Finland’s Africa strategy should harness Africa’s youth dividend for positive change

Finland's Africa strategy

FCA has published a document with recommendations for Finland’s Africa strategy. Download the document by clicking here.

Africa is one of the world’s fastest-growing markets, despite facing many challenges across the continent. Political ties of African countries, security issues and the effects of global phenomena, like climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic, have an increasing influence on the entire world.

This is why an increasing number of actors build partnerships with African countries. Last year, the US launched a new Africa strategy. Russia held its first Africa summit, and China has meticulously strengthened its ties with the continent. This year, the EU has worked on its own partnership strategy.

How should Finland position itself to play a part in Africa’s future?

FCA has released a document with recommendations for Finland’s Africa strategy. It emphasises that Africa is a continent of youth. They form the continent’s future and affect the entire world.

FCA argues that Finland can achieve its goal of having an impact beyond its size if its Africa strategy manages to harness the continent’s youth dividend for positive change and development.

While national populations in other parts of the world are ageing, most African countries have majority youth populations. Currently, 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25. These young women and men bring great potential for the African future. By 2050, there will be 2 billion Africans, and one-third of the world’s youth will be in sub-Saharan Africa.

Some of the most pressing needs in African countries coincide with areas where Finland stands out as a global leader, such as quality education, linking learning to earning, sustainable livelihoods and promoting peace, security, gender equality and good governance.

A mutually beneficial partnership is an opportunity for both Africa and Finland.

Learn more about the path forward from FCA’s recommendations to Finland’s Africa strategy. Download the document by clicking here.

Eritrea – a school of diplomacy for Ikali Karvinen

Ikali Karvinen leads the activities of Finn Church Aid in Eritrea as Education Specialist.

Classes are big, education materials are scarce, and teaching is not held in high esteem in Eritrea. Despite numerous challenges, Eritrean teachers are still interested in developing teaching methods, says Ikali Karvinen.

Karvinen has been leading FCA teacher-training projects in Eritrea since the beginning of 2017.

”On an ordinary day, I guide teachers and colleagues, support the carrying out of research, and plan activities for higher-education institutions to enhance the competence of the personnel,” explains Karvinen.

The political environment in Eritrea is challenging, and many are initially suspicious of foreign operators. Building trust is important.

In addition to scarcity of water and electricity, poor data-communication connections make days very different from those in Finland. According to Karvinen, several things require many times the amount of time.

”My colleague and I laugh at not being able to open a single news report online in up to four days – so life is hard for news addicts!”

From nurse to Education Specialist

Karvinen describes his career path as atypical. After graduating as a nurse, he supplemented his studies in nursing science, and ended up in Kenya to collect research data for his PhD thesis. He earned his PhD in Public Health in 2009.

”Eritrea has been a school of diplomacy for me. I have met people who, despite personal and their home country’s difficulties, look into the future with confidence and hope,” says Karvinen.

The results of the work are not seen instantly, not even in a year or two. With his work, Karvinen hopes to promote cooperation between teachers and different stakeholders, and evidence-based education.

”We believe that the teachers we are working with are the forerunners of a new kind of teachership. They will train future teachers with new methods.”

Text: Minna Elo

Developing education in Eritrea begins with teachers

Eritrea is in need of quality teachers, particularly in rural regions, where up to 80 percent of the country’s population live. Certain elements of the Finnish education system could benefit Eritrea as well.

An English class is under way for second graders at the Sewra primary school in the Eritrean capital Asmara. “Jerry can, jerry can” the children repeat eagerly after the teacher.

The teacher holds up a picture of the container and asks the children what it is. The little ones answer in their native tongue Tigrinya.

“No, a jerry can”, the teacher repeats patiently and a choir of voices starts chanting once more from the beginning.

Pupils at class in Sewra Elementary School in Asmara.

Pupils at class in Sewra Elementary School in Asmara.

Teaching in Eritrea relies on very traditional methods. Teachers write down their weekly schedules in a notebook, and on Fridays the principal approves schedules for the coming week. Inspectors visit schools regularly to make sure, among other things, that teachers are maintaining their schedules.

A single class can hold up to 60 students. Skilled teachers are in high demand.

All Eritrean youth spend their last year of school at the military training camp in Sawa, in the Gash-Barka region. Their future is highly dependent on their performance in the final exams. Study places are allocated based on success in these exams. Until recently, those with the lowest scores have been chosen for teacher training. The teaching profession has not been held in high regard in Eritrea.

Eritrea is investing in teacher training

Eritrea is developing its teacher training and national curriculum to ensure children and youth receive the skills they need in order to succeed in the future. Finn Church Aid has supported this work from 2015.

Teacher trainees are chosen with a new method emphasising school success and motivation. Motivation is determined by individual interviews. The first teacher trainees chosen with this method began their studies last autumn. They will spend their last year of high-school at a teacher training institute instead of the Sawa military camp.

In two years they will graduate as primary school teachers. Those with the best scores can continue their studies.

“Being a teacher wasn’t exactly my dream. I dreamt of studying chemistry, but my father is a teacher and I spoke with him. Eritrea needs teachers and I thought I could become one”, says 18-year-old Ariam Yosief, who was one of the students who started their studies at the Asmara Community College of Education (ACCE) last autumn.

“It’s not easy to give up on your dreams, but I want to help others. I have also found good friends here”, she says.

“Next we need to study how well the new selection process is working”, says Finn Church Aid Education Specialist Hanna Posti-Ahokas.

Development cannot be imported

The campus of the Eritrean Institute of Technology (EIT) is located in the countryside about 25 kilometres from Asmara. Facilities there are modest: students live in barracks on campus. The institute has a computer room, but the internet connection is slow and unreliable.

 “We understand that we still have plenty to do to develop teaching. At the same time, we are aware of how much we can do”, says Khalid Idris (centre), dean of the EIT’s College of Education. Also on the photo are Zecarias Zemichael (left) and Petros Woldu.  Idris, Zecmichael and Woldu form the coordinating team at EIT for the cooperation with FCA.

“We understand that we still have plenty to do to develop teaching. At the same time, we are aware of how much we can do”, says Khalid Idris (centre), dean of the EIT’s College of Education. Also on the photo are Zecarias Zemichael (left) and Petros Woldu.  Idris, Zecmichael and Woldu form the coordinating team at EIT for the cooperation with FCA.

“You can’t have development without research and development cannot be imported”, says Zecarias Zemichael, teacher and researcher at the EIT’s Department of Psychology.

“At the moment, we are working on a mentoring programme, because sharing experiences between teachers is important. We encourage our staff to take part in workshops and develop their professional skills”, Zecarias Zemichael says.

Cooperation motivates personal professional development

Eritrea is one of the poorest countries in Africa. 40 per cent of the population live in rural regions that lack proper roads, not to mention electricity and sewers. Even with lacking resources and power outages at the teacher training institute, educators remain motivated to develop themselves and teacher training.

“I feel privileged when communicating with my students. It makes me feel like I’m doing important work”, says Amanuel Yosief, one of the teachers at the ACCE.

“The students are a resource themselves, and they give me the opportunity to learn new things as well”, says Amanuel Yosief. 

“The students are a resource themselves, and they give me the opportunity to learn new things as well”, says Amanuel Yosief.

Working with Finn Church Aid has provided Yosief with tools to develop his craft. Workshops and group discussions have made him think about his own teaching and fuelled his motivation.

“Teaching in Eritrea is very theoretical. It should be made more practical and find ways of linking it to students’ personal experiences.”

Yosief was one of five teacher trainers who visited Finland in October to familiarise themselves with the Finnish education system.

“Finnish teachers were motivated and responsible, and this reflected in the children as well. The children had confidence in themselves and worked independently. For example, in an English class the students could choose how to study; independently or in a group”, Yosief says.

FCA’s cooperation with Eritrean teacher training institutions and education officials has continued for two years.

“Our expectations were very high and we are still only in the beginning. The resource-centre, where we have computers and literature, is a concrete and important achievement in our cooperation. I am very optimistic about the future”, Zecarias Zemichael says.

FCA activities in Eritrea

FCA activities include:

  • Developing teacher training (for example through pedagogic cafés, action research, curriculum development and Teachers without Borders volunteers).
  • Providing support to the National Innovation Centre.
  • Promoting dialogue between Finnish and Eritrean youth organisations.
  • Plans have also been made to engage in the development of vocational education.

Finn Church Aid is one of the few international NGOs operating in Eritrea.

Text: Minna Elo
Photos: Jukka Gröndahl

Finnish and Eritrean youth leaders demand the inclusion of young people in decision making

The role of young people in peace processes was discussed at an event organised by FCA, the UN Permanent Missions of Eritrea and Finland and UNDP.

Two hundred UN diplomats, youth peacebuilders and civil society representatives were brought together in a unique way at the event Youth Leadership in Peace and Security in New York earlier this week.

The participants reflected on challenges in the cooperation between young people and governments, and presented ideas on how to overcome them.

“Now young people themselves got to express what they’re already doing for sustainable development and lasting peace”, said Joel Linnainmäki, representative of the National Youth Council of Finland, right after the event.

Almost half of the world’s population consists of under 25-year-olds. They make almost 60 per cent of the population in Africa and the Middle East. The participants of the event agreed that young people shouldn’t be treated as a threat or as trouble-makers, but instead recognised for the positive role they can play in peace processes, and for instance in preventing violent radicalisation.

There’s more young people in the world than ever before in history, and it’s increasingly clear that sustainable development and a lasting peace can’t be achieved without including the youth.

“Young people deserve and need a seat at the table in peacebuilding”, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson stated in his opening speech at the event.

Youth participation models should be exported from Finland

Ensuring the political participation of youth also requires economic inclusion and opportunities. Employment and quality education for young people as well as vocational skills must be taken into account.

Young people were recognized as active agents of change less than a year ago in the UN resolution 2250 Youth, Peace and Security in December 2015.

“In that regard, the composition of this event was extremely important. Young people themselves talked about the work they’ve done”, said this year’s UN Youth Delegate from Finland Sonja Huttunen.

According to Linnainmäki the event was a welcome step forward in the cooperation with Eritrean youth.

“At this point, the most important task is to broaden our cooperation and bring along other youth organisations in Europe and the Horn of Africa. We’re now planning a wider conference in Eritrea about youth leadership in peacebuilding”, he says.

The main objectives of Finland’s development policies aim to increase stability in developing countries, find employment and education opportunities for youth, and prevent radicalisation.

”Finland has a lot of experience in including youth in decision making, and should be proud of it. We have for instance ensured the participation of youth councils by law, and this could be applicable in other countries as well to bring youth voices to decision making tables”, said FCA’s adviser Laura Vanhanen, one of the organisers of the event.

You can also watch the event at the UN WEB TV.

Suomalaisten ja eritrealaisten nuorten vuoropuhelu jatkui New Yorkin tilaisuudessa. Kuva: Kirkon Ulkomaanapu.

The dialogue between Finnish and Eritrean youth continued in the Youth Leadership  in Peace and Security event in New York. Photo: Laura Vanhanen /Finn Church Aid.

Youth delegates representing the Finnish youth:
Silja Markkula, Guides and Scouts of Finland & Allianssi – National Youth Council of Finland
Sonja Huttunen, The UN Youth Delegate of Finland 2016
Joel Linnainmäki, Allianssi – National Youth Council of Finland
Otto Ahoniemi, The Finnish Conscripts Union


Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed visits FCA

Eritrean Minister of Foreign Affairs Osman Saleh Mohammed, Presidential Adviser Yemane Ghebreab and Ambassador Yonas Manna visited the Finn Church Aid offices on 14 April. The Eritrean delegation met with the Chairperson of FCA board, Tarja Kantola and Director of International Cooperation Tomi Järvinen.

The meetings provided an opportunity to take stock of the cooperation between Finn Church Aid and Eritrea in supporting Eritrean education sector development since the beginning of 2015.  The meeting confirmed that since its inception, the cooperation has successfully contributed to the Eritrean education sector development, including the teacher education and curriculum development.

“The results of the ongoing cooperation are very encouraging”, said Kantola.

“FCA is committed to continuing its support to the Eritrean youth’s right to quality education”.

Youth employment in Eritrea was also discussed.

“FCA’s experience in diversifying and improving livelihoods, vocational training and linking learning to earning provide good opportunities to discuss further cooperation in Eritrea”, said Järvinen.

FCA is working in cooperation with Eritrean teacher training institutions and education officials to develop the capacities of teachers and teacher trainers to ensure that Eritrean children and youth have the opportunity to learn with professional and motivated teachers. FCA is also supporting the establishment of Eritrea’s first national innovation centre.

The delegation was in Finland by the invitation of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.

For more information:
Director of International Cooperation, Mr. Tomi Järvinen, p. +358 40 641 8209