The President of South Africa, Mr. Thabo Mbeki, has called for an African Renaissance in our century. In doing so, he is echoing the words of the great pioneer Pan Africanists of the past. The African Renaissance is, at this point, still a clarion call to battle, and to serious work. This is a battle and gigantic work aimed at putting Africa back on her feet, after a period of about two to three centuries during which she has been on her back, prostrate, like a giant animal on its back which has become food for other animals in the wild.
In the issue of contemporary Africa, we face the biggest, emotion-packed riddle and problem of all humankind. This is more than a gigantic drama and tragedy, which is still awaiting a Homer greater than Homer, a Dante greater than Dante, a Goethe greater than Goethe, and a Freud greater than Freud.
It is now almost universally accepted, based upon the latest scientific findings, that Humankind first emerged in Africa. Africa is, therefore, the Mother of Humankind. This Lady, Mother Africa, not only gave birth to Humankind, but she raised, and helped to develop, infant Humankind. After sometime, some of her children-grown-to adulthood, left Mother Africa for other regions of the globe.
We are told that this occurred not too long ago, relatively speaking, more or less 60,000 years ago. In these different regions and climes, some of the children of Mother Africa even changed skin colour and hair texture, and size and shape of lips and noses.
Two British scientists have recently proclaimed: “Under our skins we are all Africans…” (Stringer, C., African Exodus: The Origins of Modern Humanity, London, Cape, 1996)
These scientists go on to point at the very close blood tie existing between Africans and Europeans. They have come up with a measuring tool and concept called “genetic distance”, which tells us how close the genetic relationship is between the various blood groups. I quote one finding from their study: “Genetic distances calculated from blood groups show a close `caucasoid’-`mongoloid’ relationship…but a smaller distance between `caucasoids’ and `negroes’ than between the latter and `mongoloids’. This points to a closer African-European than African-Asian relationship.” (C. B. Stringer and P. Andrews, “Genetic and Fossil Evidence for the Origin of Modern Humans”, Science, Vol. 239, No. 4845, 11 March 1988, pp. 1265)
Now, Brothers and Sisters, here is the substance of the drama and tragedy: a few tens of thousands of years later, these very descendants of Mother Africa, having forgotten their original relationship with their Mother, came back and abused and violated their ancestral Mother, looked contemptuously upon their own close cousin brothers and cousin sisters who never left Mother Africa, chained and carried away millions of these close blood relatives of theirs to be slaves in the Americas and the Caribbean Islands.
I ask you, my close relatives, are we not faced here, in the matter of the relationship between Africans and the rest of humankind, with a psychic problem worthy of a Freud greater than Freud? Africans, Europeans, Asians, Arabs, Jews, and Indians, are close cousin brothers and cousin sisters long lost to one another spiritually and mentally. The greatest challenge and task before us all, the most important item on the agenda of humanism in our time, is to restore the original relationship between Africans and all other peoples of the world. This challenge embraces the totality of our being; it embraces the spiritual, psychological, cultural, and mental world, as well as the material world. For, with the Fall of Africa fell entire humankind.
The Fall of Africa, of course, begins with the African Slave Trade, which laid the foundation for the rise and triumph of capitalist civilization in the West, in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The German scholar, Frobenius, wrote that, as justification for the African Slave Trade, “the negro was turned into a semi-animal”. (Leo Frobenius: 1873-1973, edited by Eike Haberland, Wiesbaden, Franz Steiner, 1973, p. 58)
I go further than Frobenius, and state that in order for Europeans and the rest of humanity to successfully treat and regard the African as semi-animal, they, themselves, had to lower themselves to the level of semi-animal. The African Slave Trade was as a gigantic landslide in the mental and spiritual life of humankind, which brought about a major alteration, a major restructuring, of the social consciousness of human beings virtually everywhere in the world, in particular among those people who were directly affected by the African Slave Trade and slavery, as well as those who witnessed it. In the inner-life of those who were directly in the midst of this macabre event, in the inner-life of those who violated the humanity of the African, in the inner-life of the victims, as well as in the inner-life of those who witnessed this major event of dehumanization of the peoples of the second largest continent in the world –in the inner-life of all these peoples was introduced, it seems clear to me, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, of various levels of intensity around the world. This unprecedented, dehumanization of a massive sector of Humankind, this lived experience of the turning of the African into a “semi-animal”, in my view introduced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a universal phenomenon in the epoch of capitalist civilization, particularly in those Western countries that were involved in the African Slave Trade, in slavery, and in colonial domination.
I am hypothesizing here a malady in social character afflicting an entire civilization and an entire epoch. This calls for therapy. No therapy on such a scale has ever been conceptualized, or attempted; it remains a challenge to our ingenuity, courage, good will and humanism. It is a therapy which must dovetail with, or be intertwined with, large-scale politics, large-scale economics, and large-scale cultural-educational movements. Therefore, the African Slave Trade, the enslavement of millions of Africans in the Americas, and Colonialism, brought about a historic, horrendous injury to the social consciousness and spiritual life of humankind, world wide, and a historic, horrendous injury to material life in Africa, and to the material life of Africans world-wide. It confused the notion of what a human being is for virtually everyone in the world. It is only in our time that we are beginning to attempt to address this problem, and, I might add, we are still at the first stages of attempting to address the problem.
The historic, horrendous injury to material life in Africa constitutes the underdevelopment of Africa, which is the prime topic of this conference. It is important to note that the Fall of Africa was not the consequence of the action of one European power. We must never forget that the Fall of Africa was the result of the simultaneous acts, and of agreements, of the Big Powers of West, Central, and Southern Europe. The Berlin Conference of 1884 was merely the climax of that single-mindedness of the European Big Powers with respect to Africa.
I have already stated that with the Fall of Africa fell all of Humankind. At the same time that the West brought about the Fall of Africa, the West rose, materially, but suffered a horrendous fall, spiritually. The material Fall of Africa, signaled by the African Slave Trade, and the spiritual Fall of Western civilization, were simultaneous, intertwined acts, one giving rise to, and exacerbating, the other.
My call to you, today, is: as we fell together, so we must rise together. As the Fall of Africa was a world historical phenomenon, with direct implications for entire Humankind, so the Rise of Africa cannot occur except as a world historical phenomenon, with implications for entire Humankind.
Let me now turn to the specific agenda of putting Africa back on her feet. Of course, this is a multi-dimensional process, within Africa herself, within each African country, and within the entire world community itself, and within each country in the world. I shall concentrate here on the economic, development aspect.
What Africa needs most desperately, right now, is the initiation of the Agricultural Revolution. The Industrial Revolution in the West was preceded by an Agricultural Revolution. This is important not only for the obvious reason of producing enough food for the urban people, who expand in numbers as development proceeds, and, as it is happening now in large parts of the Third World, as development fails to occur; it is also vitally important as a foundation for producing and increasing capital, and enterprisers, for further development. The Agricultural Revolution is a proper foundation for the next step: industrialization. The Agricultural Revolution also lays a proper foundation for better economic rationality in the relations between the city and the countryside, between industry and agriculture.
Since the winning of independence from colonial status, beginning with Ghana in 1957, African leaders have adopted a development strategy which has neglected agriculture and rural development, in favour of industrial projects. The focus on agriculture has been the misplaced one of developing the production of cash crops for export, instead of focusing, first, upon developing the capacity for food production for domestic needs. The terrible result has been the food crisis in most parts of Africa.
Domestic food production for domestic needs has declined in most African countries; these countries find themselves dependent upon food imports; and food prices have risen steeply. Traditional African diet systems have been disrupted, and gross imbalances and insufficiences in food intake have occurred. This has had terrible results in the traditional health system.
THE IMMUNE SYSTEM OF AFRICAN BODIES, WHICH WAS BUILT UP OVER CENTURIES UPON CENTURIES, HAS BEEN DISRUPTED OR ADVERSELY AFFECTED, IN MOST CASES, OPENING CHANELS FOR THE INFECTION OF THESE BODIES BY A HOST OF NEW AND TERRIBLE DISEASES, including Aids. We are talking here about a dire threat to the lives of tens and hundreds of millions of human beings.
The well-known economist, Samir Amin, has stated the development problem of Africa thus: “The ultimate reason for the failure of `development’, more striking in this region than in any other, is that Africa has not begun its agricultural revolution, without which any development is unimaginable.” (Amin, Samir, Maldevelopment, London, Zed Press, 1990)
The issue of the African Agricultural Revolution should be priority number one for all Africans and African governments.
The other crucial policy imperative for African economic and social development, directly linked to the Agricultural Revolution, is that development planning in Africa should be from the countryside to the cities. This is not to say that urban areas should be neglected. All I am saying is that at least fifty percent of investment funds should be earmarked for rural development. The major source of the crises in African cities is the failure of development in the countryside.
At the beginning of the Twentieth century, the great African-American scholar and pioneer of Pan Africanism, and founder member of the NAACP, WEB Du Bois, wrote that the problem of the Twentieth century is the problem of the color line. I would like to state, at the beginning of this new century, that the great problem of the Twenty-first century is the problem of the relationship between the City and the Countryside in the Third World. I should state, in parenthesis, that the wrong manner in which this relationship was handled in the West, at the onset of the Capitalist Revolution, underlies, in my view the major problem of alienation and meaninglessness in Western society.
The greatest anomaly in Africa is the total discontinuity between the African village, the basic cell of African society, on one hand, and the African City, the new Western education, the modern African State and modern African politics, on the other hand.
To move Africa forward, we must restructure the relationship between the African village, on one hand, and the modern African city, the modern school curriculum, modern social life, above all the modern African State and modern African politics, on the other hand.
We must aim at designing and producing a synthesis of the precious gifts of the African villages, on one hand, and the gifts of the modern city and of other civilizations in our midst, on the other hand.
The crisis of poverty and famine in rural areas is forcing millions of Africans to move to towns and cities. These cities and towns do not have the appropriate infrastructure of housing, schools, hospitals, and employment, to absorb these millions of people. The so-called informal housing emerges, and crime, and diseases, and all sorts of social pathologies. There emerges the syndrome of poverty, unemployment, and crime in the inner cities. Modern businesses flee the inner cities, to suburbs The tax-base of municipal councils and city governments suffers. A fiscal crisis of government emerges, which results in very much diminished funding for social services and maintenance of roads, schools, clinics, police services, etc.
Therefore, the first cure for our sick economy is the elimination of the underdevelopment of the masses of African people in rural and semi-rural areas. This has practical policy implications.
Policy-makers in Africa must first focus on the modernization of family farms, on rural development, and on education.
This shall create a large rural and semi-rural market for urban, industrial products, also stimulating rural manufacture, as in China in the last few years, and creating a properly educated workforce, all giving a large boost to modern, urban-based industry.
This does not mean ignoring industry and cities. I am simply proposing that the greater bulk of our investment funds should be earmarked for rural development, African agriculture, and education.
What we need to do is to empower the masses of African people to meet their immediate material needs, first and foremost, food, shelter, clothing, etc. Empower them to assure themselves of these immediate needs; by so doing, you unleash the enormously vast creative, entrepreneurial skills and imagination of ordinary men and women. The recent economic experience of China, whose growth rate has been spectacular, is quite suggestive. Most students of the Chinese economy note that almost half of the acceleration in the growth rate during the first reform phase (1978-83) came from improved agriculture and rural development. (See China: The Next Decade, edited by Denis Dwyer, Essex, Longman, 1994, p. 13)
The important point here is that the empowerment of ordinary Chinese men and women in the countryside unleashed enormous creative, entrepreneurial talents, which resulted in the formation of village and township firms, owned co-operatively or privately, right up to the formation of banks!
It is this success in the development of the Chinese economy, the springboard of which was the restructuring and development of the rural economy, which has thrust China into the world economy as a competitor as well as an interested partner.
The big question for us, then, is how we can all help to bring about the initiation of the Agricultural Revolution in Africa. This must be discussed and considered as a project. We are talking here about conceptualization, planning, the massive work of coordination, adoption of the process as a project, and the great implementation of the project. All the nations of Africa must be involved in this process; and I must emphasize that this cannot be a project of concern only to African governments and leaders. There must be mobilization of the mass media, and of the entire public opinion of African societies, towards support for this project.
Certainly all nations of the world must support and give assistance to this project, especially the developed nations of the contemporary world. As I am addressing Europeans, in this conference, I should specify that Europe must play an energetic and passionate role in this project. You Europeans are the grand-children of Mother Africa. I have already spoken of the drama and tragedy that characterizes the relationship between Africans and Europeans, as close cousin brothers and cousin sisters.
It is obvious, of course, that the African Diaspora must play a key role in developing Africa, as much as the Jewish Diaspora, and the Chinese Diaspora, and the Indian Diaspora, are playing key roles in the development of Israel, of China, and of India. Although Africans must be the main leaders of this historic process, the team must have players from the entire world, if for any other reason, for the fact that Africa is the Mother of Humankind.
Specifically, what should and can be done? In my view, it is clear that all the ingredients for the project of initiating the Agricultural Revolution in Africa exist within the contemporary world. The ingredients need to be put together, galvanized, mobilized, and coordinated for the process to start.
What is needed is:
1) The emergence of a group of people who shall be in charge of the conceptualization of the process, who shall workshop the concept and work on a way. This group shall be charged with the task of putting together a group that shall do the political spade work, consisting
of winning the support of the leaders of African governments, one by
one, for this project, and the commitment of all African governments to play their part in this grand project. This group
must also visit government and political leaders of European countries, and of the USA, Canada, Japan, China, India, the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean, to win support for this project, and a commitment of these governments to play their part towards implementation of the project. This group should work to achieve the adoption of the project by the OAU and the UN, and by other multi-national organizations, foundations, and NGOs.
I recommend that a team of three or four key leaders of African Governments, such as President Mbeki of South Africa, President Obasanjo, of Nigeria, President Wade, of Senegal, and President Museveni, of Uganda, be requested, and convinced, to champion the cause of this project in the meetings of the OAU, the UN, the European Union, the G7, and G77 countries.
2) Another group must be formed, whose sole purpose is to raise the
FUNDING for the project. The funding must come partly from
Governments, partly from multi-national organizations, such as the UN, OAU, EU, and G7 countries; it must come partly from private industry, as donations, partly from Foundations, and partly from Individual donors and contributions (among which must be counted contributions and donations of individual Africans within their nations.) African governments may consider starting a special fund, An African Development Levy (within their budgets), towards support for the project.
3) Another group must be formed, whose sole task shall be to put
together the TECHNICAL-SCIENTIFIC TEAM. What I have
in mind here is appointing two or three SCHOOLS OF AGRICULTURE, of some Universities in Africa, plus a combination of two or three other SCHOOLS OF AGRICULTURE, chosen from
Europe, or USA, or Canada, or Asia, to act as co-captains of the scientific-technical team. These shall put together, mobilize, and coordinate the TEAM OF AGRICULTURAL SCIENTISTS, AND TECHNICIANS, who shall do the planning and be responsible for implementation of the project on the ground.
4) It is important, also, to realize that we shall have to mobilize the
culture of Africa, and of the entire world, as a vital leverage for
the success of such an historic project. All the arts and artists of Africa, and of the entire world, must play their vital role in supporting and projecting this grand endeavor. All the intellectuals and culture workers of Africa, and of the entire world, must give serious thought to this project. We must bear in mind, first, that the development of Africa must proceed in a way that is in accord with the culture and
traditions of Africa, particularly as these relate to the wise relationship which should exist between human beings and nature and the Eco-system; the development of Africa must proceed in a way which does not harm the environment, the soil, the integrity and safety of biosystem; and, very important, the development of Africa must bring about a new relationship between, and a new synthesis of, the city and the countryside, and between industry and agriculture. Our scientists, thinkers, and planners, must consider seriously the wisdom of utilizing, as much as possible, renewable energy sources for the development of Africa.
I have sketched an enormous project for all of Humankind with respect to Africa. The regeneration of Africa is a basic pre-condition for the regeneration of existing Humankind. I repeat: with the Fall of Africa fell entire Humankind. AS WE FELL TOGETHER, SO WE MUST RISE TOGETHER.
Utrecht. Holland, June 2000