Mandela Rhodes Scholars
Mandela Rhodes Scholars

A return to the African Renaissance

By Zukiswa Mqolomba

“I am born of a people who are heroes and heroines […] Patient because history is on their side, these masses do not despair because today the weather is bad. Nor do they turn triumphalist when, tomorrow, the sun shines. […] Whatever the circumstances they have lived through and because of that experience, they are determined to define for themselves who they are and who they should be.”

– Thabo Mbeki, I am an African speech, 1998

Under the current leadership of President Jacob Zuma, it is not clear to what extent the African Renaissance is a theme in our interface with the rest of the world. It would seem that the concept Äfrican Renaissance has been abandoned and no longer forms part of our foreign policy approach. This article is an argument for its return as a critical component for rebuilding Africa and our interaction with the rest of the world.

To speak of an African Renaissance is to speak of the coming into being of a new African identity, a new resolve to take our future into our own hands and determine our own destiny. The African Renaissance is not merely a political philosophy and a movement but is a call of action: It is the African recovery programme — Mbeki says, “for the renewal of the continent, (which) also recognises the need for the reconstruction of our identity and the regaining of self-confidence of the African people”.

The African Renaissance is about:
• Social cohesion.
• Democracy.
• Economic rebuilding, growth.
• The establishment of Africa as a significant player in geo-political affairs.

Mbeki proposes doing this by, among other things, placing thought leadership at the centre of social reform, and by reversing the brain drain of African intellectuals. Mbeki also places democratisation of inherited institutions as an important cornerstone of the African Renaissance. He says:

“Thus to s this dream of an African renaissance, of the sustained development of our country and of our continent, requires the renewal of the institution of traditional leadership … for this democracy to continue strengthening and to have in place systems and institutions that will help bring about a better life for all our people, no matter where they reside, each one of us would have to be guided by the best interests of these very people … the cohesive efforts of our entire society is needed to enable Africa to face the legacy of the colonial and neo-colonial past and to face the challenges posed by the new millennium.”

Noel Moukala of Renaissance Africaine complements this analysis and places African unity as a cornerstone of the African Renaissance. Noel correctly asserts that there will be no African Renaissance without African unity. It is only when Africans overcome their differences to unite can they then talk about African Renaissance.

The Abuja Treaty of 1991, which led to the establishment of Africa’s Economic Community, gave programmatic expression to Africa’s aspirations. It commits itself to a 34-year programme of transforming Africa from a continent of individually listed, least developed and developing economies to a strong, united bloc of African nations. The treaty commits itself to a systematic process of regional integration, proposing six phases of integration over 34 years. It focuses on strengthening regional economic communities, seen as the building blocks of African unity. These regional communities are expected to evolve into free trade areas, customs unions and, eventually, a common market spanning the continent.

From the time of its creation in 1963, the Organisation of African Unity invested a considerable amount of energy in the task of promoting inter-state and cross-regional cooperation among African countries in the fields of foreign policy, science and technology, culture, education and economic affairs. Nation-states in common need to solve tasks and create improved conditions in order to maximise internal and external economic, political, social and cultural benefits for each participating country. Nation-states need to voluntarily, in various degrees, share each other’s markets and establish mechanisms and techniques that minimise conflicts and maximise internal and external economic, political, social and cultural benefits of their interaction.

We also need to see a tremendous amount of energy being devoted to the promotion of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development which is presented as a project of African heads of state and government for the rapid transformation of the continent within the overall ambit of the African Union.

Clearly, as a consequence of the real challenges facing post-colonial states, including the dangers of recolonising Africa, the programme of the African Renaissance should be expected to play an important frontline role in the decade ahead. For this reason, it seems appropriate that a stock-taking and prospective reflection should be undertaken on continental strategies for promoting the African Renaissance. Greater thought leadership is required to respond to seeming disarticulation between theory and the empirical. The inherent disparities between theory and the challenges imposed by implementation needs to pave way to a new breed of thought leadership that will make haste in responding to these as a matter of duty and urgency.

Zukiswa Mqolomba is a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, senior researcher, policy analyst and scholar activist working for government, and previously the World Bank in Washington DC. She has master degrees from the Universities of Cape Town and Sussex. Her ideological inclination is pan-Africanist. She believes in the African renaissance and that her generation of peers can make meaningful strides towards achieving it. She writes in her personal capacity.

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    • Twakkies du Toit

      Sigh, the long-dead dream of the AR. Alive only in the minds of the writer, and Barney Pityana and Mandla Makhanya of Unisa. No use flogging a … .

    • Paul Bluewater

      “Greater thought leadership is required to respond to seeming disarticulation between theory and the empirical. ”

      Is this like saying there is no bearing between what leadership thinks and says, and the reality surrounding it?