Written by: Simon Venter
A common belief amongst the elite of the continent seems to be the creation (present or future) of a period fondly termed the ‘African Renaissance’. The fanciful notion of an African renaissance is arguably a laudable and attainable goal. However, for such a goal to be realised, there ought to first be an examination of how the Renaissance came about, and what its legacy was. This is to ascertain whether, in fact, this is truly a worthwhile goal and not merely the idealistic ramblings of mere mortals’ intent on leaving some form of legacy worthy of remembering.
Contrary to the provocative nature of the title, this piece shan’t advocate for the death of the state but rather for the death of the myth of the state or central planning – although one might argue that that is a distinction without a difference. The aim of this is to illustrate the notion that for an African renaissance, one does not need a strong state or a massive superstate in the form of the African Union (AU), as seems to be the conventional wisdom, but rather one could do perfectly well with a small, decentralised, and near-pointless state. But first there needs to be a foundation laid as to what a renaissance would be and what the Renaissance was.
Spanning the period of the 14th to 17th centuries in Europe, the Renaissance left an indelible mark on Western civilization, and the world at large.
The Renaissance ushered in an age of innovation and tremendous wealth creation. The city-states of Italy provide a perfect example of the benefits of decentralised power, be it in the banking ‘empire’ of the Medicis or the trade ‘empire’ of the Genoese, Italy was a region of great innovation and progress despite political turmoil. Quite often the ‘Afrocentrist’ who speaks of the glorious African Renaissance fails to see the flaw in his advocacy for a golden age and the policies for which he advocates to attain said golden age; namely the creation of a massive African quasi-superstate (the AU on steroids, one might say) based upon some of the most anti-liberty notions known to man.
If ‘Afrocentrists’ were truly intent on an age of renewal, they would follow the example set by the Ancient Greeks and Renaissance Italians. Although their societies do not mirror ours, at least at face value; at their core, the pursuit of liberty for which they stood (however flawed the result may have been in the respective eras) is a universal principle worth pursuing. The inevitable retort to this proposition may be that liberty, as conceived as the free market, natural rights and decentralised power, are ‘Western’ concepts alien to the African context. From the perspective of the ‘Afrocentrist’, this would be a fair retort; however, it is not only hypocritical but so too is it ignorant.
On the point of hypocrisy: it is common (to the point of nausea) for the ‘Afrocentrist’ to expound notions – regardless of their semantic costume – that are themselves Western in origin, namely, Marxism, communism and socialism. The charge of ignorance rests upon points made by the Ghanaian economist George Ayittey, who argues that it is in fact socialism (in all its guises) that is alien to Africa – and one might say all of humanity – and that it is the free market and individual liberty that could better be described as positions more suited and natural to the African context – if not the world. A second and just as cogent point made by Ayittey in a speech on the failures of African socialism was the unironic replacement of the European monarchical portraits with those of Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx.
The African Renaissance Monument that overlooks Dakar in Senegal is an unfortunate symbol of the farce that is the ‘Afrocentric’ view of an African renaissance. On the one hand you have a noble ideal illustrated in a majestic statue that promises so much: a strong family reaching for the stars uplifting the youth. On the other hand, you have the reality that the statue was built by the North Korean company, Mansudae Overseas Projects. The contrast of the ideal with the reality, as represented by using a North Korean company and all that that symbolises (in a word, oppression) is almost too unfortunate to be amusing. For an elite intent on doing it the African way, it is a shame that the African way seems to be the same folly of Europe, Asia and South America (to speak in broad terms).
In summation, I think we should take heed of the wise words of Carl Jung from his book The Undiscovered Self on the dangers of the centralised ‘omnipresent’ state.
“The goal and meaning of individual life (which is the only real life) no longer lie in individual development but in the policy of the State, which is thrust upon the individual from outside and consists in the execution of an abstract idea which ultimately tends to attract all life to itself. The individual is increasingly deprived of the moral decision as to how he should live his own life, and instead is ruled, fed, clothed and educated as a social unit”
For there to be an African renaissance, the individual African must thrive; but not as a “social unit”.
Author: Simon Venter is a young artist and student currently studying a BA MCC at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth. Simon’s main intellectual influence is Thomas Sowell.