Africa’s future is too important to be left to the African Union alone. Much more work needs to be done for ordinary people to own the process of the continent’s renewal, working side by side with the Pan-African body.
The drama of the ICC’s determination to arrest Sudan’s president Omar Al Bashir manifested itself exactly three weeks after the commemoration of this year’s Africa Day. That fact epitomises the thorny, rocky road Africa’s renewal will have to go through. I am still basking in the after-glow of this year’s Africa Day commemorations, which was my first time to actually actively be a part of. On May 25 I attended an Africa Day Expo at the Kara Heritage Research Institute, in Tshwane, South Africa, where African pride and determination were in full display. In the evening, I attended the 6th Annual Thabo Mbeki Africa Day lecture at the University of South Africa (Unisa), delivered by Nobel Peace Laureate and former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.
The day was observed and commemorated in several African countries. In South Africa, several cities and towns put on celebrations. The day set alight social media and the hashtag #AfricaDay2015 was trending in the African twitter-sphere. Across the continent, several conferences preceded the day, focusing on all things Pan-African. The watchwords, in many of those conferences and commemorations, were Pan-Africanism, the African Renaissance, and Agenda 2063.
Taken together, these three ideas represent the conceptual landmarks guiding the path to the future Africa we want. I attempt to share, in this article, my reflections on what lies ahead in the gargantuan endeavour to shape the kind of future that Africans are currently working on. This year’s Africa Day commemorations, and the conferences held in the lead up to 25 May, provide much of the impetus for my reflections.
One such conference was the 5th African Unity for Renaissance (AUFR), held on two campuses of the University of Johannesburg (UJ), Kingsway and Soweto, in South Africa. The conference’s theme was “2015 and Beyond: Engaging Agenda 2063”. I went to the conference looking to network with fellow educators on bringing the three concepts of Pan-Africanism, the African Renaissance and Agenda 2063 into classrooms in the Pan-African world. That means on the continent and in the diaspora.
I came back from the conference, and the Africa Day celebrations, with a zest and determination to play a role in making Agenda 2063 successful. Africa’s future is too important to be left to the African Union alone. The AU has ostensibly engaged high gear in taking on the enormous challenges the continent faces, but much more work needs to be done for ordinary Africans to own the process of Africa’s renewal and work side by side with the Pan-African body. For this to happen, it means every African has to decide what they are best able to contribute, and identify others with similar convictions. The bottom line is that the renewal of Africa, as expressed and articulated in the African Union’s Agenda 2063, must be driven by the people.
The opening night of the 5th AUFR provided a catchphrase that remained on the lips of everyone for the rest of the conference, and this article’s title is taken from. Dr Elizabeth Rasekoala, founder and co-chair of the Pan-African Solidarity Education Network, argued that calling the new African Union’s vision “Agenda 2063” sounded as if the continent would have to wait until that date. That was too far away. “We need Agenda Now Now!” she declared, to loud applause from the audience. The AU itself is not waiting until 2063.
Although it was Al Bashir who dominated the news at the just-ended summit in Sandton, Johannesburg, South Africa, the actual agenda of the summit was women’s empowerment. The AU has designated 2015 as the “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development Towards Africa’s Agenda 2063.” A significant part of the summit was expected to get started with developing the first ten-year agenda toward 2063, and placing women’s empowerment as a pillar for the agenda.
The role of women as being at the heart of Africa’s renewal is what Dr. Rasekoala says is the single most important thing for the continent. She confirmed this in the opening plenary session of the 5th AUFR. As the session was drawing to a close, director of ceremonies for much of the conference, Professor Chris Landsberg, UJ’s SARCHi Chair in African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, had one question for all the three speakers on the plenary. “Is there one thing you think the AU needs to do as the single most important thing for the continent?”
In addition to Dr. Rasekoala, an engineer, the other two speakers were Professor Mammo Muchie, SARCHi Chair in Innovation and Development at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and Professor Adebayo Olukoshi, Director of the United Nations African Institute for Economic Development and Planning in Senegal.
Dr. Rasekoala did not hesitate to mention gender as the single most important thing. She said it was of pivotal importance to enhance women’s participation at the highest levels of public service, politics and business. For Professor Muchie, the most important thing is to stop the negative narrative about the continent. He said it was time to start focusing on the historical greatness of the continent, on what is working today, and on the Africa we want for the future. For Professor Olukoshi, it is to “open the borders. Let Africans move freely.” He added that he had been consistent on this for a long time.
The call to open up African borders seems to be growing in intensity. Speaking to South African youth on Tuesday 16 June, which is celebrated as Youth Day in South Africa, President Jacob Zuma singled out the borders issue as one of the major things discussed at the 25th AU Heads of State Summit. He tied the idea to the importance of South African youth learning about the rest of the continent and being proud of their African heritage. Following the continental outrage in the wake of the Afro-xenophobic attacks in South Africa in April, the country seems to be galvanising a new resolve and reconsidering its place and influence on the continent.
This was evident at the 5th AUFR conference as well. In his welcoming remarks, UJ’s Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Tshilidzi Marwala evoked Pan-Africanism’s ancestry when he spoke of the importance of teaching young Africans what Kwame Nkrumah used to say, that Africa was one people and one nation. That meant, said Professor Marwala, that no African was a foreigner on African soil. And those sentiments were repeated by South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba, who gave the conference’s opening keynote address. In a wide-ranging and frank accounting of the complexities of South Africa’s place on the continent, Hon. Gigaba said South Africans needed to respect all immigrants, including those in the country illegally.
Although xenophobia has openly manifested itself in South Africa, anti-foreigner sentiments are evident not only across the continent, but across the globe. The onus falls on every African country to deal with this problem and promote an African identity before a national one, as Professor Mammo repeatedly pointed out. Much of this work lies in school curricula and classroom pedagogy. It means teaching a different type of African history, one that digs deep into the contexts that have created the kind of Africa we have today.
This is what was on the mind of Professor Adebayo Olukoshi on the opening night of the 5th AUFR. Professor Olukoshi situated his remarks in the opening plenary in Walter Rodney’s pioneering work, ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’. Olukoshi argued that Rodney had provided empirical proof that before the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, Africa’s socio-economic status was at par with the rest of the world.
Not only did the slave trade depopulate the continent and set its economic progress back, it also robbed Africans of their dignity and self-worth. Africa was the only continent, observed Professor Olukoshi, where the world felt it had a God-given right to demand a seat at the table and dictate to Africans how to solve their problems. The argument being that Pan-Africanism is too important to be left to the Africans alone. And the ironies of Africa’s situation today are startling. In one perplexing anecdote, Professor Olukoshi noted how African leaders go to Europe and America for medical treatment, only to find that the doctor attending to them is a citizen of their own country.
What all this means is that knowing where Africa is today and the history that made the present is an inescapable part of the charge to chart the continent’s future. “We must begin with the children,” said Professor Mammo Muchie. But beginning with the children means changing the way the African Union’s Pan-African University idea is being implemented, an argument made by Professor David Horne, Chair of Africana Studies at California State University at Northridge in the USA. The focus needs to start with African children from their earliest education and be sustained all the way up to university education.
And young Africans must not be shielded from this history, a lesson shared on the second day of the conference, by Professor Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni. He is Executive Director of the Archie Mafeje Research Institute at the University of South Africa. Professor Ndlovu-Gatsheni was responding to a question as to whether this type of African history does not entrench an inferiority complex and prevent young Africans from actively participating in global discussions. Knowing who you are and being grounded in your history is what builds a foundation for the future, said Professor Ndlovu-Gatsheni. He added that he grew up in an African village, but he does not feel inferior.
For educators, the issue of what type of African history to teach is of central importance. Scholars such as Paul Tiyambe Zeleza and Pitika Ntuli have argued over the years that the history taught in African schools does not reflect the scholarship generated by African historians. The thrust of the curriculum remains Eurocentric, this in spite of the available knowledge of Africa’s history going back several millennia.
A compelling example of the kind of African history that is not reflected in the curriculum came from Dr. Diran Soumonni. A senior lecturer from the Wits Business School, Dr. Soumonni presented on Africa’s history and philosophy of science and technology, digging deep into Africa’s intellectual past, going to 4,000 years BC to when the Egyptians are known to have used a 30-day calendar. Dr Soumonni’s research demonstrates the feasibility of developing an education agenda at the heart of Africa’s renewal. Which brings me to what I see as the most urgent steps that those of us working in education, and those interested in the future of the continent broadly, must provide direction with.
A survey conducted by Jean Chawapiwa, Founder and Managing Director of Win Win Solutions 4 Africa consultancy firm, and presented at the conference, found that very few people have heard about Agenda 2063. Out of 327 respondents across the continent and beyond, 63 percent had never heard about Agenda 2063. Chawapiwa’s suggestions for how the AU can spread the word about the initiative need serious consideration.
Reaching out to as many Africans as possible will enable ownership of the agenda by ordinary Africans. It will enable grassroots participation, and will address the deeply felt grievance that the African Union is a dictators’ club out of touch with the needs of African people. It should be emphasised that there can be no grassroots ownership and participation if there is no translation of Agenda 2063 into local African languages. The respondents in Chawapiwa’s survey made this clear.
African intellectuals have been unequivocal about this. Ngugi wa Thiong’o has spent more than three decades making this argument. Ngugi has said “African intellectuals must do for their languages and cultures what all other intellectuals in history have done for theirs. This is still the challenge of our history. Let’s take up the challenge.” The educational implications of such an ambitious agenda are, no doubt, enormous. It requires educators, teacher educators in particular, to participate at every stage. And this is why I argue that Agenda 2063 is too important to be left to the African Union alone, the one occasion when it is legitimate to say this. It is also why I suggest that African educators need to consider making Agenda 2063 required reading in their courses.
Al Bashir is not the only hot coal gnawing away at the AU’s cauldron. The very concepts of Pan-Africanism, the African Renaissance and African Unity arouse intense debate amongst Africans and Africa watchers. There are multi-layered historical and contemporary grievances, internal and external. There are intricate webs of elitism, exclusion, collusion with Western capital and global influence, deep inequalities, and simmering injustices. It requires a spirit of hope, optimism and determination to see the problems as surmountable rather than intractable and impossible. Education is a good place to start.
Governments on the continent and in the African diaspora need to adopt Agenda 2063 into their national plans, as the African Union has already pointed out. In addition to the agenda, contemporary Pan-Africanism and the African renaissance need to be integrated into national educational policies, and into school curricula and classroom pedagogy from primary to university. The three concepts also need to become part of teacher education programmes for new teachers, and continuous professional development programmes for practising teachers. The AU needs a unit specifically dedicated to education. If there are deans of schools or faculties of education on the continent or in the diaspora, who feel a passionate sense of urgency about this, there begins Agenda Now Now.
*Steve Sharra, Ph.D. is a Malawian teacher educator and is currently a visiting scholar in the University of Botswana’s Faculty of Education, Department of Language and Social Sciences Education. He blogs at Afrika Aphukira (Africa’s Rebirth), and is on twitter at @stevesharra.
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