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Words of RasTafarI, Haile Selassie I
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UNESCO and Education
Wednesday, February 17, 1960
The Lion of Judah has prevailed
Haile Selassie I, Elect of God
King of Kings of Ethiopia

It is with the deepest pleasure that We welcome the delegates, observers and officials who have come to Our capital city of Addis Ababa in order to participate in this conference of Ministers and Directors of Education from countries in East and West Africa. The welcome which We extend to you is not only given on Our behalf but on behalf of all of Our people, and We trust that you will fully enjoy, during your stay here, the hospitality of Our country.

The conference which We are now inaugurating, the first of its kind to be convened for this area of the world, is of the greatest significance. The discussions which will be held here are directly concerned with the educational needs and aspirations of the 127 million people whose representatives have gathered together. It is important, and it augurs well for the success of this conference, that it is sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, pursuant to decisions taken at the tenth conference of UNESCO, held in Paris towards the close of 1958. All of us are indebted to UNESCO for the services which that organization has performed on our behalf.

You have before you for consideration a report, carefully prepared by the UNESCO SECRETARIAT, dealing with the educational needs of tropical African countries. From this report, it is possible to gauge something of the greatness of the task with which the educators of the African peoples represented here are now confronted. This is not, of course, a matter which concerns only educators; the enormity of the task of improving the educational level of the African peoples is and must be of particular concern to those who have been called to the highest positions of leadership. They bear the grave responsibility of ensuring that the youth of their countries combine the highest moral values with the noble patriotic sentiments in serving their country.

The total population represented at this conference is estimated at some 127 million souls. Much has been done to provide schooling for the many million children of school-age, not all of which is fully indicated in the report. But when every allowance has been made for the educational opportunities which exist outside the regular governmental school system - and We would refer specifically to the traditional and widespread efforts of the Ethiopian Church in Our land – the fact remains that according to the figures secured by UNESCO there are as yet no places in primary school for millions of boys and girls. To provide for these children, more than 345,000 teachers must be recruited and at least the same number of classrooms must be built. And the financing for these extensions of educational opportunity must come, in large measure, from budgets which are already fully extended to meet their country’s needs.

Human Potential

We have, of recent years, heard much of the economic riches of our continent and of the benefit to ourselves and to the world which will result from their exploitation and development. We have here, however, another potential source of wealth which must not be neglected - the benefit which will accrue to us and to the world if our children are granted the tools of knowledge and are enabled to acquire the skill which may be derived from education. These tools and these skills will help them as individuals to realize their full intellectual, moral and cultural stature and thus enable them as members of a society to contribute worthily to the building of our human civilization. Man has been endowed with the innate desire for and the ability to acquire wisdom and learning and it is the duty of leaders to inspire and guide our peoples in this quest.

A study of the information collected by UNESCO indicates that although the needs and the achievements of the African peoples have varied according to the geographical, economic, historical and cultural circumstances which are peculiar to each people and which have conditioned the development of each country, yet there are many elements which we share in common. It is in our interest to study and properly understand the varying problems which exist in the different regions of Africa and seek together to overcome them in a spirit of cooperation, through mutual assistance as well as through the efforts and help of those who are genuinely prepared to aid us in our endeavours.

As one example of the difficulties which have faced nations individually, We need only cite the situation which confronted Us when, in 1941, We returned to Ethiopia to find an educational system ravaged and destroyed by the Fascist invasion of Our country in 1935. The educational progress of Our people was severely and sadly retarded by the events of those years. The youth of Our country who had received higher education prior to 1935 were decimated during the years in which the Fascist invader ravaged Our land, and there was little indeed in the way of trained human resources or existing facilities at hand to aid Us in the enormous task which confronted Us. But, convinced as We were that in the education of our young rested the key to Ethiopia’s future development, We determined that this task would enjoy the highest priority in Our programme for Ethiopia’s progress.

We take humble pride in the accomplishments of the years since 1941, and Our heart is filled with joy when We observe the fruits of Our efforts in the youth of Our country who are succeeding in ever increasing numbers to positions of responsibility in the life of Our nation. Hundreds of schools have been built; hundreds of thousands of Our people have received the benefit of education. Although Our country was unable to make free use of the facilities for higher education in the metropolitan countries of Europe which have influenced the development of schooling in certain areas of Africa, We have nonetheless been able to carry out an extensive programme of foreign training in many countries of the world, and We appreciate the scholarships which have permitted young men and women to study abroad. In addition, We have built up here a system of colleges which, We are happy to say, We are already sharing with students from Our sister countries. We believe that the existence of these colleges, together with those parallel institutions which are increasingly appearing in other parts of this great continent may ease the problem of preparing a programme of education which is designed specifically to meet the needs of our African peoples.


Our efforts have not been directed solely to the educational advancement of Ethiopians; We have, as well, not been unmindful that all of us must share in the responsibility for the education of all of our African brothers. We had this firmly in mind when We awarded 200 scholarships, a number, We would add, which was limited only by the budgetary resources at Our disposal. We intend to continue Our efforts to extend all possible assistance in this field. Surely, if we all resolved jointly to bend our unsparing efforts to the achievements of universal education on this great continent, we would in a few short years see results going far beyond what each of us, acting alone, could attain.

Much has been done, but much more remains to be accomplished. Even today, We reserve to Our Person the portfolio of Minister of Education, and We shall never cease to devote Our efforts and energies to the tasks and problems involved in the education of Our people. We are confident that great things will be accomplished during this conference. We know that you, too, share Our preoccupation with the educational needs of peoples everywhere. We know that you share with Us the firm conviction that as man’s soul and his ability to reason and to learn constitute the distinctive marks of humanity, so the gifts of education and the development of man’s intellectual capacity can create differences among men. We know that the learning of the ages and the teachings of wise men who have lived throughout the history of the world must no longer be denied to large numbers of the population of the earth. We know that man’s physical needs and his intellectual and spiritual strivings can only be satisfied through the medium of education. It is not unimportant to observe the direct relationship that exists between the standard of living of peoples in various parts of the world and the educational level which they have attained.

Strength in Diversity

All African people, not only those represented here, have had varying experiences and encountered varying difficulties and trials in the search for education. But the very fact that our experience has not been uniform can now become a source of strength to us as we undertake the planning of a common approach to the education of our children. Each of us has something to contribute. In the field of teacher training, for example, it is possible that a common approach may be devised, especially for the preparation of staff to serve in the higher levels of our schools and for the imparting of those technical skills which are so essential for our developing economies. In this connection, We would refer to the departments of our Ethiopian colleges, to the University College of Addis Ababa, with its faculties and sections concerned with Liberal Arts, Education, Law and Science; to the College of Engineering; the College of Agricultural and Mechanical Arts; the Public Health College; the Institute of Building Technology; the Institute of Public Administration and the Mapping and Geography Institute – all these may well play their part both in the development of African higher education and also in the implementation of plans for universal primary schooling which may be drafted as a result of this present conference.

The agenda which has been prepared for your meetings covers a very wide area. The facts which have been gathered and the statistics which have been compiled indicate something of the magnitude of the task with which we are faced, but from them we may also derive some satisfaction and some encouragement in the knowledge of what has been achieved, often against great odds, in the initial foundation of our educational systems.

By working together as neighbours, by making use of the resources which can be brought to bear through programmes of national development, of mutual help and of international assistance, we may face the future with confidence, secure in the knowledge that we can render a good account for our days and for our labours.

It is not sufficient to pay only lip service to the cause of our cooperation and unity. We must devise means of effective cooperation which will enable us to mobilize our resources and strengthen the basis for the limited industries which we possess and thereby ensure our progress and, ultimately, attain well-being and self-sufficiency for all. Without education, we cannot hope to possess the technicians and experts essential to the development of our economies or the doctors and nurses who will safeguard the health of our people, nor can we achieve the other conditions upon which our security and prosperity depend.

We shall follow with the greatest interest the deliberations of this conference, and We pray that we may enjoy the guidance and the blessing of the Almighty as we apply ourselves to the tasks that now confront us.

Words of Ras TafarI

Haile Selassie I