Reconstructing the Social Sciences and Humanities: Advancing the African Renaissance.

AuthorLebakeng, Teboho J.
PositionEssay

A Fateful Colonial Encounter

That colonisation resulted in African underdevelopment (Rodney, 1973) and the destruction of Black civilisation (Wiiliams, 1992) is no longer in dispute except in caricature and essentially racist narratives. Precisely because of the long-standing implications of colonial penetration into Africa, some scholars argue that the African post-colonial condition can be described as a 'crisis' or even as the 'world's tragedy' (Oke, 2006; Oguejiofor, 2001; Mbaku & Saxena, 2004). For some the continent is the most humiliated and dehumanised in the world and its past is "a tale of dispossession and impoverishment (Osundare, 1998) that remains at a crossroads (Gumede, 2014), facing stalled development (Leonard & Straus, 2003) with many of its parts in turmoil (Ntuli, 1999) and plagued with various levels of corruption, mortality, disease, poverty, low literacy and political deficits (Abegunrin, 2009; Hyden, 2006; Taylor & Williams, 2004).

Hence, the debate about Africa's stalled development or lack thereof continues unabated in terms of national (internal) and international (external) causes, impact and alternative cures. Historically, the colonial penetration of Africa which swept large swathes of the continent fundamentally truncated, retarded and distorted the trajectory of development in indigenous and later contemporary African societies. This process of penetration succeeded because it imposed incongruous ideas and institutions that confused identities of African people and instituted an arbitrary redefinition of allegiances throughout the continent (Araoye, 2016). Moreover, colonialism subverted traditional structures, institutions and values, making them subservient to the economic and political needs of colonial powers (Baah, 2003). In order to guarantee total erasure, African public spaces were flooded with Westernisms, including Western symbols, names, aesthetical preferences and academic though; the price for African people being epistemicide.

A nuanced understanding also implicates a European renaissance as this process was not simply the freedom of spirit and body for Europeans, but more critically a new freedom to destroy freedom for the rest of humanity. The European renaissance enlightened Europe but darkened the rest of the world. It was the freedom for the mercantilist bourgeoisie to loot, plunder and steal from the rest of the world (Magubane, 1999). The scramble for Africa at the infamous Berlin Conference and the subsequent creation of many small states in Africa was based on pure imperialist greed and insatiable quest for wealth (Baah, 2003). But imperial expansion was also profoundly conditioned by ethnocentrism (Mazrui, 1984) and the espousal of the ideology of White supremacy.

As the situation is, the struggle against residual colonialism is far from over and the state of coloniality characterises the African continent. This reality points to the irony that the colonial dictates still have pre-eminence in the continent economically, culturally, aesthetically and epistemologically. In this regard, also not in dispute is that the subsequent varied solutions to Africa's problems have failed to address the developmental challenges faced by the continent. All forms of modernisation attempts have left Africa poorer and still teeming with multitudes of challenges. At the core of modernisation was the assertion that for Africa to develop the continent had to rid itself of nationalist characteristics and adopt Western features and approaches. Of particular interest has been the impact of structural adjustment programmes.

The structural adjustment programmes merely subjected the continent to the strictures of multilateral agendas, notably the imposition of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund prescriptions in the form of structural adjustment and stabilisation programmes left the continent in stagflation. In the case of Africa, the World Bank simply called for drastic cuts in expenditure on social services and university education, especially for subjects that make up much of what is known as the social sciences and humanities (Mkandawire, 1994) as these were not responding to the job market and the changing nature of the global economy (Chachage, 2001).

Unsurprisingly, one of the consequences of the imposition of structural adjustment policies has been the displacement of the agency of African leadership, as well as the reactive nature of African economists and policy makers and mounting criticism about the inadequacies of such policies. By the 1980s all economic and social indicators showed that Africa had been left behind. Despite the continent being the largest in geographic and demographic size and well-endowed with resources, one area that has generated a pervasive Afro-pessimism has been the performance of almost all economies of Africa (Cliffe, 2002).

African Leaders in Realizing the African Renaissance

Although African leaders claimed the exclusive right as liberators and insisted on determining the future of African people, there has been generally little input at the leadership level towards Africa's future development trajectory (Karyzzi-Mugerwa, 2001). Some became authoritarian, some dictators, some presidents for life, and others naively believed that they would rule until "Jesus" came back on earth. Even more disconcerting is that such leaders carried forward the sinister activities of the imperial powers through neo-imperial designs. This was a calculated move to ensure that they maintained their power and influence in their respective countries. In fact, the continent sank further into economic dysfunction and continued to experience military coups, political instability and various social ills and violence. Consequently, civil strife has characterised African countries for too long and this is detrimental to any form of development initiative (Asante, 1987). Clearly Africa cannot experience development when her very human capital is slaughtered by the military and many Africans, especially the youth take perilous journeys to Europe as refugees or to eke out better living conditions.

African leaders must take the bulk of the blame for implementing the disastrous prescriptions of the West with its high capacity to cause havoc and pose an African existential threat. For one, the externally imposed prescriptions were obviously highly suspect and the results have been irreparably disastrous to Africa and African people.

As the continent operated on a crisis mode such leaders were reluctant to upset the IMF and WB apple cart and by the 1990s we saw the triumphalism of global imperial designs on one hand and the spread of Afro-scepticism and continued violation of African people on the other hand. Ihonvbere has roundly blamed African founding fathers, for numerous betrayals of the national project(s). He blamed them for failure to restructure the state; to empower Africans; to challenge foreign domination and exploitation of African people; and to challenge the cultural bastardization in the continent (Ihonvbere, 1994).

As African governments lost significant degree of autonomy and initiative, they began to pursue objectives imposed by external financial institutions (Mkandawire, 1994), the task of removing Africa from abject poverty was effectively assumed by donors and multilateral agencies.

Thus, there is general agreement that these Western-driven and Western-inspired efforts have borne very little fruit precisely because they were merely palliative rather than addressing the root causes. Part of this is because the development strategies adopted since independence did not depart from the colonial ones and essentially it was 'business as usual'. There was no attempt to transform the African economy, African state and African society (Zack-Williams, 2002). With the devastation wrought by neo-liberal policies and many African leaders having lost political legitimacy and the charm and attraction of their liberation dividend having ran out, some African leaders in the persons of former presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal and current president Abdul-Aziz Bouteflika of Algeria revived the pan-African agenda at the beginning of 2000s in the form of the 'African renaissance.' At the core of the African renaissance was the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) which essentially developed out of a merger of the Millennium African Recovery Programme (MAP) and the Omega Plan, and was intended to provide a framework and programme of action for the African renaissance. In this regard, it was a modernisation and reconstruction programme aimed at stimulating Africa's development after years of colonialism, bad governance, unsound economic policies and destructive conflicts as well as the Cold War (Bekoe & Landsberg, 2002).

Although the concept of African renaissance was first used by Diop, it was popularised by former South African President Thabo Mbeki during his term. In April 1997, President Mbeki articulated the elements that comprise the African renaissance as (1) social cohesion, (2) democracy, (3) economic rebuilding and growth, and (4) the establishment of Africa as a significant player in geo-political affairs (Maloka, 2000). But this articulation lacked an African cultural underpinning as it amounted to socio-economistic reawakening, revival or regeneration.

Thus, despite such lofty objectives, these very leaders were pursuing neo-liberal agendas in their own countries and their domestic policies are illustrative of this assertion. Rather than self-reliance on vast resources of Africa, NEPAD was a pro-growth plan aimed at soliciting Western investment, aid, market access and assistance for Africa's development. In exchange African people were to hold themselves accountable politically and economically (Bekoe & Landsberg, 2002).

As a note of caution, we need to be humble...

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