Africa Day: A New Dawn

Africa Day: A New Dawn

By: Kirstin Buchanan

Each year on May 25, Africans and others around the globe celebrate Africa Day. The day commemorates the 1963 founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), known today as the African Union, which was Africa’s first post-independence continental institution. For Africans on the continent and in the diaspora, Africa Day signifies unity, pride in being African, and an opportunity to celebrate the continent’s progress while reflecting on the common challenges yet to overcome.

Dr. Dzingai Mutumbuka,
Former Minister of Education, Zimbabwe

In honor of Africa Day, we are sharing the story of a true African visionary and luminary in the education sector: Dr. Dzingai Mutumbuka. Dzingai served as the first Minister of Education and Culture for Zimbabwe upon its Independence from Britain from 1980 to 1988, and as Minister of Higher Education from 1988 to 1989. He currently serves on the Governing Board of several institutions and is also a member of the Luminos Fund’s Advisory Board.

When the charter that created the OAU was signed in May 1963, several African states had not yet won their independence. This was the case in Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia), the home of Dr. Dzingai Mutumbuka. Dzingai, who grew up against the backdrop of colonialism and racial segregation, describes his childhood as very challenging. He was raised by his maternal grandmother in a very poor household and credits his success to the core values she instilled in him: values that remain with him today.

“She would say to me: it doesn’t matter how poor you are or what your stage in life is. If you are hardworking and determined, you can achieve anything,” Dzingai says.

Although he was just a teenager at the time, Dzingai recalls the great significance 25 May 1963 held for Africans everywhere and for ushering in a tide of change across the continent and beyond. The formation of the OAU called for unity among African countries that transcends ethnic and national differences. Additionally, the OAU promoted cooperation in pursuit of a shared goal to rid the continent of colonialism and apartheid and create a world where Africans control their own destiny.

“The idea of uniting was to make sure that never again would Africa be colonized. The idea was that slavery came because Africans were divided. Colonialism came because Africans were divided. If we were to maintain our newfound freedom, it was important that Africans fight as one.”

– Dr. Dzingai Mutumbuka

Since ending colonialism and apartheid in Africa, there has been significant progress with governance, economic growth and inclusiveness, infrastructure development, health, and education across the continent. For instance, Africa has made steady progress in increasing life expectancy at birth over the last 60 years and improved infant mortality by around 30% over the past 20 years (AFDB). Furthermore, the continent has made considerable progress in boosting primary and lower secondary school enrollment (World Bank).

There is much to celebrate, but also still much to overcome. As power and wealth still largely remain concentrated in the hands of a few, deep structural and systemic inequalities continue to beset African societies.

“I think the link between decolonization and economic wellbeing was a stretch, and it remains a stretch today in Africa,” says Dzingai. “This is an important frontier for us, and it immediately leads to the question of education. Because, as Mandela once said, education is the most important tool with which you can change society.”

Dzingai’s journey is a testament to this. Unlike so many other boys and girls across the continent, he was given an opportunity: thanks to an anonymous donor, Dzingai was able to complete his secondary education when his family could no longer afford to send him to school. In spite of the inevitable roadblocks presented by a segregated education system, Dzingai excelled in school, earning scholarships and awards that enabled him to go on to pursue higher education. These experiences would later inspire his work as Zimbabwe’s first Minister of Education.

“When I became Minister of Education at independence, I wanted Zimbabwe to be different. I wanted the quality of education in Zimbabwe to be different. I did not want the average child growing up in Zimbabwe to go through what I went through. I wanted every child to have access to the best education that was possible.”

– Dr. Dzingai Mutumbuka

When inheriting a system built on structural inequality, transformative action is required to achieve greater equity for all.

“The system needed radical reform and radical change in order to prepare young people for a healthy and productive future to end the crisis that Africa faces today,” says Dzingai.

Regrettably, the continent has struggled to ensure quality and universal education for all.  Without urgent action, the situation will likely worsen as the region faces a rising demand for education due to a still-growing school-age population (UNESCO).

But there is hope—Africa has overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges and continues to demonstrate resounding resilience and strength. There is incredible power in unity and committing to invest in the region’s collective future, and with the right African leadership, Africa’s future is bright.

When we come together on May 25 to celebrate solidarity and Africa’s collective progress, let us also remember this as an opportunity to unite to solve the common challenges that the continent still faces in a global environment. For Dzingai, Africa’s most transformational progress is yet to come. The potential for transformation hinges on its youth and future leaders, and importantly, the willingness of current leaders to prioritize investments in their people, especially young people and their education.

“If these young people are given space to really implement some of their wild ideas,” Dzingai says, “it will not take time before we see changes in Africa that we never thought were possible.”


To hear more from Dzingai, visit his page from Luminos’ “Education Leadership through Crisis” series.


Kirstin Buchanan serves as the Development & Communications Associate at the Luminos Fund where she amplifies student voices and program stories, in addition to helping drive content, messaging, and fundraising strategy. She holds a MA in International Affairs and BA in International Relations from Boston University, as well as a certificate in Latin American studies.

Relationships Power Africa. They Should Drive its Education, too.

Relationships Power Africa. They Should Drive its Education, too.

The following is a plenary address given by Mubuso Zamchiya, Managing Director of the Luminos Fund, to the International Education Funders Group (IEFG) Bi-Annual Meeting in November 2019 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The meeting was hosted by the Luminos Fund.

A young Program Officer, working at a large philanthropic institution, pays a visit to his former development studies Professor at Oxford. They greet warmly. And they reminisce about the many “save-the-world” arguments they once had. Spirited debates which rivaled that of Jeffrey Sachs and William Easterly. Disputes softened only by the several pints they tenderly nursed at the Kings Arms, on the corner of Parks Road and Holywell Street.

On this occasion, seeking to recapture the erstwhile glow of the good old days, the Program Officer posits a question, “Professor,” he says, “What must I do to fulfill the objectives of SDG4?”

“Hmm,” the Professor muses. “Well, what does best practice tell you to do? What have you learned from the entire canon of development literature you’ve assimilated all these years?”

The Program Officer, back in student-mode, straightens his frame and most eagerly responds,

“You shall innovate, scale, mainstream, and reform. This, with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. And you shall engage your partner as yourself.”

The Professor heartily congratulates him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will succeed.”

But, eager to go deeper and, perhaps, trying match the Professor’s intellect, the Program Officer asks a penetrative follow-up question.

“And so, Professor, please explain. Who exactly is my partner?”

The Professor responds with a brief anecdote.

“There was a certain community in a particular African country – one of the least economically-advanced nations in the world. Its population had been systematically colonized, despotized, and marginalized. Millions of adults were illiterate. And the formal education system was not serving many children well at all. Now by chance, the country was visited by the representatives of three international foundations. The leader of the first cohort was Debbie Deficit.

‘Oh it’s just awful,’ she complained during the site visit. ‘These people have absolutely no clue. What kind of parents stand in the way of their children going to school? And what kind of government fails to provide its citizens with quality education? I don’t see anything happening here, unless we intervene.’

‘I completely agree,’ said her colleague, Sid Savior. ‘We need to make things right. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?’

The second convoy pulled up just as the first one was leaving. Its most vocal member was Pat Paternalist. ‘I mean, what do you expect?’ he said rhetorically. ‘It’s not a sophisticated country. It doesn’t have a lot of resources. Its teachers and education officials don’t have our sort of knowledge and expertise. We’ll just have to show them the way. Help them – whether they like it or not.’

When the third group arrived, Emma Empathy led her team off the bus. She immediately connected with the children. And she also sat down to listen to their parents. She had fruitful meetings with local educators and government officials about their work and their plans. And she constantly asked how her foundation might be of help. ‘We’ll fund what we can,’ Emma concluded. ‘Building, of course, on the remarkable progress you’ve already made.’”

At that point, the Professor squares up the Program Officer “Tell me,” she says. “What do you think? Which one of these groups was a good partner to the community?”

“I suppose, the one led by Emma Empathy,” he replies. “The one that built good relationships.”

And the Professor says to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

~~

Now, some of you will have noticed that my story is a cheeky adaptation of the parable of the good Samaritan. Yes, I remixed it. But, to depict a Professor, who, like the Lord Jesus, cares more that learners cultivate the right sort of relationships, and less that they demonstrate capacity for abstract intellect.

This is a crucial point. Especially in the African context – where having good relationships is both fundamental to the way of life and also forms the basis of how people learn. The connection is well-explained by Jomo Kenyatta (the first head of state of Kenya). In his seminal anthropological book, entitled Facing Mount Kenya, which is a fantastic body of literature, he discusses the structure of African society and the nature of the African mind. And while the subject is the Gikuyu people, the exposition captures the experience of Africans throughout the continent. Chapter five is of particular interest to us, as it examines traditional African education.

Says Kenyatta, “The striking thing in Gikuyu education, and the feature which most sharply distinguishes it from the European system, is the primary place given to personal relationships.” He notes that western education is characterized by five things: (i) the schoolhouse is the source of learning, (ii) freedom of personality is the greatest good, (iii) accumulation of knowledge is the chief objective, (iv) self-actualization is the highest aim, and (v) individuality is the finest ideal. But not so in African education. There, the foremost purpose is to build character for wise and useful living in a collective society. Not merely the acquisition of knowledge. In the African paradigm, relationships give agency to learning, and the homestead, not the schoolhouse, is the cornerstone of wisdom.

In African education, learning begins at birth and ends at death. And parents drive the process. They shape language, inform heritage, and provide apprenticeship. And the three concentric circles of relationship that organize African life – namely family, kinship, and peer group – facilitate the learning journey. Nothing is abstract in this approach. And every lesson – whether philosophical, ethical, or functional – has a specific interactive object to which it relates. Children learn what they practice and practice what they learn, as they emulate adults, and conduct their own experiments. All the time acquiring a mass of useful knowledge and proficiency in both functional and theoretical matters.

Assessment is also different in these two polar systems. Success measures in western education are largely transactional. They are all about value extraction – from the exchange between teacher and student. My inputs, your inputs. My outputs, your outputs. My outcomes, your outcomes. By contrast, progress measures in African education are relational. They involve monitoring the value that is inserted to the communion between family and child, kinspeople and child, and peer group and child. Our love, your love. Our well-being, your well-being. Our fulfillment, your fulfillment. Care is taken to ensure that learning reflects the culture and that the culture informs learning. It is the reason why African languages have words like Harambee in Kenya, Ujamaa in Tanzania, Ubuntu in South Africa, Hunhu in Zimbabwe, and Medemer in Ethiopia.

Now, I am not here to argue that there is no merit at all to western education. And I also am not saying that traditional African education is perfect. But I am suggesting that western education is a cultural import. One that sits very uncomfortably within its host. Moreover, since traditional African education persists within the ties of family, kinship, and peer group, there results a sort of “tale of two cities.” A forging of a complex context within which learners must code-switch daily – as between home and school. And because these two systems are in tension with each other, the souls of African children are very much being stretched dangerously thin. Some, indeed, to the very breaking point, where sense of identity, sense of belonging, and sense of readiness for adult life, are all but torn asunder.

What’s the way forward, then? Well, perhaps we cannot put the genie back into the bottle. But we can apply ourselves to listening. To Jomo Kenyatta, for example, who recommended, almost fifty-five years ago, that we ought to figure out how to connect formal education to the traditional bonds of family, kinship, and peer group. Or, more recently, to Kwame Akyeampong, Professor of International Education at the University of Sussex, who has also called for a reclamation of African education. He argues that we need to fix the deficiencies in our interrogation of education delivery on the continent. We have focused largely on structural and capacity issues, which are important, of course. But this at the expense of deeply investigating fundamental questions related to pedagogy, culture, context, and relevance. And this also at the risk of causing children to become widgets in our production processes as we seek to mold international development outcomes in the image of SDG4.

The truth is, acing standardized tests and acing non-standardized life are dramatically different things. Excel academically or not, the learners who pass through our reformed education systems, must all go back and engage productively with their parents, siblings, kinspeople, and the broader society around them. But how, though, if their education does not prepare them to do so?

Therefore, when it comes to those core tenets of best practice in international development – namely the charges to innovate, scale, mainstream, and reform – I think the plea of Kenyatta and Akyeampong is that we stop throwing the baby out with the bath water. We need to put to death our inner Debbie Deficit, and Sid Savior, and Pat Paternalist. Self-correct when we find ourselves disparaging rural parents for essentially homeschooling their children. Or African teachers for relying on pedagogies that are not scripted in western instructional manuals. Or government officials for not unequivocally adopting the imported interventions of international NGOs. And we need to bring to life our willingness to listen and learn from them. Not to hear a parroting of, “Think, pair, share,” or any other western instructional strategies. And not just to tick the box when the western curriculum is delivered in local languages. But to gain a deep and rich understanding of how African relationships and culture contribute to learning.

Perhaps the greatest contemporary “professor” on African relationships, was none other than the beloved musician, Oliver Mtukudzi. My favorite song from him is Dzoka Uyamwe. You see, Mtukudzi had kinship roots in Dande – a rural community in the Mashonaland region of Zimbabwe. There, and across the country, Mtukudzi was known as Sahwira – which means “close friend” or “good partner,” the kind who tells it like it is. And the song, Dzoka Uyamwe, is the lament of an African who has long been estranged from home and feels alienated in a foreign land. So, Mtukudzi’s lyrics say, “You see my dark skin and you conclude that I’m rotten. But a man’s rottenness is in his heart. And his darkness is in his mind. Because of you, I think of Dande. Of returning to Dande. Because I miss Dande.”

And since Mtukudzi’s music often follows a call-and-response structure, his melodious backup singers deliver the emotional overtones of a mother beseeching her last-born son to return. “Come back, my son. I’m waiting for you. Come back home and be nursed. Dzoka Uyamwe.”

Now, as a Zimbabwean – and as someone working in the field of international education – Dzoka Uyamwe strikes me in a profound way. So, in the mother’s portion of the song, I hear the voice of Africa itself. I hear the continent calling back its children. Children it knows feel alienated in an education system that has gone adrift. Dzoka Uyamwe. “Come back,” it says. “Back to those relational moorings that once nursed you and made you secure, and wise, and vital, and strong.

And since the way back is the way forward, I wonder whether the children of Africa will find good partners to accompany them there. Partners who will work with their parents and with their governments to transform the tale of two cities into a story about the best of both worlds. Both African and western education. It is exactly what the Ethiopian philosophy of Medemer is all about – combining the constituent elements of separate parts into a single or unified whole. This is in fact the crucial next step. Because we cannot secure the future for African children by indiscriminately destroying their past. You see, the blackness of Mtukudzi’s Dande – indeed, the blackness of all of Africa – is beautiful. And so if, in our pursuit of education development, we learn to look, not at the deficits of Dande, but at the fabric of riches which hold it together, then we can be confident that our contributions will be of some good.

Let me end with the words of N’Dri Thérèse Assié-Lumumba, whom Kwame Akyeampong quotes in his Inaugural Professorial Lecture of 2018. Dr. Assié-Lumumba is a Cornell Professor and President of the World Council of Comparative Education Societies. She asks this:

“Which systems of education do we analyze to inform which future? From whose perspectives are learning opportunities seen or ignored? When studying education in the Global South or former colonies, do we tend to see opportunities in their systems of thought, learning, and knowledge? Or do we simply dismiss what already exists in favor of some so-called superior global knowledge?

Now, I know – because I created her –that Emma Empathy, and those like her, are committed to higher levels of reflectiveness and lower levels of dismissiveness in their work in Africa. And I have to believe that this room is full of Emma Empathys. I think that’s why we’re all here. To discuss government adoption, not as an abstract intellectual exercise. But as a pathway to surround children with the right relationships to help them learn. So let’s come together, not matter how different we are. Let’s unlock the light in our own hearts – and in every child. And let it be our love, their love. Our well-being, their well-being. Our fulfillment, their fulfillment. Medemer.

Thank you.

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