Former South African President Thabo Mbeki
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki

It’s time we reignite the spark of African Renaissance mission

By Opinion Time of article published Sep 12, 2021

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CAPE TOWN - The fall of Thabo Mbeki from political power could be described as the end of the African Renaissance philosophy.

Although there are still institutions and projects that are meant to carry forward the programme of 'Africa's Rebirth' as Mbeki was fond of saying.

The spark of the African Renaissance mission disappeared with the recalling of Mbeki as South Africa's second democratically elected president.

Much was lacking in the articulation of the philosophy from Mbeki's office as the president of South Africa.

Although Mbeki succeeded in promoting the concept of an African Renaissance, there's a lack of understanding as to the nitty gritties of the philosophy, so that the various sectors that form Africa are daily implementing the programmes and projects of renewing Africa.

In its essence, the African Renaissance is the concept that the African people shall overcome the current challenges confronting the continent and achieve cultural, scientific, and economic renewal.

First articulated by Senegalese historian Cheikh Anta Diop in a series of essays he wrote between 1946 and 1960.

And later collected to produce a book titled Towards the African Renaissance: Essays in Culture and Development, 1946–1960.

Diop had written these series of essays on charting the development of Africa as a student in Paris.

Diop's ideas were further popularized by Mbeki during his tenure when he was SA's Deputy President.

Today, the African Renaissance has been pinned in a broader fashion as a philosophical and political movement to end the violence, elitism, corruption, and poverty believed to plague the continent, and to replace them with a more just and equitable order.

Mbeki proposes achieving these goals by primarily encouraging education, and reversing the "brain drain" of African intellectuals to foreign lands, hence the African Renaissance is meant to play a key role in South Africa's post-apartheid intellectual agenda.

Mbeki further encouraged Africans to take pride in their heritage, and to take charge of their lives, rather than depending on outside factors to be able to re-create our destiny.

However, according to Noel Moukala, the African Renaissance cannot exist without first achieving African Unity.

Professor W.A.J. Okumu compiled a list of perceived African traits that he believes are worthy of preservation and continuation.

These include aspects of interpersonal relations, such as "social inclusion, hospitality, and generous sharing," as well as attentive and perceptive listening. He additionally argues that social acceptance is not based on wealth, but on the basis of relationships to others.

Okumu's perspective perfectly joins the African Renaissance with the philosophy of Ubuntu/Botho which is about 'Humanity Towards Others'.

When giving his famous "I Am an African" speech in Cape Town, celebrating the adoption of a new Constitution of South Africa in Parliament on May 8, 1996, Mbeki said: “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.”

This was followed by the April 1997 Mbeki articulation on the elements that comprise the African Renaissance which include social cohesion, democracy, economic rebuilding and growth, and the establishment of Africa as a significant player in geopolitical affairs.

Vusi Mavimbela, an advisor to Mbeki, two months later, wrote that the African Renaissance was the "third moment" in post-colonial Africa, following decolonisation and the spread of democracy across the continent in the early 1990s.

Later on Mbeki would codify Mavimbela's beliefs, and the reforms that would comprise them, in the "African Renaissance Statement" given August 13, 1998.

All this would culminate in the African Renaissance Conference in Johannesburg in 1998, where 470 participants attended.

And in 1999 the book titled African Renaissance was released, with 30 essays arranged under topics corresponding to the conference's breakout sessions: "culture and education, economic transformation, science and technology, transport and energy, moral renewal and African values, and media and telecommunications.

Mbeki then led the formation of the African Renaissance Institute (ARI) in Pretoria on October 11, 1999, with its initial focuses on the development of African human resources, science and technology, agriculture, nutrition and health, culture, business, peace, and good governance.

In his book The African Renaissance, Okumu wrote that,

"The most important and primary role of the African Renaissance Institute now and in the coming years is to gather a critical mass of first-class African scientists and to give them large enough grants on a continuing basis, as well as sufficient infrastructure, to enable them to undertake meaningful problem-solving R&D applied to industrial production that will lead to really important results of economic dimensions."

The African Renaissance is now part of the International Decade for People of African Descent from 2015 to 2024, in which the Door of Return Initiative seeks to bring members of the African diaspora back to the continent.

This initiative is spearheaded by the historical Maroon community of Accompong, Jamaica, in cooperation with Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Ghana.

The associated Renaissance revival is led by Accompong Finance Minister Timothy E. McPherson Jr., and Nigeria's Senior Special Assistant to the President on Diaspora and Foreign Affairs, Abike Dabiri.

That should make us wonder why Mbeki's predecessors in South Africa have turned to ignore the African Renaissance philosophy.

Continentally, figures associated with the African Renaissance are President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.

What about the others?

And what about the men and women on the African streets?

African literature could be a start.

Mgudlwa is an award-winning journalist

Cape Times

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