Africa Week at UNESCO, Paris 2012 | #global #change

Africa Week is an annual event organized by the African permanent delegations to UNESCO. It aims to increase the visibility of Africa by enhancing the diversity of its cultural and artistic heritage through a week-long presentation of film screenings, art exhibitions and themed conferences.

This year's Week focused on science, sustainability, and climate change, with topics such as “Cooperation regarding Climate Change and the Promotion of Sustainable Development”, and  “The Yoruba mathematics reviewed, corrected, reconstituted: Archeology and anthropology of knowledge in an oral culture”, featuring an intervention by Professor S. Exc. Olabiyi Babalola Joseph YAÏ, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Benin to UNESCO. This last discussion focused on the history and analysis of the traditional mathematical designs of the Yoruba people.

Organised against the backdrop of UNESCO's financial woes, the TOTAL-sponsored event was made possible under the chairmanship of South Africa. A tribute was also paid to Wangari Maathai, an environmental activist and laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize.

In her speech, UNESCO's Director-General Irina Bokova highlighted the connections between education, science, and the necessary awareness of the ecological challenges confronting Africa's development in the 21st century. In line with her organizations's mandate to protect and foster cultural diversity, Ms. Bokova's speech was a curious mix of techno-optimism and genuine concern with the issues that make cooperation at the supra-national level often so difficult, not least among them the politically-inspired withdrawal of the United States' financial backing of UNESCO.

The current hype and reality of the unleashing of Africa's economic potential makes these type of discussions all the more complicated. On the one hand, the old order is still prevalent, as exemplified by events like Africa Week, where the continent's diplomats come to re-enact their friendship vows with the European hosts. But on the other, the unpredictable course of the century has turned what used to be a completely asymmetric relationship into the beginning of a different conversation, as some African countries continue their slow but inevitable ascent towards the global institutional stages.