Fahamu (Oxford)

29 May 2014

Africa: The Deferred African Renaissance - Intellectual Poverty and Knowledge Production

analysis

Africa has no alternative but to invest in building the infrastructure of knowledge-based production. This means good governance, better school systems, excellent universities and a deliberate effort to bolster research and development across private and public sectors

There was much to be celebrated when the African Union (AU) convened to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its formation. The theme for the 2013 summit was 'Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance.' In the opening remarks at the summit, the African Union's Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, noted that 'one of our legacies, as Africans, will be to reclaim our responsibility to define our own narratives and tell our African story.'[1] Given the proliferation of writings about 'Africa rising' or the 'African renaissance,' Africa cannot rise without building an effective knowledge-production system. In other words, Africa cannot have a sustainable renaissance without an Africa-focused intelligentsia.[2] To do this, African countries need to build better infrastructure to produce knowledge that is local and relevant. The intellectual poverty of Africa has contributed to the delay of the continent's renaissance.

Africa's poverty, as I have argued elsewhere, is related to its intellectual productivity.[3] This can be assessed from Africa's minimal world share in publication and its low expenditures in research and development (R&D). The plethora of problems facing the continent is daunting: political instability, chronic underdevelopment, communicable diseases, mass poverty, and bad governance. A common denominator of these problems is Africa's poverty in knowledge production.[4]

Poverty in the field of knowledge production poses a greater danger to the future of the African people than any other problem; it affects all fields of inquiry and thus directly affects the current generation of Africans and future generations. What seems to be lacking is the ability to produce more thinkers; people who can come up with original ideas capable of uplifting the continent and moving it forward. Unlike the production of goods and services and other commodities for the marketplace, the making of a world-class thinker takes a long time, great resources, and capable institutions.

II. THE PROBLEM OF VIOLENCE AND DEVELOPMENT

To enable progress, Africans must improve the production of knowledge, otherwise the AU's mission of 'unity, solidarity, cohesion, cooperation among peoples of Africa and African states' cannot be realised. A major issue that cannot be addressed and resolved without greater intellectual engagement is violence. In a short span of time, we have seen violence that erupted in Côte d'Ivoire, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Mali, the two Sudans, and the Central African Republic. In 2012, 10.4 million people were internally displaced (IDPs) in Sub-Saharan Africa.[5] In its recent report, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), the leading source of information on internal displacement, noted that 21 countries in sub-Saharan Africa had over 12.5 million IDPs followed by the Middle East and North Africa with 9.1 million[6]. Whereas violence cost thousands of lives every year, the problem of forced displacement is even more troubling as each year millions of people are displaced from their homes without any guarantees that they will return. By the end of 2013 the number of IDPs for Nigeria was 3.3 million, Democratic Republic of Congo 2.9 million, Sudan 2.4 million, South Sudan 959,000,[7] Somalia 1.1 million, and Central African Republic 935,000.[8] According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 'Sub-Saharan Africa was again the region the worst affected by internal displacement.'[9] These are illustrative of the challenges facing the modern African state as it attempts to deal with violence. The problem of violence then poses an intellectual challenge that cannot be exported outside of Africa just as the problem itself demands an internal deliberation that can provide internal solutions.

Commenting on the Organisation of African Unity (OAU)'s 50th anniversary, Carlos Lopes, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, noted that the GDP per capita of some African countries, such as Ghana, was at the same level as that of South Korea in the 1960s. More so:

'Gabon was the fastest growing developing country in the world up until 1975... .Botswana's growth rate exceeded that of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Thailand. East Asia's share in world global exports grew from 2.25 percent to 17.8 percent over a period of 40 years (1970 to 2010), Africa's share in world global exports drastically reduced from 4.99 percent to the current 3.33 percent'.[10]

Basically, some African countries are worse off today than they were 40 years ago. The rise of Asian powers correlates with a substantial investment in the infrastructure of knowledge production, research and development. This requires better institutions and systems of governance. To understand Africa's output demise, one must turn to the role of higher education in Africa and the lack of a proper knowledge production system. The crisis of the African university, the scientific dependence of Africa, indigenous African knowledge systems, and the effects of external policies on higher education have been well documented by leading African scholars.[11]

The fact that development is a priority for the continent has long been recognised. The pursuit of continental unity, through deeper political, economic and social integration of the African states, is one of the missions of the African Union. Neither of these pursuits is possible without significant restructuring and investment into infrastructures that can produce useful knowledge to meet the needs of the continent.

III. AFRICA'S WORLD SCIENTIFIC OUTPUT

Looking across the region, with few exceptions such as South Africa and Tunisia, most countries have poor knowledge infrastructures and underfunded research facilities that are deeply dependent on external funding. In regards to the African university, the Ghanaian writer, Ayi Kwei Armah, noted that:

'In many ways, our universities and schools in Africa today are intended not to help our society live, but to fix it in a quasi-permanent state of half-life, half-death, as its vital resources get steadily drained away. Our universities, set to help us vegetate, are national universities; to help us live, they would have to become, or to be replaced by, African universities.' [12]

As Mahmood Mamdani, Professor and Executive Director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research, likes to put it, Africa needs to grow its own local timber.[13] Durable solutions to African problems should be sustained internally. This means that instead of a focus on what the outside can do for Africa, we need to ask what Africans can do for themselves and how we can complement internal processes rather than replace them.

Historically, major discourses on or about Africa haven't been produced by African nationals; they have been produced by foreigners. Instead of looking for solutions from within the parameter of the problem, solutions are sought from the outside. In the process of research, Africans usually play the role of raw material providers, which is then analysed and interpreted outside of the continent before being exported back to Africa. The Beninese philosopher, Paulin Hountondji, noted that when it comes to scientific research and the process of knowledge production:

'Process is neither the stage of data collection nor that of the application of theoretical findings to practical issues. Rather, it lies between the two, in the stages of theory building, interpretation of raw information and the theoretical processing of the data collected. These stages lead to more or less complex experimental methods and machinery. Based on these procedures, statements are produced.'[14]

Compared with other regions of the world, Africa ranks last in term of scientific output and investment towards research and development. Its world share of publications stood at 1.4 per cent in 1990 and 1.4 per cent in 2000, while its world share in R&D expenditure decreased from 1.3 per cent in 1990 to 0.8 per cent in 2000.[15]

The United States hosts the largest number of researchers than any other region in the world with 1,425,550, followed by China 1,423,380. Developed countries invest more Gross Domestic Expenditure on R&D than developing countries. In the same period, the European Union, the United States and Japan accounted for over 77.1 per cent of scientific production[16] in 2006. Africa and Oceania accounted for insignificant shares.[17] In fact, R&D in sub-Saharan Africa is less than 0.5 per cent. This figure drops to 0.3 per cent if one omits South Africa, which invests nearly 1 per cent of its GPD in R&D.[18] In 2006 the world share of scientific output from developing countries was 5.8 per cent. This included 3.7 per cent for Asia, 1.1 per cent for Latin America, 0.6 per cent for North Africa and Middle East and 0.4 per cent for Sub-Saharan Africa.[19] Africa as a whole accounted for 1.2 per cent. For a modern state, there is no alternative but to invest in building the infrastructure of knowledge-based production. This means good governance, better school systems, excellent universities, and a deliberate effort to bolster research and development across private and public sectors.

In his second Bashorun M. K. O. Abiola Distinguished Lecture, Hountondji noted that most African scholars, professors, and heads of universities received their degrees outside of Africa, mostly in Western universities. According to Hountondji:

'When they happen to be good scholars, they can play an exceptional role in pulling the whole institution upwards, both through their own example as first class scholars and their efforts to organise the local scientific community. Conversely, when they happen to be bad scholars, they can become national disasters and unintentionally foster what I termed a system for the reproduction of mediocrity, and therefore, the continuation of dependence.'[20]

In a 2001 article for Pambazuka, I argued that:

'The challenge for Africa is that it must first take hold of the intellectual battle before it can wage a physical battle against violence and poverty and all other problems that it is currently facing. The battle against violence, underdevelopment, poverty, does not begin by looking to the outside, it begins with a sustained debate on the inside. Without winning the intellectual battle, Africa cannot pull itself out of its current morass.'[21]

Since the colonisation of Africa, the continent has been the site of major confrontations between world powers. As Africa enters the new century, the battle still rages over its resources and people. The competition between the declining world powers, USA and Europe, and rising powers, Asia, puts Africa once again at the centre. The latter powers relate to Africa differently to the American diagnosis of the continental problem, which is security. The Asian's soft approach focuses on infrastructure and development. The former seeks greater military intervention, namely through bilateral agreements or through the United States Africa Command's (AFRICOM) engagement with the continent, while the latter seeks to build relationships that foster mutual benefits. According to Mamdani the approach of the U.S. has two dimensions: 'Military contest followed by court cases. The one thing common between the military and the judicial process is this: in both cases, the winner takes all.'[22] For China's relationship with Africa, 'neither the state system nor internal relations are barriers to economic relations.'[23] The US has a different understanding compared to the Chinese; for the US economic relations are viewed as a consequence of political relations.[24] This lends the American approach to favour heavily politicised market relations.[25] The result, according to Mamdani, is that 'China trades with everyone, but the list of countries subject to a US economic embargo keeps growing every year.'[26]

Somewhere in between, one finds Europe. Since the end of the Cold War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has struggled to justify its existence. The recent agreement between NATO and the AU that formalises the status of the NATO liaison office to the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa[27] is a new phase in an attempt to militarise Africa in much the same way as AFRICOM. Africa might inadvertently give NATO its new raison d'être. Basically Europe is following in the footsteps of the US and seeking to increase its military engagements in Africa. No country in Europe better represents this inclination to intervene than France (see intervention in Côte d'Ivoire, Libya, Mali, and Central African Republic). Looking ahead, without changes to the current configuration of how African leaders do business, one can expect more intervention on the continent by external powers, not less.

V. CONCLUSION

The trends in which those who resort to arms are prioritised over those who choose non-violence is disturbing and pose bigger challenges to peace in Africa than the multiplicity of agreements that are signed to end hostilities. The international community has contributed to these militarist tendencies by accepting that the parties represent society even when the legitimacy of each remains deeply questionable. The sooner we learn that peace cannot be built through the barrel of a gun, the quicker we can build peaceful nations and states that are democratic and inclusive of the various nationalities who call Africa home. Sustainable peace in Africa cannot be imported from abroad. For us to build durable societies, we have to prioritise the process leading to the outcome by focusing on what is already inside of Africa instead of seeking it abroad. Second, there are no shortcuts to development or peace.

Africa cannot achieve its full potential without investing in building a good system of knowledge production. This means investing in the infrastructure and education. Without this crucial investment, without returning the African university to the front of the intellectual battlefield, Africa will continue to have an army of lions commanded by sheep.

True independence for the African continent will depend on whether it can do away with a system that reproduces mediocrity that perpetuates a vicious cycle of dependence on the outside, and replace it with a system that prioritises Africa and its people. This means investing in better institutions, improving systems of governance, developing technological innovation, that foster and engage with infant industries on the continent, and most importantly, knowledge that meets Africa's own needs.

Each generation of Africans gets a chance to shape and define Africa. Each generation faces historically rooted challenges and must wrestle with the past in order to move forward. As Marx once put it, 'men make their own history, but not of their own free will; not under circumstances they themselves have chosen but under given and inherited circumstances with which they are directly confronted.'[28] The battle over the future of Africa is not over; it is only starting. African nationalists brought us this far. The next generation now has a chance to stand on the shoulders of their forefathers and reinvent Africa the way they see it. In the words of J. Nozipo Maraire, 'the scramble for Africa may be over, but the struggle for her history, her art, her literature, and her children rages on unabated.'[29] In the 21st century, victory will not be determined by military might alone. It will be decided by those who value the development of the faculties of the mind. The victorious will be those wielding the mightiest pen. There simply cannot be an African renaissance without an Africa-centric intelligentsia.

*Christopher D. Zambakari is a Doctor of Law & Policy and Rotary Peace Fellow

He is based at the School of Political Science and International Studies, The University of Queensland, Australia. He would like to thank Tarnjeet K. Kang, Ph.D. Student, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and Mandy Plumb for providing very constructive feedback that greatly improved the final draft of this manuscript.

WORKS CITED

1. African Union. "Historic Day as 50th Anniversary of Oau/Au Kicks Off with Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance Debate by the Continent's Leaders." In Press Release. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: African Union. Accessible from <http://summits.au.int/50th/50th/news/historic-day-50th-anniversary-oauau-kicks-pan-africanism-and-african-renaissance-debate-co>, 2013.

2. Armah, Ayi Kwei. "Remembering the Dismembered Continent (2)." New African, no. 493 (2010).

3. CODESRIA. "Africa at 50: Looking to the Future." The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) Bulletin, no. 1 & 2 (2010).

4. ------. "Research and Africa's Independence, Transformation and Unity." Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) Bulletin, no. 1 & 2 (2013).

5. Gaillard, Jacques. "Measuring Research and Development in Developing Countries: Main Characteristics and Implications for the Frascati Manual." Science, Technology & Society 15, no. 1 (2010): 77-111.

6. Hountondji, Paulin. "Scientific Dependence in Africa Today." Research in African Literatures 21, no. 3 (1990): 5-15.

7. Hountondji, Paulin J. "Producing Knowledge in Africa Today the Second Bashorun M. K. O. Abiola Distinguished Lecture." African Studies Review 38, no. 3 (1995): 1-10.

8. IDMC, and NRC. "Global Overview 2014: People Internally Displaced by Conflict and Violence." Geneva, Switzerland: The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), Norwegian Refugee Council., 2014.

9. IDMC & NRC. "Internal Displacement Global Overview 2012: People Internally Displaced by Conflict and Violence." Geneva, Switzerland: The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre & Norwegian Refugee Council. Available at <http://www.internal-displacement.org/publications/2013/global-overview-2012-people-internally-displaced-by-conflict-and-violence>, 2012.

10. Lopes, Carlos. "Moving from Early Pan-Africanism Towards an African Renaissance." United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), http://www.uneca.org/es-blog/moving-early-pan-africanism-towards-african-renaissance

11. Mahmood, Mamdani. "Mamdani Calls for Key Reforms at Makerere." Daily Monitor, http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/Mamdani-calls-for-key-reforms-at-Makerere/-/688334/1441504/-/ftx39g/-/index.html

12. Mamdani, M. Scholars in the Marketplace: The Dilemmas of Neo-Liberal Reform at Makerere University, 1989-2005. CODESRIA, Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, 2007.

13. Mamdani, Mahmood. "Mamdani's Text of Remarks at the 2ndtana High Level Forum on Security in Africa." Kampala, Uganda, Bahr Dar, Ethiopia: Makerere Institute of Social Research. Accessible from <http://misr.mak.ac.ug/news/mamdanis-text-remarks-2nd-tana-high-level-forum-security-africa-bahr-dar-ethiopia-20-21-april>, 2013.

14. ------. "There Can Be No African Renaissance without an Africa-Focused Intelligentsia." In African Renaissance : The New Struggle, edited by M. W. Makgoba and African Renaissance Conference. Cape Town: Mafube : Tafelberg, 1999.

15. Maraire, J.N. Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter. Turtleback Books, 2003.

16. Marx, Karl. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. 3 ed. Chicago, IL: Charles H. Kerr and Co, 1919.

17. Shivji, I. G. "Whither University?". Third World Resurgence. April, no. 176 (2005).

18. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization. "Nato and the African Union Boost Their Cooperation." The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/news_109824.htm?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=smc&utm_campaign=140513+african+union

19. UNECA. "Investing in the Future: R & D Expenditure in Africa." In Science with Africa Conference. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, 2008.

20. UNESCO. "A Global Perspective on Research and Development." Montreal, Canada: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2009.

21. UNOCHA. "South Sudan Crisis Situation Report as of 2 May 2014." In Report number 34. New York, New York/Juba, South Sudan: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Accessible from <http://www.unocha.org/eastern-africa/reports-media/ocha-reports>, 2014.

22. Zambakari, Christopher. "Africa and the Poverty in Knowledge Production." PAMBAZUKA NEWS, no. 556 (November 03 2011).

END NOTES

[1] African Union, "Historic Day as 50th Anniversary of OAU/AU Kicks Off with Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance Debate by the Continent's Leaders," in Press Release (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: African Union. Accessible from <http://summits.au.int/50th/50th/news/historic-day-50th-anniversary-oauau-kicks-pan-africanism-and-african-renaissance-debate-co>, 2013).

[2] See Mahmood Mamdani, "There Can Be No African Renaissance without an Africa-focused Intelligentsia," in African renaissance : the new struggle, ed. M. W. Makgoba and African Renaissance Conference (Cape Town: Mafube : Tafelberg, 1999).

[3] Christopher Zambakari, "Africa and the poverty in knowledge production," PAMBAZUKA NEWS, no. 556 (2011).

[4] Ibid.

[5] IDMC & NRC, "Internal Displacement Global Overview 2012: People internally displaced by conflict and violence," (Geneva, Switzerland: The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre & Norwegian Refugee Council. Available at <http://www.internal-displacement.org/publications/2013/global-overview-2012-people-internally-displaced-by-conflict-and-violence>, 2012), 9.

[6] IDMC and NRC, "Global Overview 2014: People internally displaced by conflict and violence," (Geneva, Switzerland: The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), Norwegian Refugee Council., 2014).

[7] Figures for IDPs in South Sudan was published as of May 2, 2014 in UNOCHA, "South Sudan Crisis Situation report as of 2 May 2014," in Report number 34 (New York, New York/Juba, South Sudan: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Accessible from <http://www.unocha.org/eastern-africa/reports-media/ocha-reports>, 2014).

[8] IDMC and NRC, "Global Overview 2014: People internally displaced by conflict and violence," 10.

[9] Ibid., 11.

[10] Carlos Lopes, "Moving from early Pan-Africanism towards an African Renaissance.," United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), http://www.uneca.org/es-blog/moving-early-pan-africanism-towards-african-renaissance

[11] M. Mamdani, Scholars in the marketplace: the dilemmas of neo-liberal reform at Makerere University, 1989-2005 (CODESRIA, Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, 2007); I. G. Shivji, "Whither University?," Third World Resurgence. April, no. 176 (2005); Paulin Hountondji, "Scientific Dependence in Africa Today," Research in African Literatures 21, no. 3 (1990); CODESRIA, "Africa at 50: Looking to the Future," The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) Bulletin, no. 1 & 2 (2010); "Research and Africa's Independence, Transformation and Unity," Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) Bulletin, no. 1 & 2 (2013).

[12] Ayi Kwei Armah, "Remembering the Dismembered Continent (2)," New African, no. 493 (2010): 27.

[13] Mamdani Mahmood, "Mamdani calls for key reforms at Makerere," Daily Monitor, http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/Mamdani-calls-for-key-reforms-at-Makerere/-/688334/1441504/-/ftx39g/-/index.html

[14] Paulin J. Hountondji, "Producing Knowledge in Africa Today the Second Bashorun M. K. O. Abiola Distinguished Lecture," African Studies Review 38, no. 3 (1995): 2.

[15] See Table 2: World scientific output and world share in R&D expenditure, 1990 and 2000 in UNECA, "Investing in the Future: R & D Expenditure in Africa," in Science with Africa Conference (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, 2008), 9.

[16] This includes the world share of scientific publications as measured by scientific publications in recognised bibliometric databases.

[17] Jacques Gaillard, "Measuring Research and Development in Developing Countries: Main Characteristics and Implications for the Frascati Manual," Science, Technology & Society 15, no. 1 (2010): 81.

[18] UNESCO, "A Global Perspective on Research and Development," (Montreal, Canada: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2009).

[19] Gaillard, "Measuring Research and Development in Developing Countries: Main Characteristics and Implications for the Frascati Manual," 82.

[20] Hountondji, "Producing Knowledge in Africa Today the Second Bashorun M. K. O. Abiola Distinguished Lecture," 5.

[21] Zambakari, "Africa and the poverty in knowledge production."

[22] Mahmood Mamdani, "Mamdani's Text of Remarks at the 2ndTana High Level Forum on Security in Africa," (Kampala, Uganda, Bahr Dar, Ethiopia: Makerere Institute of Social Research. Accessible from <http://misr.mak.ac.ug/news/mamdanis-text-remarks-2nd-tana-high-level-forum-security-africa-bahr-dar-ethiopia-20-21-april>, 2013).

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, "NATO and the African Union boost their cooperation.," The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/news_109824.htm?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=smc&utm_campaign=140513+african+union

[28] Karl Marx, The eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 3 ed. (Chicago, IL: Charles H. Kerr and Co, 1919). 5.

[29] J.N. Maraire, Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter (Turtleback Books, 2003).

* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR/S AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM

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