Thabo Mbeki and the Idea of an ‘African Renaissance’

By William M. Gumede

Introduction
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In the early heady days after capturing power in 1994 following more than 300 years of colonialism and apartheid, policy gurus of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, chief among them, South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela and his eventual successor Thabo Mbeki, enthusiastically talked about the dawn of an ‘African Renaissance’. Basically, they meant that the end of apartheid in South Africa would usher in the political, social, economic and cultural renewal of the African continent. Such an African Renaissance would, they argued, would be propelled by a new democratic South Africa. To be fair, long before the emergence of democracy in South Africa, ANC leaders wondered how a democratic South Africa could repay Africans who played an important role and sacrificed a lot in the anti-apartheid struggle. So, the idea of an African Renaissance publicly embraced by Mandela and Mbeki, had much to do with a democratic South Africa’s historical obligations towards Africa.
The idea of an African Renaissance is not very new. As early as early as 1906, Pixley Ka Isaka Seme, one of the founding fathers of the ANC (and later its president) espoused the concept in a thought-provoking speech. He exclaimed: « O Africa! Like some great century plant that bloom in ages hence, we watch thee; in our dream …. Then shalth thou, walking with that morning gleam, Shine as thy sister lands with equal beam … » Many other non-South Africans also called for the rebirth of the continent, including the icons of black politics such as Nkwame Nkrumah, W.E.B. DuBois, Chiekh Anta Diop, Julius Nyerere, Sekou Toure and Kenneth Kaunda.
President Thabo Mbeki, on his assumption of the ANC leadership in 1997, and that of South Africa in 1999, anchored his presidency on the idea of an African Renaissance. Mbeki is very fond of Pixley Ka Isaka Seme (ANC president 1930-1937) and has styled a large part of his presidency on him. Seme focused his presidency mostly on black self-help, economic empowerment and more importantly, his pan-African vision for South Africa. Perhaps, what makes Mbeki’s vision for an Africa rebirth different from others is that he both acknowledged Africa’s own complicity for its poor state well as the obvious legacy of colonialism and foreign intervention. Furthermore, he demands Africa take responsibility for starting its own rehabilitation.
So, by 1997 Mbeki barnstormed the globe to sell his vision for African renewal, starting in his own sceptical backyard, South Africa itself, before crossing the Limpopo to an even more suspicious Africa. Not surprisingly, many of Africa’s old guard politicians were, if not downright hostile, rather sceptical. Men like Robert Mugabe, Muammar Gaddaffi and then Kenyan leader Daniel Arap Moi dismissed it as a thinly disguised ploy for South Africa’s attempt to dominate the continent. But others, such as Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Botswana’s Festus Mogae and Mozambique’s Joachim Chissamo were instant converts. By September 1997, all the key industrial nations with links to Africa have been briefed by Mbeki on his vision for an African Renaissance: the Nordic countries, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and the US (1).
At home, many were, and now many more are still derisive. Naturally, the white opposition parties were suspicious. Some, like the mainly white opposition the conservative white Democratic Alliance, and its leader Tony Leon – in any case always on the lookout for signs that a black government harbours ill-feeling towards whites – wondered whether it was not a cover for the ANC’s turn to narrow Africanism where white minorities, ala the ruling Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe, would be marginalised. But the white businessmen community soon come around, quickly sensing the rich spoils in Africa that South Africa’s new official focus on Africa presented. Black business groups were from the start very enthusiastic.
The country’s black intellectuals had mixed feelings. Civil society groups were cold – most are now decidedly frosty towards the idea. Many ANC leaders and especially, its ruling alliance partners – the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party – dismissed Mbeki’s African Renaissance vision as a placebo. The mainstream South African Left’s leading thinker Jeremy Cronin lambasted it as ‘escapism’, an easy way out of the hard and messy politics and economics of grappling with South Africa’s apartheid legacy of deep inequality between predominantly rich whites and poor blacks.
The African Renaissance Idea
Basically, Mbeki’s African Renaissance rests of four pillars: political, economic, social and cultural. The thread running through all these is the aim to boost Africa’s geo-political position in the world. The idea is that the start of democracy in South Africa is the beginning of a ‘Renaissance’of values that would spread through Africa. Mbeki’s former political advisor and political confidante Vusi Mavimbela (2) described the African Renaissance concept as a ‘third moment’in Africa’s post-colonial history. In this constellation, decolonialisation period would be the ‘first moment’, and South Africa’s democratisation, the second. So, the first pillar of the ‘Renaissance’would be South Africa’s ‘miracle’non-violent transition from brutal apartheid to democracy and peace. Using that as a hook, a democratic South Africa will export its political ‘miracle’and it’s a home-grown – read African grown – democratic value system to the rest of the continent and the world.
Secondly, South Africa will attempt its own economic miracle following its political miracle – this has been proven much harder to manage. The idea would be that South Africa’s economic miracle would kick-start an economic revival in Africa. Thirdly, the African Renaissance would have social underpinnings which would ideally lead to modernising of Africa’s societies. Thus, Mbeki and the social reformers in the ruling ANC alliance allied to him argue the old traditional patriachical and male dominated African societies would be swept away and women’s rights and gender equality would be the new ideal for African societies. Fourthly, African culture would be reclaimed. The idea was not try to return to a mythical or glorious African past, but to restore Africa’s culture heritage as an equal to Western or Asian cultures – in the world.
For starters, South Africa’s rulers say Africa has an image problem. Like South Africa’s Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, they argue that the dark view of Africa has to do with Afro-Pessimism in the West, which comes directly from the colonial view of Africa as a dark continent to be exploited. Indeed, the ANC government itself suffered from Afro-pessimism both at home and in the West when many local whites and foreigners were suspicious that a black government would be able to government prudently. Moreover, Mbeki argued that the initial lack of foreign investment to South Africa during the first few years of the black government had a lot to do with Western foreign investors withholding making big investments in SA was to make sure that a black government would not plunge headlong into the dead-end of failed African states. Moreover, Mbeki argued that South Africa was part of a bad neighbourhood – Africa – which needed to be changed, if South Africa is going to attract investments. So there were elements of pragmatism in Mbeki’s pushing for an African Renaissance.
Mbeki argues that bad rule in Africa plays into Western pessimism of the continent as a basket case. Compared to Western Europe, North America or the Far East, Africa is always portrayed as the hopeless, starving, violent and corrupt continent. Michael Maren (3), an aid worker, argues the continent is as much a Western cultural archetype as « the greedy Jew or the unctuous Arab ». He says: What do Africans do? They starve. » He says furthermore: « The starving African exists as a point in space from which we measure our own wealth, success and prosperity, a darkness against which we can view our own cultural triumphs … Sometimes it appears that the only time Africans are portrayed with dignity is when they’re helpless and brave at the same time. »
So a central ambition for Mbeki is to slay the dragon of Afro-pessimism by engineering an internal change in the governance culture of Africa – and so portray a more positive image of the continent. Mbeki and ANC strategists want to use South Africa’s successful transition as a symbol that another Africa is possible. Often the world wide positive appeal of Mandela is also referred to as a point in case that something positive can come out of Africa. Underlying all of these efforts is that Africans themselves will try to resolve their problems – African solutions for Africa’s problems. So, any reforms to polish the continent’s image would be driven by Africans, and the West and others would be partners, rather then dictating the pace as is tradition. Mbeki looks at an African Renaissance as Africa catching up with the developed world, piggy-bagging on using existing technology such as IT. So then, the idea is to use globalisation as a positive force to make Africa an equal partner with the West.
Perhaps to start with the word ‘Renaissance’itself is rather suspected. The concept was brought into social science discourse following Jacob Burckhardt’s Civilisation (4) of the Renaissance in Italy in the 1860s. Arnold Toynbee argues that the European Renaissance – on which Mbeki based his African Renaissance – was not peculiar to the Renaissance period. Moreover, the European Renaissance was a universal phenomenon distributed across the globe. For example, Peter Burke argues, the idea of the European Renaissance is a myth, where the contrasts between the ‘Renaissance’and the Middle Ages have been exaggerated, often ignoring the many innovations made in the Middle Ages or the survival of traditional attitudes into the sixteenth century. Given this, it is important to look at the concept of an African Renaissance as several or plural attempts.
Nevertheless, Mbeki sees the African Renaissance as a ‘liberatory’one. He sees the African Renaissance is a ‘genuine liberation’which was rooted in re-discovering the forgotten achievements of Africans, realising the potential of the continent’s peoples, installing the values of democracy and good government and unleashing the power of information and modern technology and globalisation for Africa’s good. He argues only in doing so will Africa be able to deal with African exceptionalism, and countering social stereotypes and perspectives which often translates into views of the African condition as one of political instability, moral and social depravity, poverty and economic dependency, or the starving African child in the many pictures daily beamed over television screens (5). But has the African Renaissance delivered, both on practical economic and politics, and on the subconscious African experience in a world which is dominated by the West? And can African buck the trend and turn globalisation – which has rarely promoted the general good – into a force promoting its own recovery?
Political aspects of the African Renaissance
South Africa’s political transition from apartheid to democracy is being used by South Africa’s ruling elite as a political model for an African Renaissance. The perception in the world of Africa is that it cannot resolve its own political problems without resorting to the politics of the gun. In South Africa, the warring parties, chiefly, the ANC and the National Party sat down in a negotiated settlement. The political instrument that was used to bring the warring parties together in a government was the concept of the government of national unity (GNU). For example, in the first 2 years of the new democratic government, the National Party, the party of apartheid, was a full member of the first government. So too, were other opposition parties – both white and black and both left and right – also included in the new democratic government, even if they had negligible political support.
As part of the African Renaissance, Mbeki has tried to export the concept of GNU to the rest of Africa with mixed results. In Zimbabwe, he has struggled to convinced its petulant leader Robert Mugabe and the hard men of the ruling Zanu-PF to join the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change in a government of national unity. Similarly, in Angola, South Africa’s insistence that the ruling MPLA join hands with the late Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA movement, has only caused continuing resentment among the ruling elite in that country. Savimbi were in the past backed by the apartheid regime, while the ANC supported the MPLA, even joining them and Cuba in combat to drive out apartheid South African troops in Angola and Northern Namibia. MPLA leaders such as Jose Eduardo Dos Santos reasons the ANC’s insistence that they should join hands with the former enemy Unita is a case in point that the ANC was at best continuing apartheid South Africa’s support for Unita or remnants thereof or as a ‘divide and rule’tactic to better exploite the Angolan economy. This has lead to almost open hostility between South Africa and Angola.
At home the ANC has under Mbeki embarked on a modernisation project to remake the ANC from a left-leaning liberation movement into a centrist governing party. Mbeki wants to forever break the perception of African liberation movements as ones that once in power, spirals into corruption, mismanagement and authoritarianism, like Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe. A new modern ANC would become the blueprint for other former liberation movements turn governments in Africa, on how to govern prudently. Moreover, the aim is to turn the ANC into a liberal social democratic party with its roots firmly in Africa, with a reputation of economic and political efficiency. However, other former African liberation movements have been rather suspicious of the ANC advice to them to become more professional.
At home Mbeki’s modernisation of the ANC has often been contradictory. He has been accused of being intolerant to internal opposition inside the ANC, especially against those who question his vision of the ANC and the country. In June 2005, there was an internal rebellion in the ANC precisely because ordinary members worried that the internal democratic traditions of the ANC were being eroded in Mbeki’s determined quest to remake the ANC and South Africa. In fact, South Africa’s former deputy president Jacob Zuma, sacked by Mbeki for alleged corruption, thought he could use the grassroots rebellion to ride an anti-Mbeki wave, and so surf into the presidency of the ANC and the country. He failed, but there is still resentment in the ANC over Mbeki’s stern, aloof and iron-grip leadership style.
Thirdly, South Africa has been trying to breathe new life into moribund continental-wide African political organisations. Mbeki is spearheading the difficult attempts to transform the politically antique Organisation of African Unity with a more relevant and modern African Union. However, South Africa’s efforts have been watched with open hostility by many African leaders who are suspicious that South Africa under a black government wants to dominate the continent in the same way as the National Party or South African imperialists such as Cecil John Rhodes wanted to do. As such, South Africa has been careful to appear not be a bully or a hegemon in the region. Some, like the cantankerous Gadaffi, argue that South Africa is at worst a Trojan horse for Western powers, rather then being fighting to reposition Africa’s bargaining power in relation to the West.
As part of South Africa’s attempt to change Western perception of Africa’s perceived lack of public management capability, Mbeki has came up with a continental policy framework, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) for Africa that he hopes will rally the whole continent around a basic good governance policy platform. Nepad is viewed by Mbeki and South African leaders as the policy framework of the African Renaissance idea. The idea would be that as many African countries would adopt Nepad, and so put the continent on a whole new policy trajectory with good governance at its centre. Mbeki hopes that Nepad which is a set of orthodox or neo-liberal economic policy proposals hand-in-hand with a set of good governance criteria would boost confidence in Africa’s ability to manage their politics and economics. The economics proposals in Nepad is based on the domestic policy adopted by the ANC for South Africa in 1996, called the Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy – which had one of its aims combating negative market sentiment of a black government in SA.
A major plank of the African Renaissance idea is that the continent will take its right full place in the world as an equal partner to other regions, rather than as a lesser, begging bowl inferior. South Africa has been pushing for Africa to be representative adequately in international forums. It wants seats for Africa in the UN Security Council, wants multilateral organisations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation to be more representative of Africa and the developing worlds interests. Moreover, Mbeki argues Africa must strike strategic deals with other developing countries who also suffer from the skewed international financial and global architecture to change the West’s unfair domination.
A great setback for Mbeki and South Africa was when African countries voted against a South African proposal for Africa to join hands with the G4 and through secure a UN Security Council seat for the continent in mid-2005. Many African leaders baulked, some, including Mugabe and Gadaffi saw it as a way of spiking Mbeki’s ambitions by mobilising against it. As a result, Africa might have, lost, perhaps for at least a generation, a golden opportunity to secure a strong presence at the UN’s most powerful institution.
Another foundation of the African Renaissance idea is that Africans will resolve their own problems. As such, South Africa has poured a lot of money into peace keeping and conflict mediation efforts in Africa. The idea would be that Africans resolve their own conflicts in the way they think is most appropriate – rather than the traditional Western instructions to Africans on how best to resolve their problems. Westerners are not excluded, but their support is only needed if it is supportive of what Africans are already doing. The idea would be that the West would partner Africans in peace efforts, with Africans doing the negotiating and the West offering support, whether material or political. Thus, during Mbeki’s efforts to resolve the conflict in the Ivory Coast, he was insistent that the French President Jacques Chirac should only be their in a supporting role, and only if required by the locals.
Mbeki’s insistence on African solutions backfired badly when he was persuaded by university of Pretoria researchers that they have found a cure for Aids. All they needed was his backing for further research. At the end it transpired that the cure they were talking about was a quack. Mbeki looked at it as a possibility that Africans could for the first-time make a scientific breakthrough where Western scientists have failed.
Economics
In South Africa, the ANC has pursued dramatic economic reforms to try to achieve an economic ‘miracle’. Mbeki has overseen widespread reforms to turn the apartheid isolated economy and cushioned one into a globally competitive one. However, in order to show that the ANC is not prisoner to African socialistic, mostly failed, economic experiments the ANC has pursued market economics, based on the Third Way reforms spearheaded by the New Labour party in Britain and the Social Democrats in Germany. All this in an attempt to boost market confidence in the economic management capability of a black government in SA, following both Western pessimism of African governments’ability to manage prudently, and local whites’inherent pessimism and racism that a black government would efficiently manage an economy. But this went against many of its supporters instincts who expected the ANC would pursue radical redistribution strategies and used the state powers to the full to bring blacks into the mainstream economy just as the Afrikaners used the state two generations ago to bring whites into the mainstream economy.
One of the successes of Mbeki’s African Renaissance project is that the ANC has become the first former African liberation movement that has won a reputation in power as a party that can manage an economy prudently. This is a clear change from former liberation movements mismanaging their economies. Mbeki now wants to export this capability to black governments in the rest of Africa. His first stop has been Nepad which set out the same centrist principles that South Africa has pursued economically as a blueprint for African countries to secure the confidence of the markets. Nepad, for example is a structural adjustment programme – like Gear, not instituted by the World Bank or IMF, but by Africans themselves.
A great part of Mbeki’s argument is that Africa is peripheral to the world economy because the West has through colonialism and the Cold War and now again through globalisation designed to have Africa purely as a place where commodities gets extracted. Mbeki’s mantra is African countries should take control of their own resources, especially its commodities and used this to become competitive. Moreover, Mbeki argues Africa must strike strategic deals with other developing nations that also suffer from the skewed international financial architecture and trade rules, to change the West unfair domination. The underlying theme behind the Nepad strategy is that if Africa pursues orthodox policies and gets its local political and economic governance house in order, it would be able to secure Western investments. This has proved as false. Although Mbeki has definetly brought renewed focus by the G8 industrial nations to Africa, promises of aid and support, have so far turned out as empty promises. Indeed, the past WTO round, which developed nations promised would be a ‘developing’round ended as another attempt by greedy Western nations to con Africans and the developing world out of a fair deal.
A great part of South Africa’s economic reforms is black economic empowerment through which secure the commanding heights of the economy to the indigenous population. The idea is that local white companies and international companies must give local blacks a stake in their companies. South Africa is modelling its black economic empowerment programmes on those of Malaysia. But in South Africa, many BEE deals have been criticised as only favouring a few connected to the ANC, rather than the masses. Mbeki has responded by pushing for more broad-based empowerment. However, this has still not happened yet. The ANC’s partners, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions have condemned BEE – that call the ‘so-called’BEE – and are campaigning to have it abolished.
The BEE policy has now been adopted by many other African countries, notably Nigeria, Botswana and Namibia. In Nigeria there has been a lot of pressure on foreign oil companies to bring locals into the senior positions and to force these companies to invest locally. During the first generation of African independence, there was indigenisation programmes especially in places like Uganda. All this failed because it was based often on violently expropriating foreigners businesses. In Zimbabwe it went painfully bad when the ruling Zanu-PF forcefully expropriated white land and then hand it to their cronies. Most of the land is now fallow and the people – the supposed beneficiaries – are starving. In Africa, the only significant BEE successes have been in Mauritius and Botswana.
Mbeki is encouraging South African private and public companies to invest in Africa. This is part of the thinking that Africans should take charge of their commodities and their economies. Now, South Africa is the biggest investor in Africa. Though many Africans welcome South African investment they are also suspicious and envious of South African domination of their economies. Moreover, often South African businessmen often practised the same bad labour relations in their new investment destinations they in apartheid South Africa, causing local resentment. Many black businessmen are as gung-ho as their old-style white South African compatriots. More often then not, South African companies source their raw material (and often management) from home, rather than using local produce, often destroying local economies, which cause even more resentment. Moreover, many Africans see the flood of South African businesses in their countries as another invasion by South Africa.
Creating a black middle class as quickly as possible underpins the modernisation of the South African economy. The argument is that the failure of democracy in Africa is partly because many African countries were unable to create a middle class soon enough. In South Africa through affirmative action and BEE during the democracy and the efforts of the apartheid government and local business since the 70s, the black middle class have expanded so rapidly, that it in 2005 fuelled most of South Africa’s property boom, which is according to The Economist newspaper the largest property boom in the world. The idea would be that the black middle class would be patriotic and create entrepreneurial skills, jobs and so on. However, so far the conspicuous consumption of the South African black middle class – not that the white middle class is any different – has caused national dismay. In the rest of Africa, the middle classes, if created have never been very patriotic. Many siphoned their money out of their countries or moved abroad with their skills.
Mbeki’s great ambition is also to create black tycoons, along the mould of South Africa’s Oppenheimer family, the richest family in Africa who controls De Beers’diamond company. The idea is that such if rich black Africans would be more patriotic, will invest locally more and would be role models to a new entrepreneurial generation. So far, though the new South Africa has created many black billionaires they have not been more patriotic, neither have they be better corporate citizens. For example, one of them, the black businessman Mzi Khumalo have moved a lot of his investments abroad, particularly the UK – just as an early generation of African businessmen outside South Africa had done. Moreover, black tycoons have not created jobs, neither have they become more social responsible. They are almost never involved in any philanthropy or social responsibility programmes for that matter. Mbeki has now put great store in wooing Africa’s middle classes who are elsewhere to come back to the continent. Ironically, many who come to South Africa are often treated with hostility by locals who see them as threats. The irony is that whites who move to South Africa are often welcomed much more warmly.
Social Change
A key element of the changes pushed by Mbeki and South Africa is the psychological dimensions of the African Renaissance. Mbeki is pushing a kind of modern version of Black Consciousness popularised by the late Steve Biko in which Africans must take pride in themselves and their identities. The black elite despises the image boomed around the world of a typical African being one with a begging bowl in hand. It is not that Mbeki is anti-white, but he argues for Africans to take pride in their own humanity. Mbeki harks backs to the old ANC leaders, particularly, Pixley Ka Seme one of the founders of the ANC who espoused pride in Africa, but also a pan-Africanist ideal.
Mbeki worries that Africans are seen not as full humans but often as sexual objects. His focus on this has partly given a blind spot to his views on Aids, where his obsession with Western portrayal of African sexuality has led him into the cul de sac of seeing a Western conspiracy the spread of Aids. It has also led him to start to focus relooking at the debates around the causes of Aids, rather than getting practically involved in dealing with the pandemic. In Africa, this has weakened the fight against Aids, as other leaders, followed the example of Mbeki and either soft-pedal about the disease rather than dealing with head-on. Moreover, many Africans, who see Mbeki as their role model continue with unsafe practises because they follow Mbeki’s example of seeing a Western conspiracy and rather than a disease being sexually transmitted. The consequences are devastating. However, his continual debates on the causes of Aids, while many Africans die, make come across as uncaring.
The other element of the African Renaissance is to change old African patterns of society. Mbeki wants traditional leaders to democratise to be relevant in the new century. In South Africa, this has caused anger among traditional leaders, but it has also shake up the institutions, with many now forced to abandoned archaic practices that run counter to democracy. Mbeki is keen to change the feudal societal relationships in Africa. Thus, in South Africa he is championing of a woman president to succeed him. During his term he has appointed many women to leading positions, including the Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as foreign minister in a beat that is traditional seen in the macho politics of Africa as the preserve of man.
Moreover, Mbeki’s own personal woodiness and aloofness makes him come across as uncaring and inaccessible. For one, he never show any empathy for the victims of say rape or violence in public, making him come across as very cold and distant. Moreover, though Mbeki wants to change the male dominated African society, in SA rarely show visible empathy to women victims of violence and oppression. Moreover, to quote Sisonke Msimang: « Thabo Mbeki’s African Renaissance offers a vast, numbing silence when it comes to analysis of gender oppression » (6).
The African Renaissance professes to bring a culture of social justice to African society. However, through his pushing of BEE and the black middle class in South Africa, many who have adopted Western consumerist and individualist behaviour patterns, has had the opposite effect. His focus on individual responsibility, as seen in his response to Aids, has also made him come across as uncaring, but has also spawned a lot of individualistic Western consumerist practices in SA among the black elite.
Culture
Mbeki’s African Renaissance wants to reclaim Africa’s culture. As such South Africa put great store in securing the Hottentot Venus, Saartjie Baartman’s remains from France it had been. South Africa spent a lot of resources into researching and reclaiming the history and achievements of Africans. South Africa has spent a considerable amount in highlighting Africa’s role in the genesis of early life forms and later hominids, some of which evolved into modern homo sapiens, tracing evidence of humanity’s evolution found in South Africa – including life forms and geological formations dating back 3.6 billion years found in Barberton, regarded as one of the most ancient places on earth.
South Africa has thrown its weight behind efforts to preserve the Timbuktu Manuscripts, ancient documents that hold the key to some of the secrets of the continent’s history and cultural heritage – and shatter the conventional historical view of Africa as a purely « oral continent ». « Operation Timbuktu » is the first official cultural project of Nepad. It is a South African presidential project, co-ordinated by the Presidency and the Department of Arts and Culture through the National Archives in Pretoria. This is obviously good. But many of the African Renaissance supporters have taken an extreme culturist outlook, based on ethno-philosophy. For them the African Renaissance is some kind of mythical return to roots especially on culture. They have uncritically embraced every traditional African practice, belief and tradition – even if it reinforces patriachical societies or oppresses individuals – rather than separating the chaff from the wheat.
Conclusion
Importantly, civil society and ordinary African citizens have been not really bought into the African Renaissance concept, neither have they been much involved in constructing it. Africa’s trade unions have been dismissive. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said: « Cosatu welcomes Nepad, but it has been developed without the participation of the masses and popularly elected African ministers … » But he also pointed out that ‘democracy is not protected’by Nepad. Moreover, many of Africa’s intellectuals were rather sceptical. Lately, Mbeki has made a belated effort to woo the continent’s intellectuals in support of the African Renaissance – recently (2004) inviting key African intellectuals to debate the African Renaissance concept. Nevertheless, in sum, so far, many of the biggest benefits of the African Renaissance have been those who are already well-off, the businessmen, politicians and ruling elites – who would have benefited from globalisation in any case, and not its ordinary citizens.
Gumede is Research Fellow, Graduate School of Public and Development Management, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He is also course-leader for the graduate course, The Public Sphere: Problems of Democratic Culture, Center for Transregional Democratic Studies, New School University, New York. He was Deputy Editor of The Sowetan, South Africa’s largest daily newspaper. He is the author of the bestselling Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC, Zebra Press. His book 100 Years of Black Politics, Zebra Press, is released in 2008.

1. Frank Chikane. 2005. The African Renaissance and Nepad. Paper presented to the staff of Wits University’s P&DM. November.
2. Mavimbela, Vusi. 1998. The African Renaissance: A Workable Dream. Foundation for Global Dialogue. Occasional Paper. No 17. October.
3. Maren, Michael. 2002. A dose of reality – an insider’s view of the aid industry. New African. 409: 20-23.
4. Burckhart, Jacob; Gray, Peter, Holborn, Hajo. 2002. Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy. 2002. Modern Library Edition.
5. Willemse, Hein. 2002. Reclaiming African in a Competitive Age. Opening address at the conference on Language and Renaissance – Promoting education, science and technology through the African languages. University of Pretoria. July 3-5.
6. James R. Cochrane. 2001. Globalisation, ‘African Renaissance’and Contested Identities. Paper given at the Fifth International Philosophical Conference on Civilizations in Conflict: East and West, People’s Friendship University of Russia. April.
///Article N° : 5740

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