Vusi Gumede
Vusi Gumede

We need an African renaissance and pan-Africanism for a better Africa

Cheikh Anta Diop, the pioneer of the concept of African renaissance, would have us understand the concept as a call to and a programme of action for the renewal of the African continent. Pan-Africanism, as espoused by its originators such as Ras Makonnen, has to do with the mobilisation of Africans and people of African descent towards the complete liberation of the African continent. As motif force, pan-Africanism and African renaissance should anchor the further advancement of the African continent. However, both pan-Africanism and African renaissance need to be redefined for the practical development challenges facing Africa today. As we celebrate yet another Africa Day, we should reflect on the state of our continent and consider what should be done to further ameliorate the African condition.

The debate about Africa’s development continues unabated. There are many who argue that Africa suffers from weak or lack of institutions. Some contend that the continent is constrained by weak or poor leadership. Some argue that policy is the binding constraint to Africa’s development — I have, for instance, argued that there is a clear case of policy failures and policy paralysis, hence the development impasse the world is experiencing, not just Africa alone. A critical aspect of the renewal of the African continent is African unity, which appears to continue eluding Africa. We are celebrating the 51st Africa Day amid chaos and pandemonium in many parts of the continent.

There are many other issues that literature and public discourse emphasise as factors constraining Africa’s development. In my recent inaugural professorial lecture, I argued for thought leadership, thought liberation and critical consciousness in order to further advance Africa’s development (and to bring about a just world). Thought leadership, thought liberation and critical consciousness should ensure that we robustly address whatever constraints limit Africa’s progress. The three “instruments” should be pursued concurrently. Thought leadership without critical consciousness is useless. Thought leadership without a liberated mind is futile. Higher levels of consciousness, based on comprehensive understanding of phenomena, make for a better thought leader.

Thought leadership, thought liberation and critical consciousness are the necessary ingredients to take the African continent forward because, as I have argued and many have argued, the fundamental African development challenge has to do with the historical experience of colonialism as well as the skewed global socio-political and economic order. Thought leaders are individuals who can decipher phenomena needing attention and have the capability to think through possible solutions to advance the human condition. Thought leaders must be mentally liberated and psychosocially free if they are to make the needed change, hence thought liberation.

Realistically, however, it is going to take time to restructure global power relations. In the meantime, in the context of communalism as a philosophical approach to socio-economic development in Africa, we should pursue a different socio-economic development paradigm/model. I have proposed that the following should be the main aspects of a new model: robust social policies, effective industrial policies, entrepreneurship, state ownership and (lastly) intra-African trade.

Among the key issues regarding Africa’s development is the need to go beyond the restructuring of the African economy, but ensure that there is a vision for the economy that Africa and Africans want. For instance, it would be better to create an economy that can use the skills we have instead of lamenting that the economy wants different skills to those our unemployed graduates have. The fundamental and practical starting point should be to reconfigure the state-market relations to be in favour of Africa’s development. Communalism – as distinct from communism and or socialism – should be the guiding principle. In communalism, as Walter Rodney explained, “property [is] collectively owned, work done in common and goods shared equally”.

Also, in recognition that Africa might have already missed the 21st century – for the 21st century would be, socioeconomically, remembered as one that firmly established the ascent of the Asian subcontinent and economies like the People’s Republic of China, Republic of Korea, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and also, secondarily, the rise of South American nations (eg Federative Republic of Brazil, Republic of Chile and United Mexican States) – some of us argue that we should be putting in place a firm foundation to ensure that Africa indeed captures the 22nd century. There are three pillars that should ascertain that Africa captures the 22nd century as the African century.

First, Africa needs strong institutions of higher learning – we have a history of strong and effective higher education institutions in the continent but we have allowed such institutions to diminish. As we rebuild and strengthen Africa’s education sector, we should be guided by those who did extensive work on this issue – say, Paulo Freire, Es’kia Mphahlele, Isaac Bangani Tabata and others. The second pillar of what should constitute the 22nd century African agenda is resuscitating African agency – this moves the discussion on socio-economic development on the continent away from relying on its resources and firmly challenges us as citizens to actively engage in the policy process or advance one where such processes don’t exist. The third pillar that should characterise Africa’s push towards claiming the forthcoming century is regional integration, especially economic and educational where possible.

Indeed, to achieve what I am proposing, there is a particular African that our continent requires. An African I am talking about is an African who, fundamentally, understands the history of our continent; an African who is fully aware of factors that have shaped the history and developments on our continent, an African who is conscious that the historical experience of colonialism and other forms enslavement inform his or her point of departure. For lack of a better formulation, I am imagining an African who can shape the destiny of the continent and contribute, however little, in the attainment of that destiny. Therefore, an African I dream of is a proactive agent for change (and not just an intellectual in the academy).

At the core of the development of our continent, leadership is make or break. Leadership – in its various forms – is critical in all sectors of our societies and the world at large. As indicated above, critically conscious and mentally-free thought leaders are necessary if we are to further advance Africa’s development. As we celebrate another Africa Day, a conference on African Unity for African Renaissance is taking place – people of African descent are converging in Pretoria to discuss African Solutions to African Problems. Also, the 2014 Annual Thabo Mbeki Africa Day Lecture, by the esteemed former Organisation of African Unity secretary general, Dr Salim Ahmed Salim, takes place at the University of South Africa at the eve of the inauguration of yet another democratic South African president — leadership would again be on our tongues and hearts as we wrestle with development challenges confronting our troubled African continent. Pan-Africanism and African renaissance should be guiding paradigms as we debate African solutions to African problems.

As Frantz Fanon put it, “we must shake off the heavy darkness in which we were plunged, and leave it behind. The new day which is already at hand must find us firm, prudent, and resolute … ”

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  • What does Africa really want?
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    • Not news

      Firstly, congratulations Professor Gumede ! I enjoy your writing for its clarity and excellent articulation and I also usually agree with your sentiments. I think that the various pillars that you have outlined will encourage Africans to define themselves contextually in a far more constructive manner. Just as we need the “rebooting of our systemic hard-drives” to constrcut societies that are affirming of African-ness (if I can put it that way) so we need a rebooting our of philosophical minds in reconstructing identities that are equally affirming. We are broken and we need to be fixed. That has to happen on our own terms so that we are able to tell others who we are – and not vice versa. We need an intellectual think-tank (not only academics) of individuals who are unconstrained by their narrower cultures in dreaming the future of this country and continent. I agree with you that the Thabo Mbeki Lecture is just fantastic – our youth are hungry to learn.

    • David Mohale

      Powerful thinking indeed. Regional integration on education is more urgent than ever before.

      The challenge, for me, remains how we socialise this type of radical thinking with our people, particularly young people. It would be difficult to build that type of a future African whereas we continue to have a growing number among us that thinks anything African is cursed and that there is no amount of concerted effort that can bring to an end this ‘malaise’.

      The notion of thought liberation is critically important in this regard.

    • Darrillio

      One thing about Mbeki was that he wanted a unified Africa. With Our mineral wealth, if we Africans got together and extracted PROPER coin for our raw materials, instead of giving it away for nothing, and importing cheap rubbish in return, badly made and barely exceeding the guarantee period, we would be a better continent and we would call the shots. BUT, two Africans outside in the sun. One says it’s day the other says its night, violence results; one is left dead. What hope for any unity?

    • Impedimenta

      Communalism requires astute leadership. Communalism is ruining our African soils. No one owns the land, so no one takes responsibility. The farmer who cares for his land, replenishing the nutrients and guarding its structure is rewarded with a good harvest. The next year his land is given to an envious relative of the chief and he must start over.

    • http://nil Gillian Katz van der Heijden

      Thank you Vusi Gumede for posting your analysis of African paralysis and the panacea lies stronger institutions, i) Thought leadership, thought liberation and critical consciousness ii) there [are] policy failures and… paralysis, hence the development impasse. iii) Proposal: a new model: robust social policies, effective industrial policies, entrepreneurship, state ownership and (lastly) intra-African trade.
      Free thought [example] – say, Paulo Freire, Es’kia Mphahlele. I strongly disagree, firstly your own thoughts are not free but futile, because having stressed the remedy you then recommend the poison which has paralysed the continent.State ownership.
      Robust social policies commence with enough space in the packed and crowded townships for communal market gardening to alleviate hunger in a populated social mess. In England it was called “Commonage” in ancient Rome it was the system that originally built a great nation. Cicero would leave his plough, don his robe and go to debate, return home, take off his robe and return to his plough. A hungry nation is a desperate nation and a desperate man is capable of criminal activity. Paulo Freira, is not African nor South African, Eskia suffered emotional and psychological pain under a government imposed system. Africa’s rich history is derived from millennia past and handed down through traditional chieftain leadership Presidents sell out to the highest bidders. S.A youth has talent but institutionalism chokes it…

    • Alan Dean Foster

      @Impedimenta; well put. The only difference I see in this essay between communalism and communism is the spelling.

      People are not ants, Mr. Gumede, and no amount of philosophizing will render them so. A proper, honest tax structure managed by an honest government will result in the kind of income sharing so dear to the hearts of those who think the only way to help the poor is to take from one sector and hand-out to another. Not an easy task to accomplish.

      As for development, one kid who learns how to take apart and repair a computer will do more for a country’s advancement than ten idle contemplators debating “thought leadership” and “thought enhancement”.

      @Darillio; this is a problem sadly common throughout the world and not exclusive to Africa. If you have forests, export furniture – not raw logs. If you have minerals, build factories to produce their end products – don’t export ore. Force multinationals to start educating their workers to do more than cut and dig. Talk to the Germans about how their national apprenticeship program works. Talk to the government of Costa Rica about how they got Intel to set up in their country.

      All the philosophizing and debating mindsets in the world won’t produce a chair, a cellphone, or an ear of corn.

    • Marie

      It is true what you say – time for a change in Africa. When I travelled across Africa, I saw amazing natural beauty, rich cultivated lands, plenty of cattle, but too much poverty. Why is it that Africa cannot feed its own? Reality is that the wealth that the leadership extract from Africa could give everyone a chance to live to a better life. Why can’t they leave something for the people? Why is it that these leaders are voted back into their positions time and again? Have the youth given up on achieving a better life? It is time for change. Africa cannot go on blaming colonialism for their woes. Starting looking to your greedy leaders who are failing you.

    • Cam Cameron

      “In communalism, as Walter Rodney explained, “property [is] collectively owned, work done in common and goods shared equally”

      So, how is this different from socialism?

    • Heinrich

      Agree, professor. But the ideas are not new. Education, value added industries, regional integration – these things have been discussed many times before.

      Our main problem is “power”, or the perception of “power”. Our management structures. Our “leaders”. We must decide whether we want “celebrities” or servants.
      Real power lies in building a strong nation/country/region/continent – not in personal billions.

      Real democracy – where all citizens can actively participate in the development of the country/region/continent and strive for synergy – dictates that our leaders should be servants, rather than “bosses”.

      Education obviously is the key to insights and hence development. This is a major challenge, as there are certain “power” groups which frown on female education.

      As long as our government officials are allowed to engage in business activities for their own enrichment, we will not be able to implement proper value-added programs, as individuals in government will always over and above anything else, see how they can personally benefit from any international or local deal. The same can be said about our political party system, which operates on gangster principles.Nepotism – Angola is perhaps a good example – is also a major challenge.

      Finally : My personal view is that Africa already experienced its renaissance. Colonialism brought things like education, technology, industry, commerce, infrastructure. We should just build on that.

    • not news

      @ Allan, The people who take part in this “Philosophyzing” are in the main, academics and intellectuals- teachers- who know all too well that it is education and precisely the kind of training that you allude to, that grows people and societies. Our current system is is not delivering the goods. Neither did the previous dispensation. So what is wrong with engaging the most powerful and informed minds in the country to consider and possibly, even devise models that may well work for us? The current model and practices that you seem to support, were deliberately designed and implemented. Why should Africans not claim that same right? Or do you think they are not capable? Would you rather have change and transformation happen a -la – Syria? Of course the ideas are not all new but they have been put out there for discussion and critique – and that in itself, is a very healthy practice. Global trends indicate that this kind of introspection is happening across the world as countries are struggling to adapt to the very real prospect of serious societal – even global – conflict. While most of us think at a more operational/practical level when it comes to problem solving, there are others whose thinking happens at a global, systemic and philosophical level . We need to acknowledge the thinking that emanates from both of those levels.

    • Brianb

      The path to true liberation in Africa is the emancipation of the masses physically, educationally, economically and spiritually.

      No amount of intellectual thought will create a change unless meaningful concerted consistent action follows.

      Sustained prosperity is the product of enterprise and hard work not protectionism.

      Africa has the advantage of abundant resources,arable land and people who are hungry for a better future.

      If only more decent leaders would emerge who are genuinely committed to renaissance instead of the multitude of despots who treat their countries like fiefdoms.

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Vusi, Africa needs a large class of black entrepreneurs to build Africa and not people running around quoting Fanon.

    • Kgositsile Mokgosi

      Well. Prof, you can forget about African Renaissance. There are two powerful forces that renders it dead in the water. Attitude of Africans towards each other and ‘white envy’. I however do agree that a solution is possible through thought leadership. all societies that have made progress made it through thought leadership. The debilitating attitude of Africans is displayed by the reluctance to acknowledge their own thought leaders. In SA for example Sobukwe’s take on what constitutes leadership, “profound love for your people” is not taught in schools. People think leadership is appearing many times on TV or the ability to shout “Amandla”. ‘White envy’ manifests in the misinterpretation encapsulated in the word ‘modern’. Aping white people in whatever direction is construed as being ‘modern’. Based on the belief that white people are rich Africans spent recklessly to give themselves the warm feeling of being rich. This makes them vulnerable to bribery. The powerful have thus been able to control Africans through corrupt leaders. Thought leadership is not about debates, lectures or high flown discussion but producing knowledge and deriving what African children need to be taught from such discussions. Currently education received by African children is one that teaches them that they are less humans and need to be like white people. They are taught to despise their languages, to speak and laugh like whites, eat white food, to know Winston Churchill not…

    • Una


      As mentioned by previous participants Africa needs to have organically produced thought leaders. In my view they may come up with high flown ideas that can be simplified where necessary

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @UNA, having ideas don’t mean nothing if they aren’t put into practice. African leaders are the best at having conferences about food security and giving grand speeches about how Africa can be a food exporter. However, nothing is done to farm the land to grow food

    • Samuel

      The issues that Prof. Gumede raised in respect of thought leadership, thought liberation, critical consciousness, Pan-Africanism and development in Africa are closely related. Africa needs leaders who are informed about the history of the continent, the capability of her people, the imperative of service to the people and the essence of leaving a legacy of achievement broadly defined as making impacts in the lives of the people rather than primitive accumulation of state resources for personal ends. Thought liberation is needed to purge both leaders and citizens of the distorted and inferiorised education that they received from the colonialists. Africans need to be purged of thought processes that are anti-development and unproductive. Critical consciousness is needed to alert both citizens and leaders to the reality of power and contestation for relevance among nations. It takes critical citizens to demand for change from their leaders and to play their own part in the development of their countries through acting as responsible citizens. To a great extent, Pan-Africanism has succeeded in ending political colonialism in Africa. Hence ending economic colonialism at both national and continental levels require a collective struggle of Africans both at home and in the Diaspora. While the private sector is necessary for facilitating economic activities, an active state is required to regulate the excesses of the market. Regional integration is key to development in Africa

    • Da1TK

      Excellent insight Professor V Gumede. It is critical that our African governments and private sector understand your argument, especially the one (about the economy) that, “it would be better to create an economy that can use the skills we have instead of lamenting that the economy wants different skills to those our unemployed graduates have. “. It tends to be oft forgotten that the majority of Africa’s economy is informal in nature. As such more policy research and insight into how to build upon this sector is needed. One is also keen on your argument for a new era of thought leadership, to take place and shape from the continent itself. This is particularly important as Western economies continue to falter to correct their mistakes and the Asian tigers begin to turn their attention to Africa’s resources. It is critical we have a ready educated and orientated Pan-Africanist leadership and citizenry.

    • Kizito Okechukwu

      Great piece of work. Your piece addresses holistically our continental challenges. Your three pillars of thought leadership, thought liberation and critical consciousness is underpinned on the great African value of Ubuntu. .

      I will argue that in as much as we have to create an economy to suit the skills we have, we also have to ensure that we adapt to the economic needs by creating or enhancing skills need….this is innovative and entrepreneurial as it deals with identifying opportunity and creating skills need to align with economic needs.

      I believe that Africa’s time is now! You and many other great African agents of change are strategically positioned to lead the continent in this regard.

      Well done once more Prof.

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    • Hlambamanzi

      Well stated Kgosi. I remember that as student activists, we lamented
      sectarianism as slowing down our progress towards total freedom.
      For example, Cheik Anta Diop’s works were heavily suppressed
      by strange bedfellows, the colonialists and ” freedom fighters”
      who thought that African traditions/ideas were not revolutionary
      enough to inform us on our quest to liberate Africa. It is not by accident
      that here at home we speak on Pan Africanism and African Renaissance
      while conveniently ommiting those who contributed so much to these
      ideas namely A.P. Mda, Robert Sobukwe, Bantu Biko etc.

      Lack of effective controll of our land and thus the resources both above
      and below our continent is what is killing Africans. The colonial
      companies are in firm control of our land through their selected
      agents who stall a democratic process of liberating the forces
      that will unapologetically bring about self reliance / self determination
      for our motherland. There is plenty of food that is procuced despite the
      starvation because those who controll our resources are focussed
      on export instead of solving the hunger problem in Africa first.

      Unjust colonial activities happening in plain sight, and not just
      ideas in our heads must point to us what counter moves we have
      to pursue to remove the oppressive load from our back. We speak
      of democracy while actively suffocating the forces that are struggling
      to bring about democracy.

      Right now, game reserves are sprawling all over our continent, even
      in cities to deny accessibility of land to Africans. These activities
      happen every day in broad daylight. There is also an increased
      rate of forced removals of peasant farmers throughout the continent
      to make room for foreign agri-companies who are there to solve
      food shortages in their own countries while Africa continues to starve
      and die of malnutrition and other preventable diseases.

      African history must be our primary source of intelligence in guiding
      our actions towards liberating Africa from all destructive forces that
      are preventing the second African Renaissance. Vusi, thank you for
      revisiting the discussion of African traditions at home.