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An African Perspective on DEIJ

By Estelle Hughes
An African Perspective on DEIJ

I am a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) advocate and an educator. I am also a female African school leader in international education. As such, I often have to highlight the minoritized perspectives of African cultures in our branch. Like many of my African colleagues, my vision of the work of DEIJ is with an African approach. We focus on community building and problem solving, harvesting the wisdom of our ancestors.

In many African indigenous societies, this means that:

  • When there is disagreement, all the relevant stakeholders sit together to discuss the issue at hand, and everyone gets heard;

  • Before each person speaks, elders will de-escalate the situation and norm the exchange. This can be done by praising the past successes of wrongdoers to suggest that their negative actions of today are out of character or by using proverbs to express the importance of peace and respect or anything that reminds us that this discussion is a space of communal healing and not fighting;

  • The ultimate expression of the clan is unity and harmony.

Compromise is part of the picture.

This age-old approach to peace building is beautiful and hard. It demands wisdom, self-control from all, and resilience too as everyone will no doubt sacrifice something to gain something else. Ubuntu, umoja, ujamaa, teranga, all of these concepts involve the idea of interconnectedness as the highest communal value. This means always striving to highlight commonalities beyond differences.

Now, does that mean that we should go around allowing abuse in the name of compromise and peace? Should we accept to be drained, exhausted as people continuously push back against equity and ask us to open our minds when theirs remain closed? Quite the contrary actually. The African approach described above only works if all parties open their minds to the humanity of the other and work to make the community better. It is a reciprocal process, or it fails.

Yes, Africa has produced freedom fighters like Lumumba, Sankara, and Winnie Mandela, who were powerfully exacting in their quest for equality and justice. There is a time to focus on liberation and there is a time to practice Palaver Tree approaches to mend our communities. How do we distinguish between these two moments, these two distinct spaces? How do we differentiate between them?

There is still curriculum violence happening in our schools, microaggressions, deficit narratives and unacceptable slurs. Our priorities in DEIJ should be to strive to eradicate identity-based harm institutionally, to give our students the ability to advocate and create spaces for the community to heal whenever needed. It is hard enough to achieve this in our schools and communication around it can never be perfect either.

I see cultural polyphony as vital to the future DEIJ work. Here is an African perspective. What are the others? Let's become stronger in our diversity. The movement will better respond to our needs and adapt to our various contexts if this awareness of our cultural diversity exists. If we learn to recognize some of the indigenous traits of DEIJ in the journeys of trusted practitioners, we will strengthen our movement. If we do not, we will spend a lot of time policing each other instead of growing from each other.

In supporting each other, let us remember that we work in the same professional branch but vastly contrasting contexts. In keeping each other accountable, let us not lose sight of our diversity of understandings and practices in DEIJ. 

Useful links:

Leading as an African Woman in International Education:

Indaba practicesj:

Palaver tree:

Reminding people of their goodness:

Estelle Hughes is an international school Principal and NGO Founder.

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04/16/2024 - Ellen Mahoney
Thank you for sharing this perspective, Estelle. It really resonates with me and I look forward to learning more about this perspective.