Decolonising Africa in the 21st century

2017-06-07 06:03

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WE recently celebrated Africa Day, a day with a very rich historical significance in the lives and aspirations of Africans. When was the last time you paused everything in front of you and asked yourself — what does it really mean to be an African? And maybe push a bit further to say — what does it mean to be an African in the 21st century?

This article is inspired largely by Professor Mamdani’s paper he presented at the 8th Thabo Mbeki Africa Day Lecture. However, this article is not a summary of the man’s paper; instead, I wish to marry critical points he mentions to those I have dealt with in my previous book.

One of the concerns that featured prominently in Mamdani’s presentation has to do with what he terms “universalism”. He further elaborates to say this culture of universalism has at worst imprisoned the African continent and at best impeded development.

In simple terms, “universalism” is a school of thought that defends the idea about sameness or oneness of everything in the universe.

Mamdani argues that the problem with this way of looking at the world is that we think what works for U.S. must work for Africa.

Again, at the core of this ideology is the tendency to apply a one-size-fits-all approach. It is this culture and practice of “universalism” that has precipitated the democratisation of the better part of the world.

Bear in mind that this democratisation of the world pays little or no attention at all to the fragile and unique historical background each country or continent bears.

For example, have you ever wondered if this highly appraised system of governance called democracy is a suitable type for the African context?

I am sure you have, and so have I. Democracy has been defined by prominent interlocutors as “government of the people, for the people and by the people”.

However, in practice this very system seems to have its promises and benefits in stark contrast. The more we think we are exercising democracy in order to enjoy the benefits and promises it bears, the more we veer away from those promises and benefits.

As I mull over this Catch-22, I am quickly reminded of the words by Professor Lumumba­ who spoke well when he said: “While Africa is promoting liberal democracy as the most promising formula for unleashing individual energy and generating political participation, African social and economic conditions are worsening”.

Similarly, I have in my other published works argued that decolonisation of the continent’s land and mind must begin by debunking, questioning and substituting all that which had been imposed on us by Western hegemonies under the pretext of bringing development.

Let us go back to our roots, let us use our own African spiritual, emotional and native intellectualism to solve our own problems. In this 21st century let us capitalise on our unique set of God-given virtues; namely, spirit, emotional and native intellectualism. We undoubtedly remain the most spiritual nation of all nations. We see things clearer, predict accurately, understand better just by our spiritual endowment.

Therefore, it would seem wise to suggest that we build a synergy between indigenous knowledge, native and public intellectualism if we are serious about decolonisng the land and mind of Africans.

• Zipho Makhoba is an author, research consultant, political philosopher and social commentator at Makhoba
Consultants Groups (Pty) Ltd.


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