There is a shared global understanding of the urgency to tackle the mix of economic, social and environmental issues militating against sustainable development.
This urgency drove the United Nations (UN) to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a global call to action to end poverty, to make the world a better place for everybody.
The SDGs are expected to shape the global agenda on economic, social and environmental development.
One key element that can help accelerate the achievement of the SDGs is culture. Culture has been identified as both an enabler and a driver of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.
According to UNESCO, promoting respect for cultural diversity within a human rights-based approach, facilitates cultural understanding and peace, prevents conflicts, and protects the rights of marginalized groups.
Promoting cultural diversity, therefore, is key to the implementation of the global blueprint to achieve a desirable and more sustainable future for all, especially in Africa, where there exists diverse culture and ethnic groups.
This is where the work of the Graduate School “Performing Sustainability – Cultures and Development in West-Africa” fit in with its objective to develop local strategies for overcoming conflicts and traumatic experiences.
The Graduate School ‘Performing Sustainability’ is an interdisciplinary collaborative training network for graduate students by the University of Hildesheim (Germany), the University of Maiduguri (Nigeria) and the University of Cape Coast (Ghana).
The Graduate School – Performing Sustainability – Cultures and Development in West-Africa is one of seven SDG Graduate Schools promoted by the DAAD, German’s largest support organization in the field of international academic Co-operation, with funding from the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The SDG School since its inception in 2016 has offered scholarship to 23 PhD and 12 Masters Students, from Ghana and Nigeria, undertaking research to facilitate arts and culture as a vehicle to achieve some of the SDGs.
Their research areas include cultural policy and performing art, livelihood strategies for teenage mothers and the link between creative economy and academia.
Additionally, it has been holding biannual workshops with series of activities including round-table discussions on overlapping areas of culture, performance and sustainable development.
This often features hands-on workshops on research techniques and presentations on thesis topics.
Scholarship holders are tasked to start working on projects in the educational, socio-cultural or cultural policy field.
There are three short-term scholarships for German postgraduate students in Ghana or Nigeria, to enable collaborative research projects with African students for mutual quality control of the work and to link the cultures of knowledge.
Professor RaimundVogels, one of the Graduate School’s three Directors and Ethnomusicologist at the University of Hildesheim, believes that the long-term task given to the scholarship holders would bring about the revival of communities.
He says, music could be one of the pathways for people to find a common identity.
Prof Vogels is hopeful about the sustainability of the Graduate School, saying, “the foundation for this has already been laid at the University of Maiduguri: it founded the Centre for the Study and Promotion of Cultural Sustainability, whose director is Abba Tijani”
“This is a valuable structural measure which can guarantee the longevity of the Graduate School.”
He adds that apart from providing scientific expertise on project initiatives, it has an influence on local society.
“Cultural sustainability is a decisive tool for generating social cohesion.”
Preservation of Cultural Heritage
Dr. Björn Kiehne, an Educational Researcher at the Berlin Center for Higher Education, reckons that the SDGs Graduate School would intensify cultural contacts between the three partner countries (Germany, Ghana and Nigeria) and the mutual benefits from the free exchange of ideas could be enormous.
“To shape a national identity that includes all, newcomers and natives, is a challenge that has to be addressed by higher education and the society as a whole,” he says.
According to him, such investment in education should be seen as investment in the future of the country.
Higher education, he notes, could be an agent of the creation of identity, especially in a country like Germany, that benefits from migration.
Umar Lawal Yusuf, one of the scholarship beneficiaries and a lecturer at the University of Maiduguri, in Nigeria, is studying for a doctorate on “the Role and Influence of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF)”, a state-funded militia combating the influence of Boko Haram in the Federal state of Borno.
He states that the activities of Boko Haram are having an erosive effect on Nigeria’s cultural heritage. He is confident that together with other scholarship holders from Nigeria, he could through their research contribute to the peace building process.
Dr. Christopher Mtaku, Coordinator of the SDG Graduate School in Nigeria affirmed that many of the communities in the villages of northeast Nigeria had been destroyed over the last six years of the conflict.
Prisca Ama Anima, another scholarship holder focusing her thesis on how young mothers can escape poverty, says, poverty is one of the main drivers of teen pregnancies.
Towards Achieving the SDGs
According to the 2017 report of the Africa Culture Policy Network, the SDGs are most relevant to Africa as most of the countries are located in the low category of the Human Development Index.
It underscored that the transversal nature of culture and its impact on development has not been grappled with, as it should be, to inform development and cultural strategies that would strengthen the contribution of the creative industry to development.
The SDG Graduate School initiative is centred on innovative research and brings together approaches to performance, arts and culture, to bear on sustainable development as defined in the SDGs with specific focus on issues of peace and conflict resolution.
The focus is not only on sustainable development but also on conflict solutions and the propagation of peace.
The DAAD Support
Dr. Abba Tijani, Director of the Graduate School in Nigeria, is of the conviction that any university which sees itself as a global actor should foster contacts with other nationals and international institutions to educate its students and to also organize workshops and seminars.
The support of the DAAD enables students and postgraduates to be schooled on cultural sustainability with an international perspective, he explains.
The African scholarship holders spend three months at the University of Hildesheim. Twice a year they come together for workshops in Nigeria and Ghana for discussions on the results, methods, experiences from the field studies, or everyday issues concerning project management.
“I have benefited a lot from access to scientific publications, contact to other experts in my field of research, and experience exchanges with other scholarship holders”, Umar Lawal Yusuf, acknowledges.
Prisca Ama Anima shares that position, and is convinced that Germany’s different cultural environment would help her progress as a scientist.
“Graduate school gives me the opportunity to do an interdisciplinary research which I have been looking forward to. With my work, I want to create a difference in my community through peace promotion”, Naomi Albert Yusuf, another scholarship holder, states.
Mr. EyramFiagbedzi, the Local Coordinator of the SDG Graduate School, said three PhD scholarship holders of the first cohort of the school were done with their research work while the others would be finishing theirs soon.
Six PhD UCC students of the second cohort of the SDG Graduate School are at various stages of their research work.
Creative industries and cultural infrastructure are valuable resources for generating livelihoods. The protection and promotion of culture and arts have direct contribution to the achievement of a number of the SDGs.
According to UNESCO, culture also has a direct correlation with climate change as many traditional occupations and crafts draw on local knowledge of ecosystem management, natural resource extraction and local materials.
The ambitious vision of the SDGs certainly demands creative approaches, beyond the typical linear and sectoral ones that most countries have been used to.
The SDGs Graduate School is therefore a positive initiative that would go a long way to help countries in the Sub Saharan Africa to achieve the SDGs and needs to be supported by African governments. There cannot be any doubt that the achievement of the SDGs would benefit Africa more than any other continent.