Putting Afrika on an even keel in terms of the continent’s relations with the world, eliminating the culture of dependence, and enabling the continent to exercise its sovereignty and thereby, taking its destiny in its own hands. That is the essence of the much vaunted Afrikan Renaissance. In Afrika define yourself, former South Afrikan President, Thabo Mbeki put it thus; “We have a duty to define ourselves. We speak about the Afrikan Renaissance in part so that we, ourselves not another, determine who we are, what we stand for, what our vision and hopes are, how we do things, what programmes we adopt to make our lives worth living, who we relate to and how.”
The Afrikan Renaissance (AR) became a continental programme especially during Thabo Mbeki’s incumbency in the South Afrikan presidency. Its offshoots included the New Partnership for Afrika’s Development (NEPAD) and the Afrikan Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). Disappointingly, there has not been that much movement on any of these fronts and so far as I can tell, the AR is no longer the buzz word on the continent. The key to any policy lies in its implementation; otherwise it’s just another document lying and gathering dust on a shelf in some offices.
The current South Afrikan administration doesn’t seem (at least from where I sit) to be as fired up about a continental vision as the Mbeki’s been. Remember the president’s infamous joke about a neighbouring country’s national roads last year? With no one to take full custodianship of the AR it is a little wonder that the project seem to fizzling out.
Never did this become clear than recently when fifty Afrikan presidents left for the US to take part in a summit convened by that country’s president. This I found quite intriguing: fifty presidents, heads of state and government, leave their countries and continent to go and meet with one president of another country! The summit was sold as the US’ way of trying to redefine the way it relates to the continent because China seems to have taken over from the US in terms of developmental assistance to the continent. And so the US felt that it was losing out and wanted to put things right with the continent’s leaders. What would have made sense so far as I’m concerned was the US president being the one leaving his country and have the summit in Addis Ababa, the seat of the Afrikan Union.
The fact that he called them over to the US shows that America still thinks very little of the continent and its leadership. One would have thought that the American president, having Afrikan blood coursing through his veins would see things differently. I guess it would have been naïve to have different expectations. After all, he is an American president and not an Afrikan president. And though he has Afrikan blood, he has no Black experience to speak of. Barack Obama never lived outside the cocoon that having a white mother in the US and the privilege that comes with it provided him. That is why he could liken the gay experience in America to the black experience!
Ironically, his election in 2008 as 44th president of the US was compared to that of Nelson Mandela’s in 1994. A misnomer if you asked me! Firstly, Nelson Mandela’s election was a “liberation election” where the majority in this country had the vote for the first time and Barack Obama’s was not; secondly, Nelson Mandela’s party was part of this country’s liberation movement (apologies Robert Sobukwe about ‘captured leadership’) and Barack Obama’s party is the party of slavery. When he took office, Barack Obama focused on saving big business and did nothing for the people who were at the receiving end of big business’ predatory lending practices (the cause of the crunch in the first place), and many of them being Afrikan Americans.
But what I found disturbing was the fact that our continent’s presidents didn’t see anything out of turn with being called over to the US. They didn’t voice any protest about the four colleagues who were left out. And these were the presidents of Eritrea, South Sudan, CAR and Zimbabwe. Even though the summit was said to be aiming at changing the nature of America’s relationship with the continent, it still dictated who it wanted in the summit and who it didn’t want. For the leaders of the continent where was that commitment to determine for themselves, and not another, who we relate to and how?
It seems to me that we still have not rid ourselves of the beggar mentality as a continent. We still see ourselves as a child nation and hence we do not assert our Afrikan personality when it comes to our engagement with the rest of the world. We still see our survival as depending on largesse of others. And so we keep going to them with a cap and begging bowl in hand. Koze kubenini Afrika?
When will we realize that as a continent what we don’t need is charity, but we need liberation? The first and perhaps most important step in the journey of liberation is mental liberation. Steve Biko once said that the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. What we think about ourselves determines how we conduct ourselves and our affairs. And so if we see ourselves as victims, we will continue to live as if we are at the mercy of others. I often laugh when I hear some of the continent’s leader’s talk about “bilateral agreements” with their former colonial powers! The truth is that those benefit more the colonial power than they do the Afrikan country. And so they can’t be spoken of as “agreements” as they are skewed in the favour of the one party and disadvantage of the other.
It was Bob Marley who sang that none but ourselves can free our minds. That is so because liberation is a self-activity. Who are we? We are Afrikan people, heirs of an unsurpassed historical legacy. And therefore, let us rid ourselves of the need to try and identify with others’ accomplishments through the renunciation of ourselves. In the words of one eminent Afrikologist; “Let’s therefore step back on the stage of human history as a free, proud and productive people.” If we do not do that, the dream of an Afrikan renaissance will remain an illusion.