When former South African President Thabo Mbeki brought back the notion of an African Renaissance to the African political circles in the late 1990s, the continent was at a different place than it is today. It was still suffering from decades of civil wars, dictatorships, bad governance, and socio-economic hardship. Africa was the ‘hopeless continent’. These were the issues the forefathers of the ‘African Renaissance’ sought to tackle when they set out to launch a plethora of new initiatives aimed at promoting popular participation and good governance, peace and security, ensuring the economic take off of the continent and repositioning Africa in a globalized world. Their first step was the establishment of institutions and processes that would carry these ambitions forward.
Thus, an African Union (AU) was founded, accompanied with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) outlining the vision on how Africa would achieve its renaissance. The NEPAD documents insisted on good governance as the underlying principle for African development. The NEPAD was therefore equipped with the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), designed to promote governance in all its colors (from political to corporate to socio-economic development).
So, the institutions and processes are in motion. The Africa of today differs in many ways from what it was like in the late 1990s, although admittedly it is not picture-perfect. Africa became the ‘hopeful continent’ given the progress economic indicators registered, despite a protracted international financial crisis.
Previously absent governance initiatives, institutions and accompanying instruments have been established and provide the basis for the promotion of common governance norms. Although conflict persists some of African countries, the number of armed fights has declined; although its nature has changed with new forms of insecurity emerging, including terrorism. Politically, the position of Africa is more important thanks to a shifting international balance of power.
Now what? The agenda of the ‘African Renaissance’ as conceived in the late 1990s has not nearly been achieved. The challenges facing the continent have evolved as context changed.
There is now a need to redefine the way forward through an updated roadmap of the African Renaissance agenda. This revised agenda will need to build on the achievements of the first ‘version’. An African Renaissance 2.0 will need to focus on IDEALS:
- I like… implementation: Norms were established, notably in the governance area but the key challenge now is to ensure that governemnts respected these and put them effectively in place. This is pivotal in ensuring that the African Renaissance supports a real transformative agenda on the continent.
- D like… diversity: Moving beyond the formal structures and finding ways to reconcile efforts taken by the institutions (the formal actors) with what is emerging from non-institutional actors in Africa (civil society, small and larger businesses, etc.) many of which have significantly contributed to the progress recorded over the last decade.
- E like… efficiency: the starting point in the early 2000s was to establish the right institutions and agree on the basic principles that would guide the first phase of the African Renaissance. Without them there would have been little available to hook the agenda to. The challenge for a the new ‘version’ of the African Renaissance is to identify the key priorities that help in making the jump to the next steps. The challenges the continent is currently facing are still significant. An agreement on what the critical next steps that can take Africa yet another leap forward would be critical in guiding the next phase.
- A like… audacity: new economic and political prospects will necessarily bring about change, not only in the way Africa conducts its own policies at the national and continental level, but also in the way it engages with its development partners. Africa will need to assume its choices and take full ownership of its initiatives.
- L like… leverage: Africa’s international position has changed. This provides it with opportunities to improve the management of its international relations, to reap more benefits for its development ambitions. But this cannot be done in a vacuum. It will require a common continental vision on how development occurs. Yet in the course of the 2000s several African leaders have expressed their concerns about the vision enshrined in the NEPAD declaration, which was due to serve as a common African understanding on development. Would there then be a need to further debate the premises on which development was conceived in the early 2000s and agree on a new vision?
- S like… sustainability: The failure to transform the impressive economic figures into tangible socio-economic gains for the population will defeat the peace and security as well as the governance agendas that the African Renaissance aspires to achieve. Finding ways to use quick gains to ensure sustainable impact is yet to be further discussed both within African policy circles as well as academia. Yet without it, it will be difficult to sustain the momentum of an African Renaissance. Sustainability also means the ability of Africa to fully embrace the agenda of the African Renaissance without heavy dependence on international partners.
Discussions on the African Renaissance aren’t an intellectual exercise of yet another African Union Summit. In policy terms, this week’s meeting has the potential to redefine the African agenda for the upcoming years and clarify the African vision for its future in the same way the AU Summit had done it back in 2000.
This blog post features the author’s personal views and does not represent the view of ECDPM.