The teaching profession in Africa has been hit hard by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. One of the most seriously affected countries in French-speaking Africa is Ivory Coast.
In 2002, the country’s unions joined forces in an HIV/AIDS Prevention Programme (subsequently merged with the Education for All Programme to form EFAIDS) which has been instrumental in combating HIV/AIDS. On the basis of valuable experience gained over several years, in 2006 Junior Kouamé, who coordinates the programme in Ivory Coast together with Emmanuel Zaddi, travelled to Cameroon and Gabon to help train the local unions there within the framework of the South-South cooperation component of the programme. We met him in Dakar, where he had come to share his expertise with other unions and map out the way ahead in the course of an in-depth discussion on the evaluation and planning of HIV/AIDS projects. Junior’s experience as an activist and civil rights campaigner dates back to his involvement in the student movement when he was still in high school. Later, during his first year as a teacher, he actively participated in the work of his local union branch, of which he became vice-president. One of Junior’s role models is Nelson Mandela, in whom he admires not only the indefatigable fighter but also the man who knew when it was time to relinquish power – an attitude which, he says, is unfortunately not very widespread among African politicians. In 2002, Junior joined the EFAIDS Programme, first taking the training and then becoming an instructor himself. Since 2003, he has been project coordinator, a job which gives him much personal satisfaction, as it enables him to establish new contacts and share the enthusiasm of other teacher union activists for the programme. In fact, in addition to its effectiveness as a training tool, the programme enables teachers to transcend the limitations of an individual union and cooperate with other unions around a common platform. Junior says it’s “something we should have started doing a long time ago!” Through joint action, teachers have been able to exert more pressure on the government and have gained wider recognition for their crucial role in achieving social improvement. Furthermore, their initiatives have been extended to include other sectors and social actors. Working in other countries has been a very enriching experience for Junior, enabling him to view the EFAIDS Programme and Exercise Book from a different angle. “It is especially interesting,” he says, “to find out what other colleagues, other coordinators are doing and have to say.” To take part in this kind of programme as an African trade unionist is clearly an advantage. Across French-speaking Africa, trade unionists are experiencing the same realities, the same forms of “harassment and interference to which unions are subjected here” and which are virtually unknown in Europe. They face the same danger of union fragmentation and loss of membership, which is a paradoxical consequence of the democratisation process begun in the early 1990s, whereby each individual party and each ministry created its own separate union. South-South cooperation makes it possible to deploy trainers who are in a better position to respond positively to the often unexpected challenges facing those implementing the EFAIDS programme in the region. It also enables more effective implementation, across a variety of countries, of a programme which, in addition to its specific objectives, promotes trade union unity and the emergence of a kind of trade unionism that is proposal-oriented and proactive, as opposed to merely reactive. By Sylvie Gosme