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What it takes to achieve inclusion

  • Published at 06:44 pm June 14th, 2017
  • Last updated at 07:20 pm June 14th, 2017
What it takes to achieve inclusion

It is well known that trade and collaboration are important for progress, and to improve trade we build newer technology and infrastructure, develop communication skills and services, and so on. These, in turn, require education.

On the other hand, exclusion, intolerance, and insecurity tend to stand in the way of trade and collaboration, and fighting these forces requires more than the conventional education we are used to, more than an austere understanding of how economies work. In such a situation we need to be reminded of the exceptional qualities of great leaders and the circumstances in which they thrived for inclusion.

And some of the greatest icons of inclusion are black leaders who faced discrimination on all fronts, and still managed to bring positive change, which they achieved through instilling hope, having a good education, working hard, and an incredible commitment to reconciliation.

Michelle Obama

Most people know very little about Michelle Obama’s life before she became the first black first-lady. A brilliant student, Michelle graduated cum laude with a sociology degree from Princeton, after which she graduated from Harvard Law School and joined a law-firm. It was there that she was assigned to be the mentor of a young Barack Obama who was a summer intern.

Michelle Obama, in her last official remarks as first lady, spoke about the importance of good education, hard work, and hope. She talked about how her father worked hard at the water plant with hopes that his children would one day go to college.

The key was what she considers to entail a good education: “Empower yourselves with a good education so you can think critically and so you can express yourself clearly.”

She also spoke about hope: “Be focused, be determined, be empowered with a good education, then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise, lead by example with hope, never fear.”   

Chinua Achebe

Achebe is best known as the writer of Things Fall Apart, a post-colonial classic and his first novel. He was also a meritorious student and received the best colonial education available in Nigeria in his time.

He was one of the first African writers to use that excellent colonial education, to reclaim the colonised voice in the narratives of the colonial experience, in English.

Speaking of change, Achebe said: “From where I stand now I can see the enormous value of my great-uncle, Udoh Osinyi, and his example of fidelity. I also salute my father, Isaiah Achebe, for the 35 years he served as a Christian evangelist and for all the benefits his work, and the work of others like him, brought to our people.

My father’s great gift to me was his love of education and his recognition that whether we look at one human family or we look at human society in general, growth can only come incrementally.”

Exclusion, intolerance, and insecurity tend to stand in the way of trade and collaboration

Wangari Maathai

Maathai was a Kenyan environmental political activist who in 2004 became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace prize.

In 1976, while she was serving in the National Council of Women, Maathai introduced the idea of community-based tree planting, which eventually developed into the Green Belt Movement (GBM).

In 2011, a video went viral on YouTube where Maathai narrates a story of a great forest fire where all the animals feel overwhelmed and sit watching helpless as their habitat burns.

A little hummingbird, however, flies back and forth from a nearby river to the forest carrying little drops of water in its beak to put out the flames.

The other much larger animals turn to look at it and with surprise and say: “What are you doing? You are too little, your beak is too little, you can’t put out the fire,” to which the bird says: “I am doing the best I can.”

Not only is this a message of hope but of making an effort -- an effort to mitigate our troubles no matter how big they are and how small we are.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison for defying the apartheid, but prison did not break his spirit of hope and inclusion.

He was released from prison in 1990, but upon being made president in 1994 he did not replace the cabinet with only black ministers.

He even shared his Nobel Peace prize with the then white head of state and his opposition on constituting a democratic South Africa: Klerk. Such was his capacity to forgive and desire to reconcile.

In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela wrote: “It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black.

I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed.

A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness.

I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me.

The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity. When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both.”

Dare to dream

Unfortunately, exclusion and inequality are entrenched in our culture, laws, and institutions, and taught to us in the formative years of our consciousness.

In the age of the internet we are information-rich but knowledge-poor.

We have tutorials on everything from how to cook to how to handle relationships, but we’ve lost sight of the balance between subjective-objective observations.

The reason this is problematic is because it makes us choose between being cautiously optimistic or plain cynical in our overall perception of how the world works.

To make any change possible, especially those at the level of institutions and systems, requires us to dream.

To envision a future very different from the present, to communicate that with the help of a good education and to work hard with a commitment to reconcile and coexist.

These are the qualities that drove leaders to make enormous life sacrifices for the sake of equality.

Shamsin Ahmed is the founder and project director of Identity Inclusion.