Towards an effective African Renaissance

by Segun Akinyode

The refrain in recent times, partly influenced by the essence of globalization, has been the call for Africa to wear a new cultural cap, rebirth of a sort. What keeps tugging at my consciousness each time the prompting appears in the pages of newspapers, magazines and in intellectual and not so intellectual gatherings is my history teacher’s homily about the insinuations of the word ‘renaissance’ . While he was drumming the sound of European renaissance into our brains in the early 1970s, (he taught me ancient history) he made it clear that a person does not ask for or demand or even think of a renaissance unless that person or group has become conscious of its wanting status in the scheme existence. The pang of backwardness and inferiority accounts for the call for a renaissance. It also makes a case for the fact that, the awareness of a shortcoming, is the initial positive step in the strive to evolving any meaningful antidote to the identified retrogression. It is cheering therefore to note that Africans of note are alive to the fact that the continent is in the midst of a crisis of identity, something akin to what that the psychologists call split personality. From the Pharaohs, running through the Sahara Desert, the Tourist Havens of the East and South, to the troubled peace of the Central Africa, the language has always been the need for a rebirth, an African brand of identity. The Chinese hold the chopstick in high esteem, the American will worship the Jeans; the Russians value the Vodka and caviar. What is the symbol of Africa?

There have been attempts to douse over this African dilemma by those who see no sharp difference between Global Africa and Continental Africa. Global Africa points to the Africans and those human beings with African genes living and achieving outside the continent. The Mohammed Allis, Oprah Winfreys, Barrack Obamas, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams are instances of the representatives of Global Africa. Continental Africa is the yearning, the striving to meet certain standard set by the Global Africa. The dynamism of definition has clearly shown that, the interaction between the two concepts overflows. The marks the Global Africa have imprinted on the sands of time, will continue to be the measuring yardsticks of the heights Continental Africa should attain.

The starting point for assessing the need for an African renaissance should be the obvious and urgent need to create the face of Africa and ensure that the created identity withstands the bashing of acceptability. It is a thing of joy that the outside world is conscious of the need to assist Africa achieve this onerous goal. The assistance becomes disadvantaged and suspicious when the active operators are oftentimes chosen from without the continent. The latest of such thrusts is the effort of the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science funded research into why the African superimposes western culture over his. Reporting the emergence of the research team in the Saturday, February 10 issue of a Kenyan newspaper, The Standard, Wellington Nyongesa wrote, ‘Kenyatta University lecturer, Dr Tom Namwambah, becomes the only scholar from Africa to sit on the 11-member research team (LITPOST) that is looking at the loss of cultural values by Africans. The team made up of researchers of international repute from universities in France, Spain, Sweden and Germany is led by Prof. Felicity Hand of the University of Barcelona in Spain.’

Certain issues become germane and pertinent in view of the composition of the team. Does it imply that Africans are no longer capable of discussing their peculiar problems? Or is it a case of he who pays the piper dictates the tune? I have been wondering how a professor of whatever discipline would understand the sensibility of an African adult and be able to rationalize such worldview from whatever perspective, when his contact with the population is suspect. Again, it is very disturbing that the only African representative in the team made some fundamental infraction in his interaction with the reporter when he was reported to have said, ‘Eastern cultures had philosophical tendencies imbued in them. When you look at them you see some principles of thinking while African culture had no philosophical linings and cannot stand change.’ The doctor as reported by The Standard went further, ‘For instance, Buddhism of Indian has philosophical principles, the same with Confucianism of China. That is why it was nearly impossible for the English to change the thought pattern of Indians even after ruling them for 300 years, for the Chinese no one has even penetrated and tried to change them.’

Those who are conscious of human nature, value acquisition and disposition and has heard of culture and syncretism must understand instantly that the doctor’s position is fundamentally faulty and his research findings may need some revalidation.

A French philosopher, Voltaire, once said, ‘if you want to argue with me, define your terms.’ I do not know the meaning the revered doctor attaches to what he called ‘philosophical principles.’ However if the term as used by the doctor means a set of rules and regulations written and unwritten, guiding behaviour and interaction within a group, an association, a community and so forth, the Yoruba people of Western Nigeria have philosophical principles marshalling their religion, education, commercial activities, mode of justice, worship system and the likes. I am not in position to speak for other African tribes.

It may not take the knowledge of primary education to reason that the problems Africa is grappling with are more of socio-economic and political than philosophical. Why would an average Nigerian, Kenyan or Ghanaian youth prefer listening to western music? The consciousness of the youth has been conditioned to cultivate and exhibit respect for the western ways of life by the persons and institutions he holds in high esteem right from the period his brain is blank and not because the music of Daudi Kabaka or Ayinla Omowura lacks philosophical principles. Or that the traditional worship system and belief of the Masai lack philosophical principles.

We strive for economic prosperity, in what language has the African society measure prosperity? Is it not in the American dollars, yet we do not want the youths to love those things associated with the all mighty dollars and pounds? Africa inhabits many millionaires, when last did one of them make any endowment for the emancipation of the poor, support for education of the indigent, and create enabling environment for the needy? What comes out screaming from the purses of the rich Africans is the urgency to create more and more wealth by stashing the stolen wealth in foreign banks; some of them live in maddening opulence to the discomfiture of the underprivileged. Of course, the American, British and Spanish system of education will continue to hold the glamour intellectualism in the estimation of an average African youth. He knows that the process education in these developed economies is painless, less cumbersome, and it is reward friendly.

The operational spirit of African politics is twosome: rigging and sit-tightsm. A sweeping appraisal of the continent’s political landscape reveals that the miseries of the continent are tied to jejune, pedestrian political leadership. If the political headship is not scheming unconstitutional elongation of his tenure, he is perhaps busy designing a new pattern of rigging. An emerging fad is planting an obedient political son in office after all the subterfuge to remain in power perpetually must have failed. The accompanying features of these political intrigues are social unrest and economic instability. It is a foregone conclusion that an environment where these two antiprogress developments reside, they have their allied tendencies as cotenants; normal human beings refrain from living in such an environment. Hence, the brain drain phenomenon that impoverished the continent.

The African continent has peculiar problem, there is no

doubt about that. That the problems are lingering and keep changing phases and impaling themselves on the psyche of Africans is not because of dearth of research findings, communiqués, and decisions. The real reason is lack of implementation based on a sincere and effective process of applying these findings to the everyday realities of an average Africans. Between Monday, 29 November 2004 and Wednesday, 1 December of the same year, more than 180 people representing scholars, researchers, policy-makers, NGOs, ambassadors, etc gathered at the United Nations Conference Centre in Addis Ababa to deliberate on one of the biggest problems confronting Africa-Conflict. Fifty-one papers focusing on different aspects of the nine themes were presented. Appropriately, the conference saw and addressed conflict from all of its multidimensional facets, which include economic, election, ethnic, religion, human rights, gender and the likes. Since the end of the conference, what has been the degree of application of the end-result of the deliberations on the issue of conflict resolution in the continent? If not a Moubarak stifling the voice of opposition and creating the right environment for his son to take over from him, it is a Mugabe organizing another sham election for another five years term at the end of which he would have stayed in power for more than thirty years, or an Obasanjo trying to stay another unconstitutional third term. Poverty, disease, social upheaval, ethnic clashes, religious bigotry resulting in blood shed are still the order of the day in most parts of Africa. These self-inflicted skullduggeries are enough to make a whole youth repudiate a system that is his especially if he is aware that that the causes are the people he has trusted with his vote.

The researchers are academically and professionally qualified, there is no doubt about that, but are they really qualified in the sense of association? A man who wants to know more about me must think like me, reason like me, understands my susceptibilities. Are the researchers qualified thus? Some of them have stayed too long in air-conditioned cars and offices to really understand the fundamentals, nature and structure of an African’s disregard for his culture. We need a new approach of disseminating the many findings to the real beneficiaries; a means should be established to ensure an effective intimation of the results of seminars, researches and other talks to the African youths, adults, kids mothers, sisters; Africa needs more of Ngugi’s theatre.

Africa is a lucky continent judging by the quantity of attention she receives from the world leaders and institutions; they dare not defocus her for obvious reasons. African leaders should, immediately exploit the gains of this romance, which come in millions of dollars and thousands of research findings for the betterment of the Africans for two reasons: anything short of this is unacceptable, retroactive and perpetuative; by the time the western world migrate to another planet, they may not be inclined to treat Africa as they had hitherto treated the continent.

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