge and its transmission and thus education. The Sahel is a land of intellectuals. Education is part of people’s DNA, including the youth of the Sahel.
It is true that the area is currently facing several challenges, the first of which is physical. Most countries in the Sahel are landlocked, vast and sparsely populated. This geographic specificity makes it significantly more difficult to provide and access certain services. In addition, the rapid population growth exacerbates the challenges that pose various problems related to investments in school construction, the availability of electricity in schools, the deployment of teachers in remote and difficult-to-reach areas, the distribution of teaching materials, etc. Offering an educational service in this context is difficult. Providing extracurricular services to enable young learners to have fun and reach their full potential is extremely complex.
What would you wish for the future of young people in the Sahel? What levers should be prioritized to restore hope?
There are 3 points worth emphasizing:
First point : the sector governance. It is weak, as is overall governance. Therefore, this topic deserves special treatment. Resources must be channeled and used effectively to develop an inclusive education system that empowers learners, and girls and women in particular. These young citizens of the countries are carriers of their development.
Second point: l’System quality improvement and its holistic approach, which relies on well-trained and motivated teachers, with an adapted learning system and revised curricula, responds to countries’ socio-economic contexts and promotes values of citizenship.
Third point: a Education that gives everyone the opportunity and skills to enable learners to have knowledge and skills that enable them to adopt the societal values of their environment, while at the same time having the qualifications to meet the demands of the economy and therefore the labor market.
What is your diagnosis of the level of education in the Sahel and what actions does the World Bank support in this area?
It’s important to start recognizing that States are responsible for defining the education system that suits the specificities of countries and the aspirations of the population. The World Bank’s role is to support them in formulating development strategies, funding them through related projects and programs, and sharing knowledge from their expertise and global experience. However, Sahel countries are known to have made impressive strides in access, with some of them approaching universal access. So there is no death. Sahel countries can move forward on the difficult path of quality education for all.
We must support them with attacks three pressing problems :
1/ the inequality geographic, gender and income level;
2/ la learning poverty which means that today 90% of young Sahelians who leave the education system at the end of primary school can barely read or count;
3/ the Amount of financing of the education system is low overall. However, the average share of GDP devoted to funding education in the Sahel does not exceed 2%. According to best practice, this spending level should be around 4% or even 6%.
In light of these observations, I have directed my teams to work on a white paper on education with stakeholders in the Sahel system. This report was submitted to the Sahel authorities in early December. We are now working on the implementation.
In this World Bank video, five young people from the Sahel share their aspirations for quality education in the region.
Does the World Bank have educational partnerships with other members of the Sahel Alliance?
Partnership is at the heart of our approach: partnership with other bilateral or multilateral financial institutions, of course, partnership with civil society, partnership with think tanks… With the Sahel Alliance, we do a lot of work beforehand, as part of strategy definition, and then of course in implementing it Strategies in development programs, programs in the countries of the Sahel.
What innovative local initiatives have you seen that deserve to be scaled up?
There are many innovations in the education system in the Sahel, sometimes unfortunately on a small scale and we don’t talk about it enough. The private sector does many things. When I travel I always visit schools and talk to different actors. In Mali, private sector actors have developed training schools that are directly linked to business needs, and the young people who graduate are immediately employable.
Meeting in 2021 with science students in Burkina Faso – Photo credit: World Bank, Erick Kaglan
In Mauritania, the retention rate of girls in the system has improved significantly thanks to increased representation of women in supervisory staff. In Niger, school canteens and boarding schools for girls have increased enrollment rates for girls in secondary school. In Chad, nomadic school initiatives that follow the children of pastoralist families provide an adapted education and promote a more inclusive education.
What interest does the World Bank have in participating in the collective dynamic of the Sahel Alliance? What points could be improved in this development partnership in the Sahel?
The Sahel Alliance is first and foremost a platform that enables the generation of ideas, promotes complementarities and synergies in measures. It helps reduce the risk of duplication of initiatives and can help maximize the benefits of pooling efforts, approaches and experiences. The Sahel Alliance is a partnership framework that needs to be seen from these angles, including the possibility of providing additional resources. His vocation must be to answer the following question: How do we make sure we’re doing things that complement each other and don’t contradict or repeat?
However, we must remain humble: The development is in turn supported by the states and the population of the Sahel zone. Above all, don’t think about replacing them! We must listen to them, integrate their perspective into our ways of reflecting and acting.
What message would you like to convey to the youth of the Sahel?
It’s up to them to keep hope, to believe in their strength and their dreams! The youth of the Sahel, following the generations before them, must resolutely invest in education and therefore go in search of knowledge. Education is the cornerstone of development. It is an essential vector for stability, social cohesion and peace.