African Renaissance: why critical questions and new insights are needed
The recent brutal murder of George Floyd has once again brought the black race into sharp focus.
But history shows that, this may not be the last, nor should anyone expect that, the fortunes of the black race are about to change for the better on account of it. No other races are going to do us any favours.
On the contrary, Africa’s founding fathers, like Dr Kwame Nkrumah rightly believed that the emancipation of the black race would only occur when there is a prosperous home where blacks could live in dignity.
Yet nearly seventy years after Ghana blazed the independence trail, the black race appears to be still wandering in the wilderness. From the deprivation of Haiti at the heart of the Western hemisphere, to the troubles in Somalia at the horn of Africa, there is hardly any successful black country to show off.
The travails of African migrants on the shores of Lampedusa and the experiences of several black people in the diaspora still tell a story of indignity and scorn. But this cannot and should not be our lot forever.
To change this terrible fate, however, we ought to think deeply, critically, and in new ways. We need to ask critical questions and search for new insights: truths, that can realistically guide an African renaissance, if we are not to leave the fate of the black race same, or even worse than we found. But how do we approach this task?
Our Lord Jesus Christ, in John: 8:32 says, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” This most powerful quote raises a few questions. How do we find the truth? Is the truth necessarily tied to race, continents, tribes or ethnicity? Shall we find the truth, when we look inwards or shall we find it looking outwards? Most importantly, what should be the epistemological foundations of an African redemption?
Choosing between Positivism and Constructivism
When it comes to charting the path for discovering the truth, two philosophical paradigms are often locked in an interminable battle: positivism versus constructivism/interpretivism. In simple terms, positivism argues that, there is an objective truth, independent of us, that can be found by anyone who follows a set of scientific procedures.
This contrasts with constructivism, which argues that, there is no single universal truth. Rather, the truth is subjective, that is, it is constructed by individuals, groups, societies or cultures. I acknowledge that both paradigms have their strengths and limitations, hence I am more amenable to pragmatism, which flexibly chooses either paradigm according to contextual considerations.
This notwithstanding, there are indeed universal truths. For instance, there is gold in Obuasi while it snows in the United Kingdom. These truths are self-evident, and they are not tied to race, continents, nations, tribe or ethnicity. No European can claim that the River Nile passes through France in order to claim the glories of the Nile.
Nor could any African claim that, Mount Everest is in Africa, in order to titillate our egos. But it is not only material objects like rivers or mountains that are self-evident. Concepts, principles and doctrines, while their validity may be more difficult to establish, can also be self-evident, if we study their manifestations.
For instance, development as a concept is subject to constructivist arguments. What is development? To most of Africa’s founding fathers, development meant Westernization, that is scientific achievements reminiscent of Western societies, build on industrialisation, urbanisation and economic growth.
Yet to Julius Nyerere, development meant Ujamaa, a return to traditional African settings that prioritised villagisation over urbanisation.
But though the broad conceptualisation of development may be contentious, certain parameters of development are self-evident and are measurable. For example life expectancy, maternal mortality, infant mortality, literacy, among others could be measured.
The approach that we adopt to finding the truth, therefore, depends on the kind of truth we want to find. There is indeed truth that could be found!
My strong conviction is that, a truth which liberates, must itself be first liberated. For instance, if a man consistently gets sacked at his workplaces, he may need to ask why.
But to ask why, is to search for the truth, and this truth may uncover the root cause of the employee’s troubles. The malaise of this unfortunate employee might simply reside in his poor work ethics, which when addressed, may lead to success in the future.
This may be a simple truth. However, this simple truth may never be found, unless the employee adopts the right approach in search for this truth. If he searches for a truth which is subservient to his own personal biases, he may simply satisfy himself that, his aunt in the village is the cause.
This “truth” may satisfy his egos by absolving him of personal responsibility. But the problem about his work ethics would remain and so too his employment troubles. So, the approach to finding the truth must be conditional on what we seek to achieve.
A truth shackled to race, continent, nation, tribe or ethnicity can in no way liberate. A truth that liberates, is a truth that has power to educate, to enlighten and to ultimately control. A truth that is controlled by us is a truth that cannot control us.
Therefore, if a truth that liberates is what we seek, then we can only seek a liberated truth. This truth may not be titivating. It may even be a chastening rod. Yet it may well be such that can straighten crooked paths.
In the context of analysing Africa’s past or present to uncover illuminating truths that could guide the future therefore, a positivist approach, which calls for objectivity may do us a world of good.
The Comparative Approach
My comparative scholarship approach is guided by this philosophy, a positivist inquest to answer critical questions about Africa and the world; to uncover critical truths that can serve as a watchtower guiding an African renaissance. If the truth is free and is not bound to people or territories, then it may not be situated where we desire it. And so to find it, we must remove our self-contained boundaries to pursue it wherever it may be found.
This means that we must first overcome our own ethnocentric and personal biases in order to allow for the development of universally applicable and consistent theories, principles or doctrines that could be applied to diagnose problems and proffer realistic result driven solutions.
Comparative studies could be historical, that is a critical comparison of the history of the development of different human societies in order to understand the impact of the past on the present. For instance, we could compare the histories of South Korea and Ghana to understand their paths to development. Why is South Korea, a nation once brutalised by Japan, now a first world country with an advanced economy and rule of law? Why has Ghana on the other hand, stagnated on economic advancement and good governance?
We can also do contemporary comparison of black countries; and of African countries against other societies in the West or East etc. What do Haiti, a nation of blacks in the Western hemisphere, with enviable natural wealth, yet remains the poorest of the poorest, have in common with DR Congo, another country of abundant riches, yet plagued by poverty, hunger and disease? Was it colonialism? If it is colonialism, then how about Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia or even South Korea, that despite suffering colonialism or occupation, have still built enviable societies?
A comparative analysis that allows us to address questions like these, would enable us to discover outliers, traits and situations unique to different societies in which their strengths, and also their weaknesses lie. For instance, why is Africa shielded from societal breakdown, gun violence, family instability and high levels of depression, alcoholism and drug abuse, which are synonymous with certain post-modern societies?
A positivist comparative analysis can thus uncover both bitter and sweet truths. These truths would help future reformers to fashion realistic visions that factor in both our deepest weaknesses and highest strengths. It is only upon such solid foundations of truth, that a true African renaissance could be built.
None of the above truths can be discovered when we pursue a cult of self-worship, which means even the truth should submit to us. Only the plain unshackled truth can be a lamp unto Africa and the black race’s feet. Thus as in subsequent write-ups, I make an inquest into the malady of the black race, the pursuit of the pure truth would be the sole aim.
About the author
Prosper Kofi Senyo holds a BA in Communication Studies and an MA in Development Communication, both from the Ghana Institute of Journalism. He currently serves as the editor of the Institute for International Affairs, Ghana (GhIIA), an international relations think-tank.