Africa takes a cue from Finland
The equality and openness that are so much a part of Finnish society were the two characteristics most noticed by the African journalists visiting spring green Finland. “We Africans could learn something from Finnish teachers; they think every single child is just as important as every other child,” Mr Mohamed Gassama, the Press Counsellor from Senegal said, summing up his impressions of the visit.
Eleven representatives of the media from francophone countries in West and North Africa, as well as from Paris, studied the strengths of Finnish society while visiting Finland during the last weeks of May. The programme included visits to Finnish schools, observation of democracy in practice, discussions of information technology and development cooperation, and of course enjoying a Finnish sauna.
“Finland works in Western Africa primarily through international organisations,” said Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja. Photo by: Laura Pätsi
“Africa’s importance to Finland is growing,” affirmed Finland’s Foreign Minister, Erkki Tuomioja, when he met the journalists. According to Minister Tuomioja, Finland does not try to export ready-made Finnish models of, for example, schools and education. Rather, Finland would like to offer other countries examples of Finnish experiences with successful solutions to problems, solutions that others might find useful.
During the journalists’ visit, the choices Finland made on the path to development were discussed, along with suggestions as to how Finland’s experiences could best be adapted to sustainable development in Africa. While visiting Anttila School in Lohja, the journalists wanted to know what it was that made Finland’s educational system one of the best in the world.
Mr Ulrich Vital Ahotondi (left) and Mr Mohamed Gassama talk about the significance of education during the field trip to Anttila School in Lohja. Photo by: Outi Einola-Head
“Pupils who need support are given special education. The teachers are very highly trained, and they are continually updating and adding to their training. There is close cooperation between the school and the pupils’ homes,” explained Ms Ilona Jämsén, a teacher at Anttila School, giving some of the reasons for the academic success of Finnish children.
The journalists met the current Speaker of the Parliament of Finland,Eero Heinäluoma, as well as MP Pekka Haavisto, who is also the Foreign Ministry’s Special Advisor for Africa. Mr Heinäluoma emphasised the role of a loyal opposition in a working democracy. “One of the most important tasks of a Speaker is to make sure that the Opposition in Parliament gets all the information it needs about the workings of the Government,” Mr Heinäluoma said.
The discussion on gender equality and the position of women in Finland was led by MP Astrid Thors, Chairwoman of the Network of Women Members of the Finnish Parliament. Equality between men and women was particularly interesting to Ms Yasmina Lahlou, from Morocco, who works for Le Magazine Afrique. Ms Lahlou said that she feels Finland provides many good examples for the international community: in gender equality, openness and transparency, freedom of the press, and the struggle against corruption.
The openness and directness of Finnish politics and politicians, and the freedom of access journalists have in the Parliament, made a deep impression on the visitors. “I was truly amazed by the openness of the Parliament, and the possibilities journalists have to get information on everything, because in most African countries we have problems with good government,” said Mr Brahim Moussa Wallia, the representative from Panapress. He was also impressed by the fact that politicians take part in municipal politics out of interest, and are not paid for their work. Mr Wallia thinks that this practice would also be good in Africa.
“The transparency of politics and government in Finland gave me a lot to think about. The politicians we met were astonishingly direct and talked to us in simple language we could understand. I am going to take this back to Africa along with the Finnish model for education,” said Mr Ulrich Vital Ahotondji, a journalist from Benin.
“I was surprised by how many ways Finland is actually present in Africa, and what a lot of different things Finland is doing there in development cooperation and in, for example, crisis control,” affirmed Mr Abdelazim Yousif Dafa’alla, who was representing the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
“Even in France we could learn something from Finland’s transparency in government. And the academic achievements of Finnish teenagers are better than those of French kids the same age,” admitted the Director of the Panos Institute in Paris, MrPascal Berqué. He also finds evidence of the value Finns place on equality in the modesty and simplicity of Finnish life, including the unpretentious appearance of everything. “For example, the computers used in Finnish schools are very practical, simple models, which is a good thing.”
“Finland has developed rapidly on the path it has chosen. I’m sure that a number of the solutions the Finns have found can also be adapted for use in Africa. I want to keep in contact with Finland, and I will continue to follow developments here with keen interest,” the Rwandan representative, Mr Jean Marie Jabo smiled.