Mac Alunge Interviews UNESCO Regional Director for Central Africa, Salah Khaled, on the UNESCO-funded Strawacademy Documentary, A Ray of Hope – The Ills of Violent Extremism in Southwest Cameroon
We were privileged to have a sit-down with Sir Salah Khaled, the Director for the Regional Office of UNESCO for Central Africa
- Mac Alunge: Sir, thank you so much for having us. This is a very humbling honor to have you in this interview. Thank you for taking out the time. Thank you for being here. We know that your schedule is very tight but still you make out time. We are really grateful.
- Sir Salah Khaled: Thank you
- Mac Alunge: So we understand that you Sir Salah Khaled have over the years a culmination of experience from working from differently regions of conflict in the world. So as regards to countering violent extremism in the Southwest region, what are some solutions you have seen that work in other areas that you feel should be implemented in the Cameroonian context, particularly in the Southwest regions?
- Sir Salah Khaled: Well, thank you very much and I will like to start by thanking you and the Strawacademy team, yourself Mac. It is really a pleasure for me to be here in the beautiful city of Buea. Regarding your question, yes from my experience in my career in other countries where there was conflict, what I can say is that after few years of the crisis here and in this region, the most important element is try to reach reconciliation, try to address the root causes of the crisis and an important factor is also to build the resilience of the people and support them through psychosocial means, psychosocial support in general to get over the trauma and the sufferings that have been caused by the crisis in general. Youths, the young men and women of this region have to feel that there is hope. They have to feel that they have an alternative, that they have an opportunity and this is the most important factor in reaching and end to this crisis.
The dialogue that started as an initiative by the government of Cameroon, the Grand National Dialogue that took place in late 2019 was a good step in the right direction but it needs now to build on this momentum. It’s a very position momentum, it created a lot of hope and this momentum needs to be continued. The young people as I said have to have their share, their say in this. We are seeing community now at the grass root level contributing through activities, through a lot of projects, lot of initiatives and this is really positive and encouraging and I think these are all little steps in the right direction to reach reconciliation and an end to the crisis, hopefully very soon. What really strikes me as somebody coming from outside the country, but as an African as well is that there is so much potential in Cameroon. There is so much potential in this regions, in the Southwest region and the Northwest. The potential of the youth is enormous. Cameroon is really rich with this young power that has to be harnessed and capitalized on. With all the wealth of natural resources that Cameroon enjoys, it can be an economic power, that is unequal than any other country. It’s really the Africa in miniature.
- Mac Alunge: We understand that UNESCO is doing so much in enhancing peacebuilding and social cohesion within the region. Can you just walk us through some of the things that are happening currently?
- Sir Salah Khaled: Yes absolutely. So UNESCO has been working very closely with the youth associations and youth groups like yours, like Strawacademy and we are very proud of this partnership that we have with you, and we’ve been working with many others like Local Youth Corner (LOYOC), who have been doing marvelous work also that we have supported as UNESCO, the latest initiative on prison-preneurs. Prison-preneurs, this is something that really impressed me and hopefully UNESCO would be able to support it and even take it to other neighboring countries. As you know, we are a regional office that covers all of Central Africa region. We’ve also been working with other youth associations and groups working on art, poetry, slams. As you know, Art has a very important role in any kind of conflict resolution and building peace, preventing conflict and getting this sense of unity among the young people among the communities. So this is what we are really trying to promote. We have now just launched a few months back, an important initiative which will hopefully be gathering 1800 young ambassadors of peace, young men and women who will be working for preventing conflict for resolving conflict, but a very important pillar in this initiative will also be encouraging them to enter into revenue generating activities. As you know, this is the most important pillar. We cannot keep on talking about peacebuilding and conflict resolution without giving an alternative and opportunity for decent livelihood. Jobs, businesses, this is what we encourage young people into, new start-ups giving them these entrepreneurial skills and competences. As you know, many young people have been deprived of education as well in this region for so many years now and I always think about those who were finishing their secondary school in 2016 and never had the chance to enter into the University and probably they would never have this chance again. How to give them an alternative now? How to give them a second opportunity? This is what UNESCO is working on now and it’s thanks to youth groups and youth associations like yours that we will be doing the big projects that I mentioned: Tisserands de la Paix, Ambassadors of Peace, the creators of peace hopefully will be a model to replicate across the country, across the region, Central Africa region. As you know, it’s a region that has fragile context as well and working with the youth on tackling those challenges is an important priority for UNESCO.
- Mac Alunge: The next question which we want to ask is what do you believe is the role of artists in peacebuilding, what you have already started talking about and what do you feel a Cameroonian artist in the media paste should be doing as regards to peacebuilding? Is it just singing? What do you feel like they can add to their music that can really enhance peacebuilding in our region?
- Sir Salah Khaled: Well, the role of Art as I mentioned is extremely important. It’s another priority area for UNESCO. The artists are not just there, the singers that you mentioned are not just there to sing. They have a message to convey and this is what we are really proud of doing now with some of the youths that we are working with, how to harness the power of art, music or film and I am really proud of being here today for the CAMIFF, The Cameroon Movie International Film Festival and I was really impressed by the number of talents by this power of creativity that is here in Cameroon among the young people, and they have an important role to play for the consolidation of peace, for bringing the communities together for the sense of belonging and unity that is so much needed.
UNESCO is giving priority to the Arts in general. As you know this year in particular is the African Union year for Arts, Culture and Heritage and UNESCO is very close to the African Union and now President Tshisekedi of DRC is now the president and we are working very closely on harnessing the initiatives that will take place. We really want to see a vibrant, creative and cultural industry sector here in Cameroon and this is what we are trying to support. We are very conscious of the fact that artists have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic and this is something that we are tackling since the beginning of the pandemic since last year. We have organized ResiliArt, the resilience of artists and we are really proud of having started one of the unique innovative solutions that hopefully will be able to help artists in creating credit funds for them together with the German government. So this is something that we are really proud of and we need to see how to support the artists, not just for singing and doing movies etc. It’s an industry, it can be a platform for real financial resilience, economic resilience.Follow Mac Alunge here: