By Ezinwanne Onwuka
The saying that “knowledge is power” is indeed an eloquent and forceful idea. Lately, I started to juxtapose the meaning of this adage with the pitiable African situation.
If “knowledge is power”, why is Africa investing more on frivolous things than on information and more on the military than on education? If the pen is mightier than the sword, why does a politician in Africa earn more than teachers, lecturers and professors? If knowledge is, indeed, power, then Africa should curtail its brain drain and promote the African Renaissance which will lead to the rebirth of the continent. To speak of an African Renaissance is to speak of renewal and rebirth. It is to recognize the need for African countries to literally reinvent themselves.
The current discourse on the African Renaissance is not new. The first international conference on the African Renaissance was held in Dakar, Senegal, between 26 February and 2 March 1996 where African intellectuals gathered to celebrate the works of Professor Cheikh Anta Diop, ten years after his death. The theme of the conference was ‘African Renaissance in the Third Millennium’. Similarly, the first African Renaissance Conference in South Africa took place from 28 to 29 September 1998. Thabo Mbeki, the then Deputy President of South Africa, read the keynote address on ‘Giving the Renaissance Content: Objectives and Definitions’.
When Cheikh Anta Diop first coined and pioneered the concept of “African Renaissance”, he addressed the fact that Africa would need to revive its languages and cultures, develop its political structures and ideologies as well as reach economic independence in order to attain prosperity. It is the concept of “African Renaissance” that looks at the potential of the continent and declares that with the right mindset, vision and outlook, Africa can and will revitalize its structures and systems in order to create opportunity for all, and positively change her narrative. Former President of the Republic of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, later on popularized this concept, reiterating the fact that Africa must reach a point of restoration i.e. restoring our economic freedom and independence, as well as restoring our identities in order to build foundations for sustainable growth and success.
To speak of an African Renaissance is to begin with the transformations that took place in South Africa. Much has been written about the South African miracle and the Mandela magic, but the renaissance in South Africa should be seen as a historical moment that must be cautiously nurtured and continuously supported far into the future, rather than simply celebrated as an event in the continent’s past. What happened in 1994 was the beginning of a process and not the end of a struggle.
Speaking both as a son of Africa and one-time Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan described the momentous changes in Africa over the last five decades as part of three waves. “First came decolonialization and the struggle against apartheid. Then came a second wave, too often marked by civil wars, the tyranny of military rule, and recent economic stagnation. I believe,” he argued, “that a new era is now in progress, Africa’s third wave.”
The narrative that has often been associated with Africa (especially by the western world) has been one of doom and gloom. It is always about wars, poverty, alarming illiteracy rates, economic corruption and leaders who fail to be accountable to their citizens. Consequently, Africans now believe that the West is a land flowing with milk and honey. Most Africans believe they cannot ‘make it’ in Africa and so they look for every opportunity to flee. The African culture is slowly becoming extinct because we have been bamboozled to think that everything African denotes backwardness while everything European is good and should be embraced. Little wonder, there are more African professional soccer players in Europe than in Africa and African literature is more at home abroad than it is at home.
It is time for us to purge our minds of the stereotypes and biases that we have been fed about Africa. To paraphrase W.E.B. DuBois in The Souls of Black Folks, “Herein lies the tragedy of the age: not that some people are poor” all people know something of poverty; not that some people are wicked” who is good? Not that some people are ignorant” what is truth? No, the tragedy of our age is that we know so little of each other.” If Dubois were alive today, he would certainly say that it is time to get to know Africa, to understand the magic, not just the myths, of this wonderfully diverse continent. It is time to reverse the image of Africa as a continent in crisis, a place of poverty, a region of failed governments and missed opportunity.
This is inadvertently a clarion call to every African leader. If democracy is to have a lasting meaning in Africa, political empowerment must be accompanied by economic empowerment, alongside with cultural renewal and reaffirmation. The time has come to shift purposefully and deliberately from a focus on political party feud and war of vendetta against one’s political foes to a focus on information; from exporting natural resources to exporting knowledge and ideas; and from being a consumer of technology to becoming a producer of technology.
Sadly, African women and men of ideas have fled (and still fleeing) to London, America etc. Until the men and women of ideas – the healers of Africa – who have fled start returning home and those at home develop a patriotic spirit, the African Renaissance will remain an empty slogan. The role of African intellectuals is crucial in making the dream of the African Renaissance come true. After all, renaissance refers to a rebirth of ideas; and knowledge and ideas are the engines that drive economic growth.
Unless Africa significantly increases its intellectual capital, the continent will remain irrelevant in the near future. Africa needs innovators, producers of knowledge and wise men and women who can discover, propose and implement progressive ideas. We need people from diverse backgrounds who are willing to synergize ideas, and come up with the best possible solutions to solve African problems from an Afrocentric point of view. We need to build African unity and have one voice, that way the continent can have much more power and influence in the international arena. The fate of Africa lies in the hands of Africans!
The African Renaissance is the dream of Africans who have a bold, new futurist vision for their countries and their continent; but who live for the moment between two worlds, an old order that is dying but not yet dead and a new order that is conceived but not yet born.
Ezinwanne Onwuka writes in from Cross River State and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org