The "African Renaissance"

What can the Renaissance achieve?

The African Renaissance, says Chris Landsberg and Francis Kornegay of Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, ‘is about positive African thinking by confronting negative African practices… [the] African Renaissance confounds anarchists and Afro-pessimists; it counters racist condemnations of inevitable African failure.’ But some critics have questioned the Renaissance’s policy content, likening it to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ and Lyndon Johnson’s ‘Great Society’ as ‘little more than invitations to mobilisation.’ These initiatives, say Sipho and Peter, were ‘openings around which, with both goodwill and energy by governments and citizens, significant policy initiatives might eventually take form or social movements develop.’

Yet Sipho and Peter admit to policy developments following the African Renaissance’s call for action – most notably South Africa’s renewed military commitment to peace-keeping – which do reflect central tenets of ‘liberal internationalism’, and the government’s rhetorical commitment to the development of liberal democracy in Africa.

Under Nepad’s rubric, projects are underway that aim to bridge the ‘digital divide’ between Africa and the West by investing in modern technology (and introducing the internet into Africa’s schools), attract $64bn annually to bridge the ‘resource gap’, and strengthen regional organisations that are increasingly called on to tackle security problems and mediate Africa’s conflicts. Thabo has stressed the importance of making Africa a safe destination for multinational investment and private capital, and has promoted the virtues of the free market, arguing that globalisation is unavoidable.

The continent’s seemingly intractable wars do not void arguments that a Renaissance is already underway. They merely invite the further prioritisation of peace-keeping. Efforts in the African Union to establish a continental standby-force and early warning system to pre-empt conflict show a willingness to put into practice African leaders’ pledges to take control of their own destiny. The Pan African Parliament, establishment in 2003 as the only continental forum where ordinary politicians – and not merely heads of state – can debate issues of democracy, peace and security, and has committed itself verbally to democracy and sent observation teams to Darfur. Although it presently can make only recommendations to the AU, its parent body, it may by 2009 be granted legislative powers. And the AU’s Peace and Security Council meets regularly to identify possible conflict hotspots on the continent and dispatch diplomatic or even military rescue teams.

The African Renaissance informs these initiatives, and this makes it valuable. It is a policy vessel, a motive force, a grand idea. It is at once celebratory and aspirational. Despite colossal challenges, and the smouldering embers in Côte d’Ivoire, Darfur and the Congo, fledgling institutions, the spreading of democracy, and home-grown (if insufficient) interventions in some of the continent’s most desperate conflicts, suggest it may already be taking place.

Waldimar Pelser graduated from St. Antony’s College at the University of Oxford in 2004 with an MPhil in Development Studies, and is currently a senior reporter for Beeld newspaper in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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