Address on The African Renaissance to the Ghana-South Africa Friendship Association, Accra 5 October 2000

Distinguished Guests
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 telling."

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 not human.

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 African origin."

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 dream.

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 of October.

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 Ghana.

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 five years.

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 our continent.

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, called Mozal.

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 being planted.

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.

Chairperson,

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 be realised.

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 Lusophone Africa.

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 own.

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 the continent.

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 and agriculture.

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.

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