THE COUNTER RENAISSANCE
A publication by and for
Issue 3: May 2001
the Façade of the AFRICAN Renaissance
I used to believe that our (Africas) fate depended on the
goodwill of those in power. For a long time, I looked forward to the day when a few honest
and incorruptible leaders would ensure parity for us all. I was also convinced
then, that our people would be better off adopting Western models of Development since
this was the surest way to achieving prosperity for all. But then I engaged in dialogues with a few
friends, through which I learnt how phenomena at a worldwide level interrelated and
seriously impacted our lives. I discovered that any meaningful change depended on the
restoration of autonomy (social, cultural, economic, spiritual, intellectual, etc.) within
communities. I also became aware of the extent to which my faith in Development and its
institutions had made a mental slave of me.
During one of the dialogue-meetings I attended in November 1999,
I came to learn about two things: one, the futility and limitations of advocating for
reformist approaches, without understanding the root causes of the current crises before
us, and secondly, how we unconsciously perpetuate these crises. After that meeting, I
decided to learn more about the existing social-political-economic order and how factors
grounded in historical contexts have played a pivotal role in creating and furthering the
The turmoil brought about by Development is manifested daily in
front of our eyes: physical and ecological devastation; accentuation of differences
between communities and nations leading to wars and civil crises; escalation of greed,
hate and violence; high rates of unemployment; destruction of social-cultural fabrics;
further colonization of young people through re-incarnated projects of the European
Renaissance such as Globalization and the African Renaissance. In an effort to try to
understand the root causes to Africas problems and engage with our capacities for
regeneration, I have delved into the European Renaissance and attempted to co-relate its
core suppositions with those of the African Renaissance. By doing this, I hope we may gain
greater insights into the historical contexts of our problems and simultaneously engage in
processes of creating spaces for meaningful dialogue(s). I address the following
§ What was the European Renaissance? What were its
philosophical foundations and actualizations?
§ How does the African Renaissance advance the foundations and
actions of the European Renaissance ?
§ How do these contradict certain African cultural concepts?
§ How can we counter the African Renaissance?
of the European Renaissance
During the 16th to 18th centuries, there was a tremendous blossoming of
creativity in the fields of art, literature, science and philosophy in Europe. Within the
cultural context of its birth, the European Renaissance proved extremely rewarding. Its
rise along with that of capitalism ushered in an era of self-expression and
liberties. More portentous, however, for non-European peoples was that this flowering of
art, etc., was accompanied by slavery, plunder, and colonization, as Europeans strove to
assert their dominance worldwide. Their
conquest relied, in part, on a few distinct philosophies: Objectivity,
Rationality, Universality and Progress.
was considered to be the highest form of thinking, since it was untainted by biases like
emotions, intuition, and personal experience. Functional Rationality is the
organization of production through the ordering of things including men, as things.
[it] implies a greater specialization of function [and] increasing separation of the
individual from control over the enterprises of which he is part. The individual is
regulated by the norms of efficiency, specialization, and becomes an appendage to the
clattering process of bureaucratic machinery. (Bell 1996).
§ Objectivity is the
separation of the human being from their social, cultural, spiritual, political and
economic contexts (Norgaard 1994). When combined with rationality, objectivity results in
the radical separation of Mind from the Self and the World. It suggests that human beings
can only make meaning by examining parts of the world as objects, from a
unbiased, unemotional, and reasonable distance.
is the belief that parts of systems are the same everywhere and at all times
(Norgaard 1994). It implies that human beings, regardless of time, contexts and
experiences, are driven by the same desires, make meaning in the same ways, and hanker
after the same ideals.
§ Progress is a
grand meta-narrative around which modern culture is organized (Bell 1996). During
the European Renaissance, through the age of Enlightenment and till date, Progress has
meant that Western Science steadily advances, constantly produces better and better
technologies and ways of organizing and hence future generations will continually be
better off than are current generations.
The African Renaissance: Advancing the European Renaissance
Renaissance conference, in its plenary session on Identity, Culture and
Education, questioned how the West has shaped our thoughts and [now] controls
our minds (Ntulli 1999). It reflected
on how [traditional African education] was collective, inculcated cultural ethos and
was oriented towards problem posing and problem solving at the individual and communal
levels (Mugo 1999). Further, it called
for the need to restore Africas communal solidarity (Mbeki 1999) and
reaffirmed Africas pride, heritage, language and culture (Engen 1999).
underneath these noble expressions, the African Renaissance is still predicated on the
philosophical foundations of the European Renaissance. Like the latter, the African
Renaissance states that the conquest of Western science and technology is
the best way to master our social and natural environment. It helps to spread some values whose
assimilation is essential for our peoples in order to engage in a sustainable process of
renewal: a spirit of rigor, organization and method; a culture of rationality,
effectiveness, efficiency, and objectivity
] which are conditions for continuous improvement of actions(Gueye 1999).
Not surprisingly, the Africa Renaissance relies on an Africa-focussed
intelligentsia to drive it forward in its quest for rationality, objectivity, etc.
That this ultimately elitisizes the process of an African rebirth, as it
denies the social majorities of Africa a part in constructing their own histories and
futures, is apparent. As with the European
Renaissance, such elitism can easily lead to manipulation by the few who will dictate the
concept, content, character, and goals of the process.
African Renaissances preoccupation with universalism
can be made out in its inability to fully embrace context throughout its discourse. It assumes that Africans want what the Western
world has, and is therefore pushing the continent towards commodification and exploitation
of Nature, towards an increased profusion of Western technologies into our communities,
and towards competition in the global market economy.
As one author states, South Korea presents an admirable picture of a people
truly committed to their chosen vision; against such notable achievements, one can begin
to understand clearly the magnitude of the challenge facing Africa (Magau 1998). That South Korea has a totally different context
and history, and that its development has come at a heavy human cost, seems to
have been missed by the esteemed architects of the African Renaissance.
The Renaissance Contradicts African Cultural Concepts
Moreover, European notions of Objectivity, Rationality, and
Progress sharply contrast with the two key concepts around which life in African
communities revolved and which served to provide Africans with a sense of consciousness as
to who they are in relation to other communities and to the universe (Ngugi
1999). First, objectivity which
defines itself as cutting off the individuals spiritual, social-cultural, economic
and political ties with systems and processes in order to facilitate
impartiality repudiates what many African communities understand by
societal structures. As articulated via
Julius Nyereres Ujamaa (family-hood)
concept, many Africans view communities and the world around them as being a direct
extension of themselves, with no disconnection whatsoever made between the two.
Similarly, rationality contradicts most African societies
meaning making systems, since it is the very antithesis of the African approach of situation-experiencing. The
Westerners tendency to adopt a problem-solving approach using a trenchant
analysis is diametrically opposed to African cultural customs of living through
situations (Biko 1996). Dr. Kaunda illustrates this point. The Westerner has an aggressive mentality
He draws a sharp line between the natural and supernatural, the rational and non-rational,
and dismisses the non-rational as superstition
Africans do not recognize any
conceptual cleavage between the natural and supernatural. They experience a situation
rather than face a problem. By this I mean,
they allow the rational and the non-rational to make an impact upon them and any action
they may take could be described more as a response of the total personality to the
situation than the result of some mental exercise (in Biko 1996).
Modern institutions of Development, which rely on functional
(instrumental) rationality, have also been disintegrative rather than unifying to African
societies, leading ultimately to community breakdown in many places. Mbah and Igariwey (1997) state that, the
communal spirit was supplanted by the concept of the isolated self and greed, materialism
and an unbridled desire for domination. Consequently Africa has become a continent of
atomistic, antagonistic and competitive groups strongly committed to tribal loyalties and
dominated by ethnocentric views.
Countering the European Renaissance
To counter the African Renaissance, we will need to consciously
resist the enslaving and dehumanizing theories of the European Renaissance, as part of our
dialogue processes. I now know that to be as
successful as the European Renaissance, the African Renaissance will have to
be as oppressive and profit-thirsty. But I wonder who will have to bear the brunt of this:
will African people and their resources, who have already been exploited to build a
developed Europe, and are still being abused to sustain Development, now be
sucked completely dry in order to actualize the African Renaissance?
You are reading The Counter Renaissance, a publication
that is committed to raising questions, encouraging dialogues and creating shared
perspectives about Development and notions of Enlightenment, Progress, Rationality,
Objectivity and Universalism. I am convinced that a major reason Africa finds itself
trapped in a vortex of seemingly intractable problems is because of its absolute surrender
especially psychologically to colonizing, controlling and greedy agencies.
The restoration of spiritual, social-cultural, economic, political and intellectual
autonomy in communities is vital in the de-colonization process. Through this publication
and along with a community of contributors and readers with shared ideals and experiences,
I hope to gain an understanding of how I can further de-colonize myself and affect this
process in my society. It is through such small collective groups that we can creatively
come up with shared visions, understandings and conceptions relevant to our experiences
- Isaac Ochieng, Editor
Bell, D. The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. New
York: Basic Books, 1996.
Biko, S. I Write What I Like. Randburg: Raven Press, 1996
Makgoba, M., ed. African Renaissance. Capetown: Mafube
Mbah, S. and I. Igariwey. African Anarchism. Tucson: See
Sharp Press, 1997.
Norgaard, R. Development Betrayed. London: Routledge,
the whole, the process by which captives were obtained on African soil was not trade at
all. It was through warfare, trickery, banditry and kidnapping. When one tries to measure
the effect of European slave trading on the African continent, it is very essential to
realize that one is measuring the effect of social violence rather than trade in any sense
of the word... In the 13th Century feudal rule
is overthrown in Europe ushering in new freedoms and liberties, while 100 million Africans
are uprooted from their homes and stuffed on board ships en route Europe... Between 1650
and 1900, Europes population increases by over 400% in an era of unprecedented
productivity and resourcefulness. Africas population during the same period
increases by a mere 20%. It can be surmised that in this period 300 million Africans
either lost their lives or were permanently dispossessed, displaced and dislocated in
Underdeveloped Africa, 1989
On the Presidents De-Kamemenization Order
Is He Protecting us from a Greater Evil?
Presidents recent order to de-license Kameme FM (on the grounds that it was
broadcasting in Gikuyu, thus promoting
tribalism) raises two critical issues. One,
what is this countrys official Education Policy in as far as cultural identity is
concerned? Culturally, what does it mean to
be a Kenyan? Secondly, what has been the role
of the media in redefining, evolving and articulating culture? Has the goal of the Kenyan media been to simply
sell products and strengthen the consumer culture? In
David Kortens book, When Corporations Rule the World (1995), it is argued
that our minds are being addressed by addictive media serving corporate sponsors
whose purpose is to rearrange reality so that viewers forget the world around them. Who are the agenda setters of cultural and
entertainment issues on radio and TV? Who
determines what people should think and consume? What do they want to achieve?
One of the
ends of this countrys education system since the colonial period has been the
production of a westernized elite whose only connection to this country should be the
color of their skin and the exploitation of the countrys resources. Their task has
been to work as intermediaries between this worlds real rulers (mega-corporations)
and those who do the actual production of wealth, the so-called masses. Since their primary function is to take
care of western interests, the education of this class of elite must invariably involve
the westernization of the mind. They must learn to view the world through their
masters perspective. This process is achieved by inculcating western culture at the
altars of the formal factory-schooling system.
For this process to succeed it must involve the degradation and rejection of anything
perceived as traditional or backward through western lenses. This
includes language, dressing, religion, social rites and anything distinctly not
modern in the western sense. The
result is a negation of the so-called Indigenous
is made that promoting anything based on our indigenous cultural heritage will defeat the
noble aim of national unity as these cultures promote ethnic animosity because
of their diversity. On the other hand, destroying our cultures and replacing it with one
standard culture formally Euro-centric but nowadays increasingly being defined by
American corporations will ensure national unity. It is worthy to note that this
system has also acted as an agent of stifling creativity and thus frustrating efforts to
redefine, regenerate and evolve these cultures. By lumping people in age groups, putting
them in the same class, controlling them by the ringing of a bell and the calendar,
teaching them the same thing, at the same time, in the same way, uniformity is encouraged
at the expense of the individual and group creativity. The product is a homogenous
community where the educated all tend to think and act alike.
importance, however, is the fact that traditional values might come in the way of the
western consumer culture, either by opposing it or by providing alternatives to it.
Therefore, in order to produce truly universal tastes, the media acts as a strong
complimentary tool to the skewed education system. Television has arguably become the most
important institution of cultural reproduction and in the Third World, where television is
out of reach for the majority, radio fills this space. Critics, like Jerry Mander (1991)
have argued that by its ability to implant identical images into the minds of
millions of people, TV can homogenize perspectives, knowledge, tastes, and desires, to
make them resemble the tastes and interests of the people who transmit the imagery.
Corporate interests have wholly colonized the media, with the exception of a few state
owned-media houses. While corporate executives dream of a global market made of
people with homogenized tastes and needs, it is only natural that the strongest medium of
achieving this is bought and employed for the task. These corporate executives also set
the agenda of what should be acceptable for consumption and draw the laws
within which all are to operate.
One way in
which television and radio extend the cultural war described is by promoting passivity.
Noam Chomsky (1992) describes this process:
properly functioning system of indoctrination has a variety of tasks. Its primary targets
are the stupid and ignorant masses. They must be kept that way; marginalized
and isolated. Ideally each person should be in front of a TV screen, watching sports, soap
operas or comedies, deprived of organizational structures that permit individuals lacking
resources to discover what they think and believe in interaction with others, to formulate
their own concerns and programs, and to act to realize them. This hapless multitude are
the proper target of the mass media and a public education system geared to obedience and
training in needed skills, including the skill of repeating patriotic slogans on timely
glance at television programming leaves one in no doubt that the media must ensure that
the majority resigns itself to the consumption of fantasy. As noted media critic Eduardo
Galeano (1973) illustrates, illusions of wealth are sold to the poor, illusions of
freedom to the oppressed, dreams of victory to the defeated and of power to the weak
the masses must learn to accept their position as mere observers, not participants. The subjugation of culture to the Lords of Profit
Presidents recent order that ethnic radio stations should not be
licensed confirms that it is today illegal for individuals (and organizations) to operate
outside the set boundaries, outside the accepted norms of what defines official culture.
If officialdom recognizes that English and Swahili are the official languages, then trying
to reach the public via other languages (except maybe French, Spanish or Portuguese)
becomes criminal. Those who attempt to propagate other forms of cultural expressions, if
not criminalized, are marginalized, and not given any formal recognition. This process
need not be violent or even explicit. While in the days of open tyranny, force was used to
frustrate such efforts, in these so-called days of democracy, bureaucracy and high costs
are better weapons. One needs to be a millionaire to get licensing.
of the rising of alternative media that can potentially provide the organizational
structure that would aid people in participating and interacting with others, using
their own languages, must have sent chills within the ranks of the official
establishment. There seems to be a strong fear that once the multitudes are
allowed to interact in their own languages, new spaces for cultural awakenings might
spring up. This might then translate into a societal discourse that can be a preamble for
launching a social and moral challenge to the hegemony of the merchants of corporate
capitalism. It was this fear that prevented the government from licensing radio and TV
stations in the past. But now that they will all offer the same cultural menu (American R
& B Hip Hop music and The Bold and the Beautiful), a menu that poses absolutely no
threat to the local and global order well, then, let them have whatever license
as long as they dont step out of the defined boundary.
Chomsky, N. Deterring
Democracy. New York: Hill and Wang, 1992.
Galeano, E. Open
Veins of Latin America. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973.
Korten, D. When
Corporations Rule the World. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1995.
Mander, J. In
the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian
Nations. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1991.
ultimate result of Africas incorporation into the world capitalist economy was the
destruction of the traditional pre-colonial, communal mode of production.
As the capitalist mode developed, it confronted the non-capitalist mode, violently
transforming various communities, turning their lands, resources, and products into
Countless thousands of able-bodied young men were uprooted from their homes to work
in capitalist enterprises, and the remaining population was compelled to grow only those
crops that possessed exchange value cash crops.
The critical point here is that the destruction of the
traditional economic system did not give rise to a fully capitalist economy; the end
product was, rather, a distorted, unbalanced capitalist structure. This occurred because Africas incorporation
into the global system was peripheral. Complementarity
and reciprocity between the various sectors of the economy were absent. Mis-articulation was further characterized by a
lack of vital linkages within the production process.
That is, capitalist development in Africa was characterized by a lack of
integration. Under colonialism, businesses
operated to serve external markets, and usually had little connection with each other; and
businesses that would have served internal needs were often systematically discouraged in
order to ensure markets for goods produced in the imperial countries. Africa is still suffering the effects of that
distorted development pattern.
So, capitalist penetration and subsequent integration of
African societies into the global system has generated a culture of dependence a
dependence of the periphery (Africa) on the center (the advanced capitalist countries). Profits and surplus value are constantly being
transferred from the periphery to the center. Conversely,
economic and social crises in the global capitalist chain are readily transmitted to its
weakest links the highly susceptible periphery.
As for the development of Africa by the West, Leonard Goncharov notes:
Capital is being exported from the highly developed capitalist countries to the
developing countries, not actually with the aim of providing aid to the latter, but with
the expressed purpose of deriving the highest possible profit.
S. Mbah and I. Igariwey, African Anarchism,
flowing to the desert, where you flow there is no regeneration. The desert takes. The
desert knows no giving. To the giving water of your flowing, it is not in the nature of
the desert to return anything but destruction. Springwater flowing to the desert, your
future is extinction...
it is the nature of the spring to give; it is the nature of the deserts sand to
take. Say it is the nature of your given water to flow; it is the nature of the desert to
is your nature also, spring, to receive. Giving, receiving, receiving, giving, continuing,
living. It is not the nature of the desert to give. Taking, taking, taking, the desert
blasts with destruction whatever touches it. Whatever gives of itself to the desert parts
spring changes the desert. The desert
remains; the spring runs dry. Not one spring, not thirty, not a thousand springs will
change the desert. For that change, floods,
the waters of the universe in unison, flowing not to coax the desert but to overwhelm it,
ending its regime of death, that, not a single perishable spring, is the necessity...
this: against all that destruction some yet remained among us unforgetful of origins,
dreaming secret dreams, seeing secret visions, hearing secret voices of our purpose.
Ayi Kwei Armah, prologue, Two Thousand Seasons