Eminent French chemist Jean-Marie Lehn is scheduled to attend the Science Forum in Pretoria.
Africa in the future should be a place where Africans can live dignified lives. This means that no African should go without food, clean water, electricity, a comfortable home, clothing and access to the world beyond the home through the internet, transport and education, among others.

Africans should have the freedom to express themselves - to continue to recreate the world in their own image.

It follows that the future of Africa ought to be a unique civilisation among the world’s civilisations, bringing to all of humanity a way of being, doing and creating that is expressive of the specific histories and cultures that make up Africa.

Put differently, Africa is to re-emerge as a significant global actor, driving its own place among civilisations.

To drive one’s own place among civilisations requires complete independence. It is thus important to recognise that this current phase of our history calls most urgently for economic freedom. By economic freedom we mean control over our productive resources. This is a minimum requirement for which we ought not be apologetic. Indeed, the separation of political freedom from economic freedom was the final master stroke of the colonial project, ensuring that exploitation would continue through other means.

For in the absence of economic control, the ability of the state to deliver public goods and services is crippled. Rather than address the root cause of the problem, the international community then devised the system of aid, diverting attention from the economic fundamentals driving our fiscal holes. However noble in its intents (if even), we must accept that aid has further crippled African states by undoing the bond between citizens and their elected officials.

Rather than look to elected officials for development, citizens look to international donors. And rather than accounting to the citizens, elected officials focus their efforts on appeasing donors. In doing this, aid has dampened the urgency for the need to resolve the question of economic independence. Indeed, Dambisa Moyo, who reveals this essential truth about aid most eloquently has found herself in the firing line of an industry of self-righteous helpers who refuse to see their complicity in our continued subjugation.

It is of course not just aid that is detrimental to our economic independence. Fundamentally, we are up against a hostile global economic system that stands to benefit more through the continued weakening and ultimately, the failure of African states. For the prospect of weak states, enabled by corrupt politicians, implies that resources can be extracted without taxes and humans enslaved without consequence. This is the fact of our present reality and it compels us to recognise one thing: the Struggle for our liberation continues.

Recognising that we are still engaged in struggle is of critical importance as it implies the continued need for unity, clarity of purpose, hard work and sacrifice.

The only question that then remains is on the path to economic freedom.

Herein lies a deep requirement for knowledge production and economic experimentation. We must undertake to become intellectually autonomous.

Replacing ideas from America with ideas from Russia or China is not progress. It is merely to reorient your intellectual capital. We must thus accept that we need to engage seriously in the production of what is possible for us given our unique history and attendant aspirations. For this, we must redirect the agendas of our universities and research institutes and invest in the creation of new think tanks, driven by a progressive African agenda. Linked to this must be practical, economic experimentation.

The change we seek is not simply at the level of grand theory. We are compelled to find practical expression for economic freedom just as we did for political freedom. Thus, where the practicality of political freedom may have been in protest action and armed struggle; the weapon of economic freedom lies in experimentation. It is in testing out possibilities such as community-owned industries; innovative funding models for entrepreneurs; establishing technology-based industrial development zones; discounting urban property prices as an act of land reform and much more. Political freedom has given us the platform to discover our economic potential.

And thus rather than despair, we should be reminded that it is Nelson Mandela himself who said in Long Walk to Freedom: One does not reach the end of a path, but rather peaks of achievement that only reveal further hills to mount and conquer.

The Africa we want lies in recognising that we are free not to rest, but to continue the struggle to reclaim our economy.

Fumani Mthembi is the managing director of Knowledge Pele. She writes in her personal capacity. Join Fumani tomorrow at the Science Forum South Africa at the CSIR ICC where she will participate in a debate on this issue or join the live stream at www.sfsa.co.za.