Often political discourse in Africa is dominated by a sea of slogans. These words have the ability to inspire others by evoking a positive emotional response; however, words without deeds are meaningless, and we rarely get clarity on the definition of these buzzwords.
Some of the terms widely used by politicians and academics include African Renaissance, Pan-Africanism, Agenda 2063, Intra-African Trade, Silencing the Guns, etc. Therefore, inventing practical terminologies that resonate with the general population is essential to keep the aspirations of citizens intact.
As a youth movement leader and political activist, I was intimately involved in the transition from the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to the African Union (AU). Since then, I have advocated for African political union and opposed dependence on foreign aid. My fundamental worldview, which has been shaped by empiricism, however, has not changed significantly since my beginnings and is still based on these beliefs.
I believe it is of paramount importance to gain a fundamental understanding of the philosophical assertions of ‘African Renaissance’, ‘Regionalism’ and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Likewise, understanding “divergence and convergence” on the subject can provide a clearer picture of where we are now and where we are heading.
In this context, it is essential to keep in mind that the AfCFTA is the result of political agency, while the African Renaissance and regionalism remain philosophical rhythms. Although African Renaissance and regionalism have not become synonymous with political behavior, they can be used to fortify Africa’s institutional and cultural foundations.
There is a significant gap in our understanding of how political conduct in Africa is influenced by its context and how context, in turn, shapes and influences conduct and action.
For this reason, it is crucial to define the term “African Renaissance” and dispel common misconceptions about what it means from the outset. What is meant by “African Renaissance”?
Simply put, I wonder if the “African Renaissance” refers to a period of postcolonial African socio-economic and political order or of spiritual renewal, consciousness and revisionism.
There is a moral dilemma that we must pose to all Africans. Are we imitating the European Renaissance that occurred between the 15th and 16th centuries? The European Renaissance bridged the Middle Ages and the modern era by reviving and improving the ideas and works of ancient antiquity. Comparing these facts, one can only speculate what African leaders had in mind when they engineered the African Renaissance.
Unsurprisingly, African thinkers have attempted to refute or substantiate this claim. Cheikh Anta Diop, Fantu Cheru, Ngugi Wa, Thandika Mkandawire, Sabelo, Pixley Seme and Asante are notable examples. Some African scholars have argued for a specific definition of the “African Renaissance Way”, while others have reinterpreted the term within a broader African framework.
Bear in mind that a similar difficulty arose when trying to define Pan-Africanism. We are all aware that other regional identities, such as pan-Europeanism, pan-Arabism and others, existed before pan-Africanism. For this reason, Pan-Africanism is not a uniquely African phenomenon. Therefore, the rise and fall of “PANISM” must be studied thoroughly, with the survival of Pan-Africanism being the only notable exception.
Remember that Mohammed Gaddafi was a supporter of pan-Arabism before becoming a pan-Africanist, a free transfer without payment; nevertheless, Africa paid positively or negatively. But that’s not my topic of discussion.
Returning to the African Renaissance, Sabelo articulated a vision of African Renaissance that encompassed a wide range of African initiatives such as Pan-Africanism, African Nationalism, African Humanism, African Socialism, Ethiopianism, Garveyism, negritude, black consciousness, etc. .
Emulating extraterrestrial theories without “any good reason” will leave Africa stuck in the past, unable to meaningfully move forward.
Africans should turn to Pixley Isaka Ka Seme, a genuine thinker who was able to express his patriotism as an African in a global context without embracing European ideals, for guidance. He is the rightful owner of two essential principles of African philosophy, “I am African” and “African Regeneration”. He envisioned a revitalized African culture full of spirituality and humanism that had been lost to European rationality and secularism through his concept of “Regeneration of Africa”.
Its concept of “regeneration of Africa” dates back to the Haitian revolution of 1804 against the colonialists and the Ethiopian victory over the Italian colonial invasion of 1896 in Adwa. His outlook on life was influenced by these events and the struggle for liberation. In the light of these interpretations of African regeneration, its philosophical affirmation contributes positively to the cohesion of Africa.
When Pixley Seme conceived of “the regeneration of Africa” in 1906, he saw African unity as essential to the continent’s future self-respect and economic success. The concept centered on the emancipation of Africa from colonialism and enabling Africans to receive the benefits of the unification dividend.
In fact, I agree with comrade Pixley Seme, who applied the idea of the Renaissance to the context of ‘regeneration’ in Africa. Pixley Seme’s lesson for Africa is that it should not try to adopt the European development model to solve its problems; instead, the continent should design theories based on its own unique conditions.
Africa’s fragmented political economy must be “reintegrated” both politically and socio-culturally before progress can be made. This is not an ideological doctrine but rather an epistemic assertion. Economic integration was one of the many concepts modeled on the European Union without having first sufficiently explored the local context.
Some basic questions need to be asked. For example, what is economic integration for Africa without a viable economy at the national level? How can the highly fragmented African economy, dependent on mineral resources and raw materials and controlled by external forces, be integrated? When does Africa commit to building a knowledge-based economy through “African economic and political reintegration”?
In 2021, Germany’s GDP was around $4.2 trillion and its population was 83.13 million, while Africa’s was less than $2.5 trillion, with 1.2 billion people. The commodity exchanges of New York, Tokyo and London dominate the world. What is Africa’s place in this matrix? Since the provision of “commodities” is not a decisive market player.
Africa should not be misled by the “global economic order” because African nations are economically identical apart from IMF and World Bank ratings. Refrain from saying that South Africa or Nigeria are more prosperous than Malawi or Benin because we are all in the same boat.
How could African regionalism contribute to the achievement of continental unity, collective self-reliance and economic transformation? Contemporary African regionalism can be used to develop a strategy to address Africa’s development challenges.
However, there has always been a tension between ‘micro-nationalism’ and ‘macro-nationalism’ in aspirations for African unification. Micro-nationalism is inextricably linked to the nation-state and the imperative obligation to protect its sovereign position.
The notion of “macro-nationalism” is frequently applied to the pan-African project, which has existed since the struggle for continental independence and the need to unite against colonialism.
Thus, regionalism can be seen as the connecting instrument between the narrower and broader varieties of nationalism. Currently, AU frameworks are more complex to resolve these tensions; nevertheless, as the awareness of member states increases and citizens begin to demand it, I believe that the organization will strive to become a supranational entity.
Why does the world present Africa as a land of conflict, famine, disease, extreme poverty, tribalism and terrorism?
Afrocentric thought is a philosophical approach that advocates Africa-centered and African action in world politics in order to correct the inaccurate perception or imagination of Africa, according to Asante Samuel. Africanness is a mindset that celebrates the variety of African identities, and I agree that Afrocentrism is an identity contract embodying ideas beyond narrow nationalism and tribal identity for a system of values share.
The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is the most effective mechanism ever designed to capitalize on the resources and dividends of the people of Africa. The “horse or cart” dilemma remains because the institutional formula was supposed to follow the complete convergence of the regional economic communities (RECs).
Nevertheless, the bloc is still strengthening these RECs, as evidenced by the recent membership of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the East African Community.
At present, neither the sub-regional nor continental levels of the RECs have harmonized trade and customs unions. Thus, the first question is how the RECs will be integrated into the institutional architecture of the AfCFTA.
The second question concerns a theoretical and institutional balance. While the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) founded the World Trade Organization (WTO), who will oversee the activities of the AfCFTA and correct its shortcomings?
It is possible to develop a fully convergent multinational, multicultural and multilingual system with an indigenous governance system called the “United Peoples of Africa (UPA)” that is socially and culturally mature, economically resilient, politically comprehensive and legally sound.
Therefore, African renaissance, regionalism and the AfCFTA can be achieved if Africa understands and acts on its position in building an “alternative world order” compatible with its needs; otherwise, Africa would remain a beneficiary and not an equal partner.
Seife Tadelle Kidane (PhD) is a senior researcher at the Institute of Pan-African Thought and Conversation (IPATC); Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Johannesburg.
Contributed by Seife Tadelle