Heart of Arts

President Thabo Mbeki On The Need for an African Reawakening, By Toyin Falola


This is the third interview report with President Mbeki on June 19, 2022. Viewership figures on television, radios and over a dozen platforms reached over 35 million by June 20, 2022. For the transcripts: YouTube: https://youtube.com/watch?v=KoRTpv6lEfA  Facebook: https://fb.watch/dL9miB2tHc/

President Thabo Mbeki On The Need for an African Reawakening


Toyin Falola


Africa falls short of the benchmark for excellence in significant areas of human existence, such as governance, leadership, and citizen-centred development. Nevertheless, not all African countries are performing woefully. Some have people-focused leaders, world-class governance, and steady growth and development. But the countries in the latter category are so few that their number pales in comparison to the more popular class of thoughtless, development-depraved governance bedevilling the continent.

Africa was not always like this. A historical reminiscence on the African continent will show that there was a time when the continent showed the promise of astronomical growth and independence. From the 1950s to the 1980s, African countries gained independence from colonialists. Charged with the unifying need to break free from colonial shackles, the people fought for their independence and united to work towards growth and development. Within this timeframe, there was joy in the camp of many African countries that the future held something bright for them in the development space. However, several of these nations started to gradually decline in their development indices starting from the 1980s. During this period, the then outlawed African National Congress in South Africa was still actively advocating against the apartheid-influenced segregation and marginalisation of Black people that was prevalent in South Africa.

Following the end of apartheid rule in South Africa and the transition to a development-focused democracy that allowed the native people to be leaders of their own country and restored power to many rather than the apartheid few, there were early pointers to the fact that the newly-born democratic country would soon aim for a place among the big-league countries of the world. The earliest years of South Africa’s democratic rule were a period when the government was conscious and cautious. According to President Mbeki, the Mandela-led government made cautious moves as it was not oblivious of the circumstances that culminated in the eventual cessation of the apartheid government and the continual presence of white South Africans, some of whom were born in the country and were rightfully citizens. During this period, the ruling party nursed the notion of a seemingly looming counter-advocacy that would jeopardise all that the African National Congress had worked for. This fear of the out-of-governance minority spurred the Nelson Mandela administration to focus more on reconciling South Africans. Also, this government was tasked with dissolving grievances and building from the ground up.

There is a great disparity between what was in the early years of South Africa’s post-apartheid period on the tenures of President Mbeki. During the former years, South Africa, and some other African countries, registered themselves as a force to be reckoned with in world politics. It was a period when economic and political affiliations between Africa and other continents were based solely on Africa’s requirements. Thus, it was a period where Africa, having freshly come out of the harrowing experience of apartheid and colonisation, had leaders who were cautious enough to define the rules of engagement with foreign countries. This allowed for collaborations that were truly beneficial to the African continent.

It cannot be said that Africa enjoys such relevance anymore. The cause of this decline in the perceived relevance of the countries on the continent has varying factors, from supposedly continent-based organisations that hardly advance causes, action plans and discourses related to developing the continent to a crop of unconcerned and self-centred leaders negotiating poor agreements for the country they govern. In today’s Africa, it is not unusual to see leaders playing to the gallery to seek the favour of non-African countries, with the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and China enjoying the most attention, including visits and proposed collaborations from African leaders. Today’s crop of leaders in Africa has so much undermined their people for the benefit promised from foreign countries that many of them are nothing but puppets in the show of Western and Eastern supremacy wars.

There is a need for a reawakening in Africa and among Africans. This reawakening must be multi-faceted, cutting across the different aspects of the African continent, from the political to the social. Africa is in a self-induced, deep-seated slumber that is highly detrimental to the continent’s growth and eventual continued existence. The situation is so alarming that it is surprising that it receives little to no action-based reactions. This is perhaps because the progression towards doom and nonexistence is incredibly slow, so much so that it is difficult to map out. However, the people and their leaders have failed to pay attention to the steadiness in Africa’s progression towards retrogression and global oblivion. Africa is in such a lacklustre state — even the people who are the major players in the continent’s fate. We need an African renaissance to effectively wake our continent from its deep slumber and get it to a position of relevance.

A psychological strip-off of the people’s sense of identity is one of the strongest weapons, and perhaps the most effective, that colonialists and the apartheid government deployed to capture and control African countries for years. This strip-off, which was gradually deployed using location- and culture-specific strategies, served as a means of convincing the African people that their culture, norms, arts, religions, and civilisations were not worthy and did not meet up with the lopsided scale of the colonialists. It was a multi-faceted war on the African people — army captains waged physical, rifle-involving war on the people and subtly captured humans or bought them off others using perceived valuable goods as a payment medium. Some also took over African’s ways of worship and introduced new religions. There was a careful deployment of the indirect rule in Africa, with studies to gauge the system’s success. In Francophone Africa, a false sense of becoming and aspiration was created based on the psychological and innate need to aspire to better and higher things. Flashy promises, such as French citizenship, were created and allotted according to citizenship status. The acculturation and association systems in Francophone Africa, which are products of a condescending culture that perceived other cultures as below par, took their toll on the people.

After the colonialists and the apartheid government successfully stripped Africans of their sense of identity, it became easier to have the African people at their service and mercy for years. The system sought to create subservient and docile Africans who would be subject to the whims and caprices of the colonialists and minority apartheid system leaders. Once the target population had successfully lost their self-esteem, they were governed for many years with no level of accountability and little to no kickback actions. This was how tragic things were. An African awakening through an African renaissance will start from the ruptures made to the people’s self-esteem and sense of identity. This will further result in identifying and selecting personal and community-based values and principles. With these covered, the people will begin to see the possibilities of creating and being active in creating a better, more habitable, and growth-bound Africa.

Undeniably, there is a need for a continent-wide change to realise the Africa we desire. We must revisit the roots of the discourses on an African renaissance and how it birthed what can be likened to the Pan-African movement when President Mbeki was in office. We must bring back those times, reawaken the thoughts and discussions, and channel our energy into taking actionable steps to help us build the Africa we want. The African renaissance is not only for African leaders but also for the African people. We must sit ourselves down and be truthful in asking questions such as: What is the African vision? Have we truly not arrived at ideas and actionable plans that would help us build the Africa we want to see? Or are we rather stuck at the implementation juncture, no thanks to the leadership ecosystem on the continent? What are the stumbling blocks on our path towards an African renaissance?

Africa will be proud to claim that we are truly progressing towards a renaissance when we have outlined the difficult-to-address questions, addressed them, and taken actions to effectively curb their resurgence. An African renaissance is our hope and salvation. But when will we happen upon it?


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