The African Renaissance is the concept that African people and nations shall overcome the current challenges confronting the continent and achieve cultural, scientific, and economic renewal. The African Renaissance concept was first articulated by Cheikh Anta Diop in a series of essays beginning in 1946, which are collected in his book Towards the African Renaissance: Essays in Culture and Development, 1946-1960. This concept has been further popularized by former South African President Thabo Mbeki during his term of office, heralding the beginning of the African Renaissance, and it continues to be a key part of the post-apartheid intellectual agenda. It has found new expression and momentum within the International Decade for People of African Descent through the Door of Return initiative which is coming out of the historical Maroon community of Accompong Jamaica in cooperation with Nigeria, Ghana and Zimbabwe. The revival is being led by Accompong Finance Minister Timothy E. McPherson Jr. and Nigeria’s Senior Special Assistant to the President on Diaspora and Foreign Affairs, Hon. Abike Dabiri.
Cheikh Anta Diop wrote a series of essays as a student from 1946 to 1960, charting the development of Africa. The essays, which are seen as a form of blueprint, are collected in book form as Towards the African Renaissance: Essays in Culture and Development, 1946-1960.
In 1994 in South Africa following the first democratic election after the end of apartheid, and was clarified with then-Deputy President Mbeki’s famous “I am an African” speech in May 1996 following the adoption of a new constitution:
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.
In April 1997, Mbeki articulated the elements that comprise the African Renaissance: social cohesion, democracy, economic rebuilding and growth, and the establishment of Africa as a significant player in geo-political affairs.
In June 1997, an advisor to Mbeki, Vusi Maviembela, wrote that the African Renaissance was the “third moment” in post-colonial Africa, following decolonization and the outbreak of democracy across the continent during the early 1990s. Deputy President Mbeki himself melded the various reforms he had discussed to a tone of optimism under the rubric “African Renaissance” in a speech in August 1998
September 1998 Conference
On 28–29 September 1998, there was a conference on this theme in Johannesburg. This was attended by some 470 participants. A book was published in 1999 with this title. Thabo Mbeki, the keynote speaker at the opening plenary session, wrote the book’s prologue. The volume’s thirty essays are arranged under general topics largely corresponding to those of the conference’s breakaway sessions: “culture and education, economic transformation, science and technology, transport and energy, moral renewal and African values, and media and telecommunications.”
African Renaissance Institute
On 11 October 1999, the African Renaissance Institute (ARI) was founded at an inaugural meeting in Pretoria. It has its headquarters in Gaborone, Botswana. Initial institute focus includes the development of African human resources, science and technology, agriculture, nutrition and health, culture, business, peace and good governance. Okumu in his book titled The African Renaissance writes very keenly on the importance of developing science and technology:
- 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.
Among other things, the African Renaissance is a philosophical and political movement to end the violence, elitism, corruption and poverty that seem to plague the African continent, and replace them with a more just and equitable order. Mbeki proposes doing this by, among other things, encouraging education and the reversal of the “brain drain” of African intellectuals. He also urges Africans (led by African intellectuals) to take pride in their heritage and to take charge of their lives. For Noel Moukala of *Renaissance Africaine, no African Renaissance without African Unity. When Africans overcome their differences to unite, they can then talk about the African Renaissance.
Okumu argues that in favour of perceived African cultural traits he believes are worthy of preservation and continuation. These include such aspects of interpersonal relations as “social inclusion, hospitality, and generous sharing.” In addition, there is attentive and perceptive listening to others. Also, he argues, social acceptance is not based on wealth, but on the basis of relationships to others. Individuals together support their extended family, avoiding the extremes of dependency and paternalism.
Other individuals are seen as being the “new generation of African leaders” that would accomplish the goals of the African Renaissance were President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.
One direct response (a mirror response in a sense) to Mbeki’s call on artists and thinkers to take up his utopian vision, was offered by Andre Venter who published I Ching for the ‘African Renaissance’ in 2006. Before its publication a proof of concept work for the artists’ book was exhibited at the Aardklop cultural festival and later at the University of Johannesburg. The exhibition curated by David Paton was entitled Navigating the Bookscape. The work’s position takes “renaissance” to mean: a radical change in “systems of thinking”. Venter’s comment through the “I Ching for the ‘African Renaissance'” was complex (both aimed at material and symbolic practices), but it illustrated (in an empirical sense) how unlikely it was that radical change could occur in our “systems of thinking” in South Africa at the time of its publication. Venter showed — through this “limit-experience” — that to allow chance to play a role in the transformation of “govern-mentality” in South Africa was near impossible. The work posits chance as the only escape from a “system of thinking” which limits our ability to imagine alternatives to how we have come to think of ourselves as Africans. He did so by presenting President Mbeki’s office with a leather-bound, hand-made copy of the artists’ book — “I Ching for the ‘African Renaissance’ – and waits for a response. The soft cover (first edition) is out of print, but a digital version is available through the Internet Archive. An uncommon attribute of the publication is that it makes no claim to an Author. This strategy led both Wits University and the University of Johannesburg libraries to use derivatives of the publisher’s name as the author name, in order to classify the book.