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The African Renaissance is the concept that African people and nations overcome the current challenges confronting the continent and achieve cultural, scientific, economic, etc. renewal. This concept has been popularized by South African President Thabo Mbeki during his term of office. This was first articulated in the 1990s; it continues to be a key part of the post-apartheid intellectual agenda, albeit sometimes considered to be much watered down, in danger of never getting off the ground.



The phrase was first used 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.[1]

In April 1997, Mbeki listed the elements that would eventually be seen to 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[2]

September 1998 Conference

On September 28-29th, 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, 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." [3]

African Renaissance Institute

On October 11, 1999, the African Renaissance Institute (ARI) was founded at an inaugural meeting in Pretoria.[4] It has its headquarters in Gabarone, Botswana.[5] Initial institute focus includes development of African human resources, science and technology, agriculture, nutrition and health, culture, business, peace and good governance.[6] 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.[7]


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.

Okumu in his "The African Renaissance" underlines the point that the term development and such forms as undeveloped, developing and developed require a more precise awareness than is generally accorded them.

For some time Africa has been referred to as a "developing continent", and Britain and America as "developed countries." This is, of course, reducing the term "development" to a purely financial or economic meaning, a form of reductionism that implies that only the material things of life matter. If Britain is a "developed" country, and Africa aspires to be like Britain, does this mean that Africa wishes to mimic Britain on issues like child abuse, divorce rates and treatment of the elderly? The great arrogance of the West is exemplified and explicit in its reference to low-income countries as "less-developed countries." A much more satisfying terminology would be a reference to "low-income" countries and "high-income" countries", omitting a reference to development altogether. [8]

He draws attention to African cultural traits very much 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, 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.[9]

Other individuals 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.


However it has drawn criticism as a form of Africanist utopianism, especially given the various armed conflicts that continue in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere. Others have viewed it as an attempt by South Africa to foist a new form of colonialism, nicknamed Pax Praetoriana (after Pax Romana), upon the continent.

Cultural historian Owen Alik Shahadah says that the term is an anachronism and articulates the African reality in European historical terms thus posing African history as an cultural orphan of Europe.[10]Others argue that the analogy between the Renaissance and the "African Renaissance" is tenuous for a number of reasons, among them that the Renaissance existed in the context of the fall of a great empire, and the subsequent descent into the Dark Ages. They lend weight to claims that the term is anachronistic and misconceived (Farred 2003). These historical misconceptions, in turn, undermine the intellectual connotations. They further state that "African Renaissance" is a misnomer and should be seen as no more than rhetoric, and that the continued upheaval and disunity in Africa do not bode well for the aspirations of the "African Renaissance".

If the term "African Renaissance" appears to have lost some of its credibility outside of South Africa, it remains in frequent use. This is the case especially in South Africa, where the African National Congress has adopted it as part of its ideology and where the phrase is sometimes used in advertising.


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.


  1. ^ Thabo Mbeki. (08-05-1996) Statement on behalf of the African National Congress, on the occasion of the adoption by the Constitutional Assembly of "The Republic of South Africa Constitutional Bill 1996" Office of the President.
  2. ^ Thabo Mbeki. (08-13-1998) The African Renaissance Statement Office of the Executive Deputy President.
  3. ^ Malagapuru William, ed. African Renaissance, Mafube and Tafwelberg, Sandton and Capetown, 1999 p. ii
  4. ^ Washington A.J. Okumu, 2002, p. 157
  5. ^ Okumu, 2002, p. 17
  6. ^ Okumu, 2002 p. 267
  7. ^ Okumu, 2002 p. 170
  8. ^ Okumu, 2002 p. 12
  9. ^ Okumu, 2002 pp. 7-8
  10. ^ Language for a new African Reality-Owen Alik Shahadah.


  • Malegapuru William Makgoba, ed., African Renaissance, Mafube and Tafelberg, Sandton and Cape Town, 1999
  • ---, I Ching for the 'African Renaissance', Nomadic Exploration Press, Johannesburg, 2006
  • Washington A.J. Okumu, The African Renaissance, Africa World Press, Trenton, N.J. and Asmara, Eritrea, 2002, ISBN 1-59221-012-0, ISBN 1-59221-013-9 (pbk)

See also

External links



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