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The Rise and Rise of the African Renaissance

Monument_de_la_Renaissance_Africaine image courtesy

In 1906, an African law student at Columbia University named Pixley Ka Isaka Seme gave a speech titled “The regeneration of Africa”. At a time when the whole of Europe was scrambling to carve out a piece of Africa for themselves, Pixley was a rare dissenting voice.  But more importantly, he was greatly aspirational. Even as a mere student, he managed to capture the spirit of Africa beautifully. 

The regeneration of Africa

Pixley explained African regeneration as a process of entry into a new way of living and embracing a more complex existence. While recognizing Africa as a continent of diverse peoples and tribes, Pixley stated that an awakened consciousness would ultimately give Africans a better perception of their elemental needs and unexplored powers.

But first, Africa must admit to the need for improvement and actively pursue it.  The most critical area for this change to take place is in the area of inter-tribal co-existence. Only when tribalism ends in Africa will it be possible to generate the social, economic, and religious progress it will take to move the continent ahead. After this, Africa will be in a position to take its place in the world order as a new, unique, and equal citizenship. As a people with deep spiritual and humanistic principles, the addition of Africa to the world stage will give the world the balance it sorely lacks.       

The speech won Pixley a Curtis Medal, but the ideas he talked about had a much bigger impact in Africa. They served as the basis for the birth of the African renaissance. Even today, more than a century later, these arguments still hold true. 

Pixley and the South African Native Congress

After his studies, Pixley returned home to the newly established colony of South Africa. As one of the first black attorneys in the new colony, Pixley was the lawyer for many of the royal families in the South. He also represented rural famers in a land acquisition program that was so effective it forced the colonial government to ban black ownership of land.   

Along with other lawyers who had recently returned from studies abroad, Pixley founded the South African Native Congress – the precursor to the Africa National Congress (ANC) in 1912. It soon grew to become the leading agitator of South Africa’s independence. 

The long and bloody battle for South African independence outclassed and outlived Pixley Seme. By the time of his death in 1949, Pixley had taken a long fall from grace. A drunken accident led to him being barred from practicing law in South Africa and he went bankrupt. The ANC party subsequently kicked him out and erased his legacy as founding father. Pixley is hardly recognized in South Africa today.

The spirit of the African renaissance

His place as the founding father of the African renaissance, however, is undeniable.  In 1996, Thambo Mbeki read a speech entitled “I am an African” to a packed South African parliament. Even though he did not mention Pixley by name, his ideas were very clearly inspired by Pixley’s 1906 essay. The key tenet of Mbeki’s speech was that Africa shall overcome its many problems and be renewed socially, economically, and scientifically. 

In this newly formed African renaissance movement, the idea of the regeneration of Africa received a new lease of life. When he ascended to the presidency a few years later, Mbeki made the idea of an African Renaissance his official foreign policy on African affairs. At the close of the century, Pixley’s aged predictions were starting to come alive. 

The Door of Return

The Door of Return is an initiative that gives Africans in the diaspora a chance to visit their country of origin, including the old slave-holding facilities. This initiative has been part of a healing and unification drive for all peoples of African descent going on around the world as part of the International Decade for People of African Descent. 

The legacy of the slave trade is a major issue in West Africa, a region from which millions of African slaves were forcefully shipped to Europe and the Americas in the 16th to 19th century. In fact, a few of the old slave-holding structures are still standing, legacies of one of the darkest periods in the history of Africa. 

Africa is taking healing seriously. After all the horrors meted upon its people, the African subconscious is ridded with pain, fear, and confusion. It’s also the chief cause of the identity crisis that African are going through today. Healing is an important first step in the process of reawakening that is happening in Africa today.

However, the Door of Return serves the higher purpose of reconnecting Africans in the diaspora with their homeland. As Pixley and Mbeki insist, the destiny of all peoples of African ancestry is intricately interwoven. The Door of Return is important to develop the bonds that will link all Africans in their glorious tribal and national diversities.  

The African Renaissance Institute

The African Renaissance Institute (ARI) is a research school located in Gaborone in Botswana. It is aimed at promoting education, African heritage, unity, and family values. The direct mandate of the ARI is to help bring an end to some of the biggest challenges facing the continent today such as poverty, violence, elitism, and corruption.

For true progress to take place in Africa, every country needs to solve the poor leadership and corruption problem we all have. These issues have been holding Africa back from the dawn of independence. The ARI acts as the think-tank of the African renaissance. It is here that scholars will come up with ways to nurture African ideals, develop the science and technology field, promote business cohesion, and ensure peace and good governance among the peoples.

A revolution of economic empowerment

To restore the culture of Africa, the economic freedom of the people must be secured as well. Click To Tweet

Africa is home to some of the poorest people on earth. As reformers have been discovering, financial imbalance is the biggest impediment to progress. It would be impossible for any revolution to have an impact without first addressing this issue. To restore the culture of Africa, the economic freedom of the people must be secured as well. This has been a common thread in both Pixley’s and Mbeki’s ideas for the African rebirth. 

Today, the vibrations of change are happening all over Africa. Individual efforts, especially in the field of social entrepreneurship, are slowly transforming Africa. From the entrepreneur using scrap metal to make film equipment in Kenya to the one who is pioneering the adoption of clean cooking fuels in Burundi, Africans all over the world are rising to the occasion to solve their problems and uplift lives.    

The African renaissance – a cultural revolution

Today, the African Renaissance has become a true revolution of the people. In every part of Africa, people are starting to awaken to the possibilities of the future by getting even more steeped in their culture. Black consciousness has been rising in Africa and elsewhere in the world. As black people discover that they are affected by the same issues, they are increasingly coming together to solve them. 

This cultural African revolution brings us all together not just as Africans, but as global citizens as well.  All over the world, Africans are increasingly studying their history and rediscovering their roots. For far too long, we were guilty of letting our identity be created for us and our stories to be told by others. By giving up our identity, we lost the power of self-determination. And by letting others define who we are, we were relegated to the side notes of history. 

Also read: 6 Reasons Why an African Identity Revolution is Imminent 

More than a century after Pixley made his momentous Columbia speech, Africa’s regeneration is finally starting to show. From the Black Lives Matter movement to numerous uprisings in Africa, (South Sudan, Nigeria, the African countries in the Arab spring, etc.) black people everywhere are rising up against the status quo.   

For Africa, unity is not just a word. It is the key to finally winning the centuries-old war for the soul of the people.


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