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African resistance and African renaissance

By Paul T. Shipale
On the occasion of the commemoration of the 22nd Independence Anniversary, Dr Hifikepunye Pohamba, President of the Republic of Namibia, made a special mention of the immense contribution made by H.E. Dr Sam Nujoma, our Founding President and Father of the Nation, a patriot who led our people to nationhood.

President Pohamba said it was a fitting tribute that on the 22nd Independence Anniversary, the country was going to launch new banknotes bearing the portrait of this icon of our revolution because for more than fourty years H.E. Dr Nujoma led our people in the national liberation struggle and never wavered until we achieved our genuine freedom and Independence.

Thus, in keeping to the theme of paying homage to the heroes and heroines of our anti-colonial resistance and the struggle for independence, Cabinet deemed it fit to recognize the critical role that Dr. Sam Shafiishuna Nujoma has played in the liberation of our country among many other things. Cabinet, therefore, directed that when new bank notes are printed, his portrait should feature on the N$10 and N$20 denominations.

That, in itself, is what African renaissance is all about when we honour, assert and define ourselves. Indeed, in a research paper called "towards an afrikology of knowledge production and african regeneration", in 2005 the late Prof. Dani Wadada Nabudere from the Marcus-Garvey Pan-Afrikan Institute in Mbale, Uganda, argues that the issue of an African Renaissance, which has been advanced politically, especially by President Mbeki, cannot just be viewed as an event in the politics of the African political elites. It has to be taken up, problematised, interrogated, and given meaning that goes beyond the intentions of its authors and involve the masses of the African people in it if it has the potentiality to mobilise. It can be used as an occasion for beginning the journey of African psychological, social, cultural as well as the political liberation.

It should be clear from the onset that the concept "African renaissance" is taken for granted. It is talked of a requisite for African "renewal, re-invention and rebirth." Yet, while talking of an "African renaissance paradigm", we are silent as to what this actually means. What is critically important, according to the late Prof.

Nabudere, is for us to realise that Africa and its peoples have been subjected to a process of disorganisation, fragmentation and disintegration of their historicalcultural and civilisational achievements for the last three thousand years. These achievements, in many cases, have been appropriated by other peoples and turned around on their heads against the African people [James, 1954]. In the process, the African civilisation has been raped; plundered, despoiled and dehistorised [Diop, 1974, [France, 1991]]. If the expression "African renaissance" has to mean anything at all to the African masses, it has to, as pointed out above, be able to mobilise African people psychological, spiritually, and politically in order for the African continent to engage in a process of "recovery," "re-awakening" and/or "rebirth," that can break us out of the Eurocentric intellectual jails in which Africans find themselves caught and imprisoned.

Such reawakening must enable us to go beyond all the limitations that Africans have been subjected to throughout these three thousand centuries. The process of re-awakening and recovery has to be one of a historical deconstruction, consciousness raising and restatement, the late Prof. Nabudere asserts. The process must delve into the implications of this centuries old burden of domination that continues to bedevil the African personality and then on the basis of self-understanding, to organise ourselves to move forward in history. The problem we have to face as Africans and our scholars is, therefore, about the reconstruction of our understanding of ourselves as Africans and how our relationships with the rest of humanity has led us where we are in the context of a global historical process.

The concept "African renaissance," as understood elsewhere in Africa, seems to be connected with the search for identity and for the current African leadership trying to find new ways of positioning itself in the twenty-first century by re-imagining and re-inventing itself along certain ideological and philosophical lines. For instance, in the case of South Africa, the idea is to bring about the interaction between established domestic and global business interests in the country in line with the new government policy of fitting South Africa within globalisation [Kornegay & Landsberg, 1998: 3].

To be sure, in its Mbekian conception and current usage, the concept 'African renaissance' and its formulation is said to have originated, on the one hand, in Mbeki's "I am an African" seminal speech which was delivered on the occasion of the adoption of the new South African Constitution in May, 1996 and; on the other, as a response of the African National Congress'-ANC's leadership to the demand by the ANC members during the 50th National Conference in 1997, that the concept be elaborated to cover its economic and foreign policy which was to form "part of a broader African Renaissance, spearheaded by popular movements in many countries on the (African) continent."

Kornegay and Landsberg have argued that from a national identityforming perspective, the "I am an African" speech should, in their view, "be considered as the intellectual foundation for the articulation of an African renaissance" [Ibid: 4-5].

Thus the current usage of the concept is Janus-headed, the late Prof. Nabudere concluded. On the one hand, it reflects the mainstream political elite concern in South Africa for an African national identity against the background of an alienating apartheid system, which tried to depict South Africa as being part of the European continent socially, politically and culturally. At the same time, it also expresses this political elite's concern with its role in the age of globalisation and their relations with the corporate sector, which was being strengthened by the forces of economic globalisation process ideologically.

On the face of it, the deployment of this concept was also aimed at adopting the Africanist ideological stance in view of the fact that the ANC as a "non-racial" organisation had tried to depict pan-Africanism, which was advocated by the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania-PAC and the Black Consciousness Movement-BCM of Steve Biko, as 'racialist'. This `non-racial' political stance was especially addressed to the white moderate-to-liberal constituency and the South African Communist Party's-SACP political line, given the fact that both formed part of the democratic alliance against apartheid. Even the Africanist faction within the ANC had long been on the defensive for pursuing what was conceived to be a racial approach in the struggle against apartheid.

This is why it is possible to see how Mbeki's understanding of the 'African renaissance' was challenged by other interpretations within the African renaissance conference of 1998. In his presentation, Prof. Bernard Makhosezwe Magubane shows the other side of how different forces conceived of an African renaissance. He refers to Dr Pixley Isaka ka Seme' Oration at the Columbian University in 1905, where he studied law.

Seme entered the University's oratory contest and chose as his topic: "The Regeneration of Africa." In his oration, Dr Seme referred to himself, like Mbeki, that: "I am an African." His main thesis was that all 'the races of mankind' were composed of free and unique individuals and therefore any attempt to compare them on the basis of "equality" could never be satisfactory [Magubane, 1999:31-2]. He envisaged an Africa, which was free and able to renew itself on the basis of its achievements. The rebellion of the African masses-both in the Diaspora against enslavement and against European colonialism-were in fact the reflection of the struggle for an African recovery and regeneration.

This is why throughout this period; attempts were made by African intellectuals to assert African identity and achievements. These were part of the process of the struggle for an African "renaissance." This struggle appeared in both political and cultural forms. In its literary form, the struggle took on a Universalist approach with the aim of "rehabilitating the image of the black man wherever he was-an expression of black personality."

This movement was in the Diaspora called the Harlem Renaissance in the United States of America, which was the predecessor of the negritude movement in France [Masolo, 1994:10]. According to Masolo, the renaissance movement gave negritude both its form and its content. The form was poetry and the content was pluralism. According to the late Prof. Nabudere, the essence of the Harlem Renaissance was a resistance against enslavement and colonisation of Africa, which date back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It was a clash between a violent, racist, expansionist imperialism Europe on the one hand, and a peaceful, resistant and rejectionist Africa on the other. These two formed a thesis and antithesis vis-a-vis the other [Ibid: 11].

Marcus Garvey became a focus of this resistance, when he formed a movement of the masses and declared himself the president of the newly created empire of the "United States of Africa," yet to be realised, but a legitimate programme that the Organisation of African Unity (and now the African Union) seek to actualise. In this sense, both Garvey and Blyden who coined the concept "African Personality" were the real founders of the Harlem Renaissance movement and Pan-Africanism as this movement became the cornerstone of an African Philosophy.

Thus the essence of the call for an African renaissance is a call for a continued African resistance to western domination and exploitation of Africans in the process of Africa restating its original message and its own way that was at the same time universal. Magubane's paper at the African Renaissance conference in Johannesburg was directed at amplifying this important point. In his paper, he recalls that the word "Renaissance" in the European context was first used to describe, according to Shorter Oxford Dictionary, the "revival of arts and letters under the influence of the ancient models in the 14th-16th centuries."

The noun 'renaissance' means 'rebirth and/or renewal,' which meant the awakening of Europe from its 'dark, trance-like period' of the Middle Ages. According to him, it was called "rebirth" because Europe in the fifteenth century, after a long period of interruption, believed it could resume the civilisation of the Greco-Romans and hence the concept 'middle' signified a separation between the new Europe and its Dark period.

In his paper, Magubane demonstrated how Europe had in the same period lifted itself on the basis of the slave trade in Africans and the plunder initiated by the voyages of Vasco da Gama and Columbus of non-European peoples. He adds that this was also the period in which the theory of Ham was reworked to justify slavery and 'African inferiority.' We also know from Martin Bernal [1987] that it was in this period that the self-confident Europe decided to "downgrade" Egypt and "upgrade Asian" after it had established total control over the entire known world.- Magubane adds: "In other words, the European Renaissance was not simply the freedom of spirit and body for European men, but a new freedom to destroy freedom for the rest of humanity. It was the freedom for the mercantilist bourgeoisie to loot, plunder and steal from the rest of the world. In the process, the African people were "down-graded" as well not human beings, but chattels valued as so much horsepower [Ibid: 20]. Thus post-renaissance Europe saw the African as a chattel for sale in an age they called "Age of Enlightenment."

The development of European philosophy centred on the hiding and obscuring of European criminality against humanity and cannot be referred to as a humanistic achievement in the annals of human history. Moreover, the concession of political independence to Africa by Europe was a strategy to continue the inhuman plunder and exploitation of African resources and it's people-including its knowledge systems. It was never intended, just like today's economic globalisation, to end domination and exploitation and establish a truly humanistic world order.

But not everything is lost and hence the need for us to be clear when we talk about African renaissance and for Africa to recover the memory of its own heritage and message. I fully support the decision to bestow the honour on H.E. Dr Nujoma by featuring his portrait on the new upgraded N$10 and N$20 banknotes to pay homage to the heroes and heroines of our anti-colonial resistance and the struggle for independence, which was spearheaded by our Founding President. Moulded in the cauldron that was Southern Africa's politics of nationalism in the last half of the 20th century, Founding President Nujoma stands among the giants-like Patrice Lumumba, Robert Mugabe, Julius Nyerere and Oliver Tambo among otherswho gave their lives (sometimes literally) for the development of their people and nationhood. His Excellency Dr Sam Nujoma has led Swapo since its formation in 1960. After 29 years in exile, he returned to Namibia in September 1989 to lead Swapo to victory in the UN-supervised elections that paved the way for our independence.

The Constituent Assembly, elected in November 1989, chose him as Namibia's first President and he laid the foundation of the peace and stability that we enjoy today.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper and are not in any way connected to my position but merely reflect my personal opinion as a citizen.


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