Address at the Nigerian Institute of
Abuja, 3 October 2000
Your Excellency Vice-President Atiku Abubakar,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Democracy and Renaissance in Africa: In search of an
enduring Pax Africana
Thank you for inviting me to come and share with you
some thoughts about the important topic of Democracy
and the Renaissance in Africa.
An important document of our liberation struggle, adopted
at a Congress of the People in 1955, is called the Freedom
Charter. Among its clauses, it contains the important
provision that The People Shall Govern!
In the course of our struggle, this was expressed in
the mobilising slogan - Power to the People!
Across our border, in Zimbabwe, the sister liberation
movement of that country emphasised the concept that
- the People are their own Liberators!
It is from this tradition that I come. It is this tradition
that we seek to represent and advance at all times.
This is a progressive tradition according to which as
a movement we do not fear the people but strive at all
times to empower them to act as a conscious force for
their own all-round emancipation.
Tyrants fear the masses and will always seek to demobilise
them through propaganda, bribery and terror. Our task
as progressives is to oppose these tyrants.
Accordingly, the concept of democracy is fundamental
to the very character of the political formations to
which we belong. Without an attachment to democracy,
they would cease to be what they have been, which enabled
them successfully to mobilise the people to defeat colonialism
It is from this perspective that we will try to address
the topic we have been given.
When students of history look back to the past few
years, I am sure that they will be able to see beyond
the conflicts in the great Lakes Region.
They will see beyond the savage brutality of those
who terrorised and mercilessly killed and maimed innocent
people, especially women and children in Sierra Leone.
They will see beyond the unspeakable genocide that
took place in Rwanda which took place while the world
watched as though this was nothing but the swatting
of a fly.
They will see something beyond the never-ending war
The students of history will see something other than
the negative news of disease and hunger that dominate
news headlines in the countries of the North, as if
so say that the single definition of Africa is calamity.
What will they see!
They will see that in the last decade of the second
millennium, the African Renaissance, the renewal of
the continent started however hesitantly.
An important and critical element of this Renaissance
is that in the last few years we have witnessed a widespread
democratic awakening in all parts of our continent.
Today, many countries have gone through more than one
multi-party election since 1990. The movement towards
the consolidation and deepening of this democracy continues
apace, whatever the interruptions and occasional setbacks.
Critical to this democratic renaissance in many parts
of Africa has been the role of the masses of our people,
acting through their formations, who have fought to
en destructive and undemocratic systems of government.
Through their heroic struggles, these masses have ensured
that Africa experiences her second liberation in decades,
while at the same time creating the possibility for
the establishment of stable democratic systems of governments,
political accountability and respect for human rights.
Clearly, it is important that all us should strengthen
this movement towards a democratic continent and through
our daily actions make certain that the democratic wave
becomes an unstoppable and irreversible tide.
In this regard and among other things, we need to energise
the masses to reinforce the positions taken by Africa's
leaders to banish from the OAU, those who assume power
through coups d'etat.
At the same time, we must be vigilant and guard against
any possibility of complacency because even though we
have prevailed over undemocratic forces in many parts
of our continent, we can see that reversals are possible
as demonstrated less than twelve months ago in the Cote
In the critical work Imagining Insiders the following
story is told by Mineke Schipper:
"Olofi created the world and all the things in
it. He created beautiful things and ugly things. He
created Truth and Falsehood. He made Truth big and powerful,
but he made Falsehood skinny and weak. And he made them
enemies. He gave Falsehood a cutlass, unbeknownst to
"One day, the two met and started fighting. Truth,
being so big and powerful, felt confident and also very
complacent since he didn't know that Falsehood had a
"So Falsehood cunningly cut off Truth's head.
This jolted and enraged Truth and he started scrambling
around for his head. He stumbled on Falsehood and, knocking
him down, Truth felt the head of Falsehood which he
took to be his own. His strength being truly awesome,
a mere pull from Truth yanked off the head of Falsehood
and this Truth placed on his own neck. And from that
day what we have is this grotesque and confusing mismatch:
the body of Truth; the head of Falsehood."
As we consolidate, strengthen and spread democracy
throughout Africa, we must be careful not to fall into
the trap of lowering our democratic guard thus allowing
the undemocratic forces, which always will have a hidden
'cutlass', to do what 'Falsehood' did to 'Truth' in
the story we have just told.
We need to ensure that these undemocratic forces are
not able to smuggle themselves into power such that,
like in our story, we end up with the monstrosity that
we have seen around Africa, with the head of 'Falsehood'
and the body of 'Truth'.
Central to the achievement of this objective must be
the education of the masses of our people truly to understand
their interests, as well as their organisation and mobilisation
so that they are able to act, at all times, in defence
of those interests.
Thus would these masses not allow that those who seek
to dominate take advantage of the dust occasioned by
the struggle for democracy, opportunistically to steal
power from the people and place it in their own hands.
Consciousness by the masses of their interests would
also help to ensure that the processes of fundamental
social change in which our Continent must engage are
not derailed by demagogues who thrive on making false
promises, exploiting the burning aspirations of the
people for a better life.
As part of the building and consolidation of democracy,
we necessarily must move from the African reality, from
the truths that we see and know in our countries and
continent, and, be able to tell them from the falsehoods.
We need to retain a memory of our past, which should
invariably inform our vision for the future as we intensify
the struggle for the development and advancement of
Clearly, one of the critical elements of the process
of deepening democracy is to build, nurture and strengthen
indigenous institutions of research, information gathering
and dissemination, including the media.
Our own experience tells us that as long as these important
institutions are owned and controlled by people other
than Africans, we will fail to end the distortions about
ourselves; distortions that lead to the disempowerment
of our people, to self-hate and confusion about what
we ought to do to advance our development.
As long as these institutions are not informed by African
Realities it will be difficult to produce appropriate
solutions to our problems. I would like to suggest that
we, ourselves, should look at ways of building these
institutions that would assist in the process of democratic
These institutions may also help in monitoring democracy,
identifying threats, criticising fearlessly where things
go wrong and suggesting ways and means of improving
democratic rule where it is weak and be a resource for
all of us.
Our democratic processes need to address this shortcoming
if we are to reverse the Afro-pessimism that prevails
in many parts of the world as well as on our own continent,
a situation that often leads to ambivalence, despondency
and a feeling of hopelessness among our people.
This is to say that we have a responsibility to ensure
that our people do not assume the head of Falsehood.
Paulo Freire in The Pedagogy of the Oppressed says
"An epoch is characterised by a complex of ideas,
concepts, hopes, doubts, values, and challenges in dialectical
interaction with their opposites, striving towards plenitude.
The concrete representation of many of these ideas,
values, concepts, and hopes, as well as the obstacles
which impede the people's full humanisation, constitute
the themes of that epoch. These themes imply others
which are opposing or even antithetical; they also indicate
tasks to be carried out and fulfilled."
The challenge to our intelligentsia, and indeed to
all of us is therefore, to ensure that in this epoch,
the ideas, concepts and hopes of our people are not
distorted, because the very act of distortion is a threat
to our democracy and development. Freire continues by
"As antagonism deepens between themes which are
the expression of reality, there is a tendency for the
themes and for reality to be mythicized, establishing
a climate of irrationality and sectarianism... In such
a situation, myth-creating irrationality itself becomes
a fundamental theme. Its opposing theme, the critical
and dynamic view of the world, strives to unveil reality,
unmask its mythicization, and achieve the full realisation
of the human task: the permanent transformation of reality
in favour of the liberation of people."
If indeed we view democracy as a vital element of the
humanisation process, then the way in which people should
account to each other to express their human needs and
thus best "achieve the full realisation of the
human task" in our present time, is crucial.
The organisation of political power must be such as
to favour a dynamic approach to the unveiling reality
as it exists, the truths that it reveals to us and the
changing ways in which we grapple with this reality
to further our human development.
One of the realities of our continent is the tendency
to use ethnicity and religion for political mobilisation
and access to power. For many years this tendency has
contributed to the continued strife and disunity as
those who felt marginalised by the dominant groups mobilize
against their exclusion from political power and access
This problem has faced almost every part of our continent,
and the manner in which different countries dealt with
it has been critical to the stability of each country.
It is therefore our task to ensure that as we work
for the renewal of our continent, we should continue
to seek the best effective ways of addressing this problem
of dispensing political power, privilege and in most
instances wealth which has been according to the ethnic
and religious identities of various sectors of our peoples.
Clearly, the consolidation of democracy is also dependent
on the strength and maturity of political parties. In
situations where there is an absence of strong, mass-based
political parties, it has been easier for undemocratic
forces to impose their will on the rest of society.
In addition, parties that are not rooted in the ideology
that is informed by the plight and concerns of poor
people, are unable to respond to the challenges of underdevelopment
This failure must surely lead to the betrayal of the
interests of the people, the elevation of those of the
elite and therefore resort to repression to suppress
the dissatisfied masses of the people and the encouragement
of a false consciousness among the people to lead them
away from recognition of their true interests.
It is important therefore, that as we consolidate our
democracies and use them as necessary platforms for
the acceleration of our development, that the progressive
movement ensures that the orientation of our parties
is informed by the need to empower the masses of our
people, so that they themselves can participate as a
conscious force in renaissance of Africa.
As leaders in different fields, it is incumbent on
us to ensure that our people, wherever they are, acquire
sufficient capacity to identify this moment of our re-awakening
as a continent, and, be able, themselves, to participate
fully in the unfolding process.
The movement for our renewal will gather speed once
we are able to harness the tremendous potential and
energy of the ordinary people.
The possibility for our programmes to bring about the
rebirth for all can only be understood clearly and possessed
by those who are conscious of their own powers as actors
on the continental stage, as thinkers who realise that
their dreams of prosperity are enhanced by interaction
with other Africans.
In Citizens and Subject, the Ugandan scholar, Mahmood
Mamdami says that:
"To understand the nature of struggle and agency,
one needs to understand the nature of power."
Whether the organisation of power still reflected the
colonial legacy, whether the form of the independent
state was deeply shaped by the African colonial experience
are questions we must still grapple with, for they may
explain past failures and point the way to present and
The recognition of these connections, between past
and present in the exercise of power must at the very
least enable us to be in a position of control over
the organisation of power.
We must be in a position to create democratic systems
appropriate to the African reality.
Furthermore, we must recognise the fact that the organisation
of power and how democracy is practised in any given
time are surely influenced and shaped by the arrangements
of economic power within our societies and globally.
In this context, there can be no genuine democratic
empowerment of the people without economic empowerment.
The poverty of our people throughout the continent,
both as a result of colonialism and through neo-colonialism
and their continue impoverishment today, constitutes
a loss of power by the people.
This has led to an inability by these masses to exercise
their rights to the fullest extent, being pre-occupied
with a hand-to-mouth existence, the difficult struggle
to survive. Many of those who reside in the developed
nations of the world, do not have to worry about their
basic needs such as food security, welfare and basic
amenities. Under these favourable economic circumstances,
conditions exist for the further entrenchment of democracy.
Hence the proliferation of movements that are vocal
on all manner of issues as represented by organisations
of civil society and numerous NGOs. Undoubtedly, this
situation contributes, in many respects, to the deepening
of democracy within a country.
It is therefore important that we sustain a speedy
movement towards the attainment of a better life for
all our people. Among other things, we need to use our
resources to empower our people with education, knowledge
and information, so that they become their own liberators
and participate in the reconstruction of both their
lives and the lives of their countries. In this way,
they will be able to participate fully in and strengthen
then democratic processes.
It is important that all of us, in all our various
countries, that our understanding of Africa now and
Africa's future must move towards a commonality, leading,
among other things, to strengthen our economic ties
In addition, we must build an Africa that shares a
common vision for a more human, caring society freed
of dictatorship, warfare and military upheavals, where
there is a desire among all that the conflicts that
will exist will be resolved peacefully.
At the same time, for our people to have the space
to participate in the processes of the renaissance,
they must live in conditions of peace and stability
throughout the continent.
John Stremlau, an American scholar at a South African
university, in his essay "African Renaissance and
International Relations" has this to say:
"None of the political disasters afflicting African
in recent years were inevitable, nor do any more have
to be. Surmounting the legacies of colonialism remains
a complex challenge for many communities, but at least
no future imperial threats loom. Resolving current crises
and preventing new ones will require much broader and
deeper forms of intra-African co-operation.
"If successful, an African renaissance will finally
bring an enduring pax africana and the promise of evolving
political frameworks that will allow the continent's
rich cultural diversity to flourish. Only then can inescapable
forces of economic and technological globalisation be
managed and eventually turned to advantage at all levels
of African society."
We would agree that one of the most important challenges
facing Africa today is to achieve a comprehensive and
sustained peace, and ensure that we arrive at an enduring
pax africana, for democracy and sustained development
are possible only in conditions of peace and stability.
It should also be one of our common tasks, but especially
those among us who consider themselves as progressives,
to work together for the entrenchment of a culture of
peace in our regions, countries, our communities and
The resolution of conflicts can be expedited if the
whole of society and all sectors mediated and, alongside
their government, work towards, and enduring peace.
Accordingly, we have to strengthen our regional and
continental structures, so that we are able, ourselves,
to ensure that we bring to an end all these unnecessary
wars and conflicts and that the energies of our people
are directed at the questions of development and advancement
of our societies.
Furthermore, in the age of globalisation and the power
of communication and information technology, we need
to find concrete ways of harnessing this new phenomenon
for the advancement and enrichment of our democracies
as our ally in the straggle for an African renaissance.
We should do so while remaining true to ourselves,
retaining our identity, our culture, our values and
concepts. We have to exploit the huge potential offered
by the new situation to attain and sustain the full
participation of all our people in all our democratic
Finally, the challenges of the Renaissance means that
we have to work hard to bring about sustained socio-economic
development, put an end to the poverty afflicting millions
of the African people, increase the capacity of our
economies and strengthen our democracies.
It means that we must empower people so that they become
activists for people-centred development. It means that
we have to activate the intelligentsia so as to play
the important role of conceptualising, formulating and
articulating our thoughts and plans for the renaissance.
It means mobilising our business people to play the
critical role, themselves as agents of the continental
rebirth. It means bringing all the women into the centre
of this epoch-making process because, as we are all
aware, the extent of our social transformation and development
will be measured by the degree to which the goal of
the emancipation of women is realised.
It means ensuring that the workers, as an important
component of our economies and societies, as well as
their trade unions, play their critical and independent
It means channelling the energy and exuberance of the
youth so that they who represent the future must begin
to built that better future today.
The African Renaissance is not just a dream waiting
to happen in some distant future, it is already unfolding
before our very eyes. Like any process, it will experience
temporary setbacks and reversals.
Also, this renaissance will not happen in a flash,
as an event, nor can we judge its success or failure
in a matter of few years. It is going to take time spanning
But most importantly, our rebirth will need a lot of
effort and it is critical that all of us must find for
ourselves a role so that together we should be able
to accelerate this process and ensure that we, as Africans,
begin to occupy our pride of place amongst the peoples
of the world.
We can and must do it!