[the lack of] development education in Canada

Hey friends,

So today’s post is a bit of a rant session. Based on what I’ve observed for the past two months, as well as some throwback memories to high school, I’ve come up with a bit of a theory on why educated Canadians have asked me questions like “do you speak African?” when finding out that I’m Sudanese. I ended up with this theory quite accidentally…  I was exploring the relationship between governance and culture in South Africa for a separate blog post, and subconsciously delved into my own ignorance surrounding the repercussions of colonialism. I was able to trace this lack of knowledge back to what I wasn’t taught in high school… a frustrating realization for a globally conscious Canadian gal. Before I share, you too can navigate my thoughts before reaching a verdict.

Here’s a snapshot of the intricacies of governance in a state that was previously colonized:

South Africa walks a thin line between multiculturalism and pluralism. Because it is such a diverse nation (having 11 official languages), it has many individuals and groups with different backgrounds, religions, cultures, preferences and customs. The word multiculturalism suggests mutual respect and toleration for different cultures. This also suggests that governance should reflect the nation’s diversity, and that assimilation would be abandoned as a dominant discourse. The reason I say the country walks a fine line between multiculturalism and pluralism is because the many groups are no longer masters of their cultural practices, and there is a lack of equal representation in the government. From what I’ve seen in the small town of Pietermaritzburg and the even bigger city of Johannesburg, there is a mix of cultures that have been preserved and managed, but not mastered. The coexisting of the Zulu and Afrikaans people for example is a tolerant understanding that the two cultures must live in peace, without a monolithic state control that both cultures once had (e.g. the Zulu kingdom, and the apartheid regime). This is problematic because the country is constantly on the verge of moving from tolerant to insolent, hence its [past and present] history of violence.

Until living here, I have been ignorant to the complex paradigm of poor governance in states that were once colonized. Although I was born in a colonized state (Sudan), I didn’t quite understand the affect that pluralism and diversity can have on human rights. South Africa is one example of many states in the Global South that are experiencing the struggle between new regimes and old traditions with ever-growing immigrant populations. As a Canadian working in a developing country under a focused government program, it is important for me to ask how Canada can promote inclusion, advance respect for diversity and uphold human rights in the Global South.  As I have mentioned earlier, my ignorance to this close-to-home issue (given my birthplace) meant that as a Canadian, I wasn’t well equipped to understand the true devastation of colonialism. True, Canada itself was once a colony, but given our standing as a state in the Global North, with quality education at our fingertips, my arrival here did come as a disappointment to me.

As a development practitioner, and a Canadian citizen, I can’t quite let this go. Canada needs to do a better job at educating its public on colonialism and its legacy in the Global South. It should be a priority to reinstate stand-alone Global Classroom funding to improve the quality and reach of development education in Canada. International development practitioners should be involved in analyzing school-based curriculum that is accessible within schools across our country. Colonialism should be taught rather than mentioned in the classroom. The high school history curriculum is so focused on the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe and North America, with little taught on Asia, South America and Africa, where the majority of states categorized as being in the “Global South” now reside.

If the public (especially youth) is properly informed on these issues, more petitions will be signed, more organizations will be created, and more Canadians will get involved in advancing human rights through promoting accountable governance rather than the prevalent charity approach to citizen involvement in the developing world. If Canadians can become outraged on social media over the killing of Cece the Lion, how much more passionate would they be to know what injustices go on between countries we as a nation have trade agreements with? It is a known fact that advances in democracy, governance and human rights have contributed to a better quality of life, greater security, important reductions in poverty and more equitable societies around the world. Therefore, it is our government’s duty to properly inform Canadian citizens on these issues. A single citizen has the power to influence hundreds (in person or on social media), contributing to the advancement of human rights through the promotion of inclusion and respect for diversity. Especially now, since our government has only recently begun to reflect the diversity of the nation (the PM’s new cabinet).

We must use our citizens, and our successes in diversity and inclusion to influence other governments, especially ones we do business with (who need to be held accountable). The Canadian effort in this area must be intensified if we wish to be partners in developing sustainable, equitable societies worldwide. To my fellow Canadians, ask yourself this: how many of your [educated] friends speak of Africa as if it’s a country? I rest my case. RANT  OVER.

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