Address on The African Renaissance to
the Ghana-South Africa Friendship Association, Accra
5 October 2000
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I would like to express my deep appreciation for the
opportunity to address you on the topic of " The
African Renaissance: The Challenge Of Our Time".
I am sure that we would agree that to be able to discuss
comprehensively, the challenges of our rebirth as a
continent, it is necessary to take a brief journey back
into our history, into some of the many monumental and
epoch-making phenomena that have shaped and defined
us as Africans.
The Ghanaian, Ayi Kwei Armah, in his novel, The Healers,
writes the following passage about story-telling:
"But now this tongue of the story-teller, descendant
of masters in the arts of eloquence, this tongue flies
too fast for the listener. It flies faster than the
story-telling mind itself. .. Proud tongue, child of
the Anona masters of eloquence, before you leap so fast
to sleep, listen first to the mind's remembrance.
"Did you remember to tell your listeners of what
time, what age you rushed so fast to speak? Or did you
leave the listener floundering in endless time, abandoned
to suppose your story belonged to any confusing age?
Is it a story of yesterday, or is it of last year? Is
it from the time of the poet Nyankoman Dua, seven centuries
ago? Or did it take place ten centuries ago, when Ghana
was not just a memory, and the eloquent ones before
you still sang praises to the spirit holding our people
together? Is it of that marvellous black time before
the desert was turned desert, thirty centuries and more
ago? Or have you let the listener know the truth: that
this story now is not so old - just over a century old?
"What of the place? Have you told the listener
where the town Esuano was, besides which of the numberless
rivers of Africa? Or have you left the listening ear
without a guide, thinking confusedly of the twin Mfolozi,
near whose banks Magolwane, the poet of the soaring
silver voice, sang eloquence to the raging shaker of
the earth? Is the listener to imagine such a river as
the Sankarani, or the wandering Joliba, or the fierce
Limpopo? Have you told the listener that of the sacred
rivers of our land, the closet to Esuano was the Pra?
Let the listener know when. Let the listener know where.
Then, Anona tongue, born for eloquence, continue your
And so we continue our telling. This is the spirit
with which we have to look at our history.
Despite the fact that it is accepted wisdom that Africa
is the cradle of humanity and of the most advanced civilizations,
the interpretation of the history of the continent continues
to be euro-centric, colonial and racist and therefore
in denial of the fact that all humanity is descended
from Mother Africa.
Thus, we ourselves must use our proud tongues to relate
our lives, to correct the distortions that were meant
to define us as being something other than what we are,
as not quite human, perhaps sub-human but definitely
This is critical because if we want to be the agents
of Africa's rebirth, we must, ourselves, use the gift
of the 'Anona masters of eloquence' correctly to relate
the story of ourselves, our continent, our great moments
as well as the dark periods of our existence.
We must highlight that story to ensure that we use
our proud history to inspire everyone of us to overcome
the real and artificial obstacles to our development.
As part of our renaissance, we must continue to expose
the truth about our continent, not just to the elites
of our countries, but to the masses of our people.
The telling of Africa's immense contribution to humanity
must help us to entrench the confidence in ourselves
that we have the innate human capacity to set our Continent
on a winning path.
It is therefore critical that we begin deliberately
and consciously to engage in the process of reclaiming
our history, our culture, our heritage so as to challenge
the stereotypes, distortions of Africa and Africans
which, even some amongst us have been socialised into
accepting as fact.
These distortions says that as Africans, we were saved
from ignorance and backwardness by the colonialists;
we are lazy, dishonest, with below average intelligence;
given to unbridled sexual promiscuity; and are inherently
violent and dictatorial. So, as Armah has said, let
us tell our history, let us, in Anona tongue which is
born for eloquence, continue to tell our story.
This is the only manner of reclaiming and recovering
our self-identity, self-respect and self-worth.
In the summer of 1995, geologist Dave Roberts discovered
an amazing set of fossilised footprints, dating 117
000 years back in the sandy slopes of Langebaan Lagoon,
on the Atlantic coast of South Africa.
These footprints dated back to the time that most scientists
agree was the period that the first anatomically modern
humans emerged. Roberts and his colleague, Lee R. Berger,
christened the foot tracks "Eve's footprints".
In a book called "In The Footsteps of Eve",
written by Berger and Brett Hilton-Barber, the authors
explain the choice of the name Eve for Roberts' discovery:
"'Eve' of course, refers not to the biblical Eve
but to a mitochondrial Eve, .a scientific theory first
coined by scientists at the University of California.
The term is used to illustrate the theory that all the
world's people are descendents of a small population
of anatomically modern humans that existed between 100
000 and 200 000 years ago. Their argument was based
on studies in molecular biology, particularly the occurrence
of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), genes that are inherited
only through the female lineage."
The authors continue that:
"The California team devised a statistical model
to measure the rate of mitochondrial DNA mutation over
time. What they found was that different populations
of humans living in diverse areas of the world exhibited
different degrees of variation.
"The variation between Africans was found to be
greater than that between any other population grouping,
indicating that people from that continent are older
than those from anywhere else. Their genes have had
more time to mutate. The inescapable logic of this argument
is that all modern humans are in fact descendant from
a single female living in Africa over 100 000 years
ago. Our genes tell us that we all share a very recent
Older Homo species, which also originated from Africa
millions of years ago, were replaced by these anatomically
modern humans. Endowed with a remarkable diversity in
its landscape and having seen many important changes
to its environment, Africa has also hosted almost every
major evolutionary transition to and development of
humanity; from apes, to homo sapiens to modern humans.
And as both Berger and Hilton-Barber say, this includes
transition "from the leap in brain size to the
first stone tool technologies; from the emergence of
our own genus some 2,5 million years ago to the conquest
of fire over a million years ago.These are developments
that have a 'made in Africa' stamp on them."
Humanity has always faced formidable challenges to
its survival, including the vicissitudes of nature and
the environment, which constantly necessitated relocation
to new, favourable and less difficult terrains.
Coupled with the rapid growth of the population, which
caused competition for space and scarce resources, resulting
in profound effect both on Africa's landscape and its
inhabitants, the inevitable consequence was human migrations
within the African continent, across the oceans and
between the continents.
We have to restore the situation such that we are self-sufficient
in food production while also growing those plants which
we can transform into various processed commodities.
In this area, again, we have to end the situation in
which we have been exporters of agricultural raw materials,
including unprocessed cash crops.
Some incidents in some parts of the continent may lead
to a false temptation to say that the African Renaissance
can never be realised and that it will remain just a
However, I would like to make bold to say that the
African Renaissance is not just a dream whose realisation
lies in some dim and distant future.
We are already seeing the seeds of this renewal being
planted everyday, by many brave and pioneering ordinary
people as well as leaders in business, politics, culture
and other fronts.
Telkom, the South African telecommunication parastatal,
announced last week Thursday that it had secured over
$600 million to fund the implementation of an undersea
cable to link Africa with Asia and Europe.
Telkom has itself committed $100 million to the total
investment in the fibreoptic cable project to run over
a 28 000km marine route, which will start in the middle
The first part would be a 15 000km link between South
Africa and Europe, landing at ten West and Southern
African countries, including Nigeria, Ivory Coast and
The second segment of the project is a 13 800km link
to the East. Both the segments of the project should
be completed by April next year.
The cable is expected to cater for Africa's communication
needs for the next 25 years, connecting the continent
directly with many international destinations. It is
projected that international telecoms traffic would
grow sixty (60) times to and from Africa in the next
This is an important area of development as the development
of telecommunications in this age of information technology
is vital for the bridging of the digital divide between
ourselves and the developed North.
We must adopt an integrated and comprehensive approach
to create capacity in the area of communication and
information technology or face the risk of permanent
global marginalisation of our countries and peoples.
Together with the on-going work to ensure that there
is access to electricity to many of our countries and
peoples, we are planting the seeds of the renewal of
Another area that is vital for the modernization of
our industries and for the development of telecommunications
and information technology, is the production of electricity
and hydro-carbons for energy.
Two weeks ago, a number of heads of state, business-people
and workers gathered at Beluluane outside Maputo in
Mozambique to open a Billion dollar aluminium smelter,
This smelter, one of the most modern facilities of
its kind in the world, is the largest single foreign
investment in Mozambique, and together with the other
two smelters in South Africa, Mozal will raise Southern
African aluminium production to five percent of the
total world supply and generate earnings of US $1,3
Billion a year.
To a country such as Mozambique, which is one of the
poorest and Highly Indebted Countries, this investment,
together with numerous others around road construction,
rehabilitation of the harbour and other infrastructure
are part of a practical renewal of a country that has
been devastated by war, droughts and floods.
These investments have created thousands of jobs, boosted
the economy and inspired confidence among investors,
the local population, and is a practical demonstration
that slowly but surely the seeds of a Renaissance are
The partnership between some of the South African mining
houses with leading Ghanaian mining companies is another
positive sign that African companies have found common
ground for the good of the continent.
As we produce manufactured goods, we need to consistently
engage the developed North on the question of access
to their markets for our products.
The continent needs to continue to attract Foreign
Direct and Domestic Investment in the development of
our economies, including infastructure such as road,
rail, airport, sea-port and habour. Without a massive
injection of capital in these areas, the question of
free movement of peoples and goods that is critical
for economic regional integration and trade will not
Central to all the above is the development of our
human capital. We cannot begin to be fully integrated
into the global economy if we do not develop the necessary
skills to participate in the increasingly knowledge
based communication society.
The examples that we have cited, as well as many others
that must surely take the renewal of the continent to
a higher level cannot succeed unless we accelerate the
political and economic integration of the continent.
Accordingly, we must remove all the obstacles towards
regional economic integrations.
Furthermore, we have to overcome the artificial divide,
a relic of the colonial era, which still defines and
identifies us according to our old colonial masters
and, we, independent countries, respond to challenges
facing us as Anglophone Africa, Francophone Africa and
Of critical importance is that we should have a leadership
that is committed to defending the interests of our
people, the leadership that has turned its back from
corrupt practices and abuse of power for self-interest.
We have at all times to demonstrate deep levels of
seriousness and urgency in all we do and avoid the casual
approach and a belief that things will happen on their
In addition, we must find a permanent solution to the
self-serving promotion of ethnic, religious, racial
and narrow nationalist interests that are responsible
for many conflicts within and between countries.
At the same time, in this rapidly globalising world
of today, we are facing the danger of succumbing to
the pervasive dominant culture, the 'Coca-Cola' culture
at the expense of our own cultures, identities, and
national heritage. This culture seeks to deny the validity
of our own knowledge systems, our morals and ethics
and denies that there are other solutions to our challenges
other than those imposed by the dominant cultures.
This lecture is attended mainly by the intelligentsia,
leaders in the different areas of Ghanaian life. It
is therefore important that we all work towards the
creation of a situation that allows the exchange of
ideas and programmes so that academics in one corner
of Africa are able to engage others in other parts of
This is important if we are to reverse the phenomenon
that has led to the erosion of the significant strides
that the continent had made in the areas of science,
mathematics, medicine, arts, astronomy, architecture
In so doing, we will be making a very important contribution
to the realisation of the African Renaissance.
As Ayi Kwei Armah says in his novel "The Healers":
"Let the listener know when. Let the listener
know where." As an important part of the leading
forces for change, we have a responsibility to communicate
this proud history of dignity, achievement and civilisation,
and use to inspire the rest of society to participate
in its ownership and thereby become an integral part
of the their own Renaissance.
All of us gathered here today, as well as many others
in every part of the continent and in the Diaspora,
are therefore faced with this challenge of transforming
our continent, so that the assertion that the 21st century
will be an African Century, does not turn into a beautiful
but false prophesy.
The 21st century must be a hundred years in which when
we define the continent as rich, developed and prosperous,
it would not be a wish for some distant prospect, but
a reality and an existence that in the past have only
appeared in dreams.
This is the challenge of our time! I am convinced that
we will rise to this challenge.
I thank you.