Is Africa at the edge of the rebirth of a African Renaissance?
The African Renaissance is a Pan-African cultural ideology which was first defined by Senegalese historian Cheikh Anta Diop in the late 1940’s and later made famous by former South African president Thabo Mbeki. The concept is based on an African cultural and intellectual enlightenment, a belief that Africa will one day be at the forefront of literature, science and technology, the arts, architecture and global culture as a whole.
Now why would one suggest that we are currently embarking on a second coming of this?
Well let’s begin by taking a look at who are some of the individuals at the forefront of African Industry, Architecture, Literature, Music, Culture, and are generally bringing about social change within the continent, the individuals at the helm of a social iconoclasm of external beliefs and influences on African society.
The first name that comes to mind is the multiple award winning David Adjaye OBE, a Ghanaian-British architect who was the lead designer of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C that was awarded the Beazley Design of the Year for 2017. The building is situated less than a kilometre from the White House, and with the building’s design being influenced by the headwear of Zulu women and Yaruba crowns, it means that Adjaye’s African influenced design will not only go down in African-American history, but American history as a whole.
His work and philosophy in design has no style though it is highly influenced by all the major African capitals he has travelled to, drawing his inspiration from ancient African structures such as the Great Mosque of Djenne in Mali for his design of the Nobel Peace Centre in Norway. Adjaye is probably one of the most sought after global architects having designed projects all over the world in places such as London, Portland, Washington D.C, Moscow, Doha, Oslo, Ghana, Nigeria and Gabon to name a few, further spreading his African influence around the globe.
One can go as far as to say that David Adjaye’s ability to combine modern design with elements of African aesthetics has given African culture an introduction to leaving its legacy on global designs and monuments the same way colonial settlers did to countries like Zanzibar and South Africa.
The next African “Renaissance Man” who is having a huge impact on global culture is South Africa’s DJ Black Coffee, a record producer and DJ. He is conceivably the most influential African in the global electronic music scene at the moment, having had residencies at prestigious establishments such as Hì Ibiza, Shimmy Beach and more recently Wynn Las Vegas.
Black Coffee is a recognized leader in his line of work by both his peers and fans, and having won the international DJ Awards Best Breakout Act in 2015 he went on to win the DJ Awards Best Deep House DJ in 2016 and 2017. His hard work and achievements have given him the opportunity and platform to become an advocate of African house music with his own Apple Beats 1 Radio show where he has already given the likes of Black Motion and Da Capo a stage to get international recognition. His music and skill has captured the world and bought along with it some major celebrity fans like Diddy and Swizz Beats while at the same time allowing him a chance to work on a remix of Alicia Keys chart topping single “In Common”, as well as having Drake remake a Black Coffee classic “Superman” into the South African’s first ever Billboard charting song “Get It Together”.
This along with the rise of stars like Wizkid, Davido, Maporisa and many others is only the beginning of a new wave of African talents spreading their influence all over the world while at the same time being in direct competition to their Western counterparts and giving the younger generation a sense of pride and identity. As seen over the past 5 years with African music transforming the sound of the international music scene with the emergence of Gqom and West African Afro-Beat, the strides made by the likes of Black Coffee have played an integral role in introducing the world to the sounds of Africa.
Another one of the leaders in this rebirth of the African Renaissance is Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the renowned Kenyan writer who in 1967 renounced writing in English and opted to write in his native Gikuyu and Swahili, an act that not only saw him embracing his own culture while helping preserve African linguistics but one that would also see him coin the term “decolonising the mind” in later years.
Even though the age gap between him and the above mentioned modern Renaissance Men is quite large his contribution to this new wave of united Pan-African cultural ideologies is just as essential. Ngugi is arguably the most outspoken post-colonial writer having some of the strongest Afrocentric views and is even quoted as once stating that Africans should “use English… but don’t let English use you…”.
In his 2009 publication Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance, Ngugi attempts to outline his “blueprint” of how the African Renaissance can be accomplished. He is known to have praised the likes of Mazisi Kunene, a South African poet who even while in exile continued to write in his native Zulu, this to Ngugi is highly important as he is known to accentuate the need for diasporic African writers to preserve their native languages or at least learn one in order to better preserve our African culture and tell our stories in a more relatable way. As an advocate of African literature Ngugi wa Thiong’o has managed to spark the same feeling of Black Consciousness which Steven Bantu Biko had tried to ignite in the youth of South Africa during Apartheid, giving way for young writers like Uzodinma Iweala and Elizabeth Tshele who both have published texts which tell the modern day realities faced by the African youth.
What’s more is that one cannot discuss this rebirth of an “African Renaissance” without mentioning that Africa also has the potential to be at the forefront of science, technology and medicine. Africa boasts some of the brightest minds and most innovative thinkers in the world, for example Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye who in has made great strides in the field of foetal and neonatal surgery with his work in congenital diaphragmatic hernia and complex wounds.
Dr. Olutoye is the surgeon who in 2016 carried out a complex operation by removing a 23 week old baby from its mother’s womb, removed a tumor from the baby and then returned it to the womb, the baby healed and continued to grow until she was born again at 36 weeks. This going to show that Africans have more to offer the advancement of humanity as a whole, the same way Dr Christian Bernard and self-taught surgeon Hamilton Naki performed the world’s first ever successful human heart transplant in 1967 at Cape Town’s Groote Schuur Hospital.
Even in ancient times Africans were performing innovative and daring medical procedures as seen in ancient texts from Timbuktu and the hieroglyphs and imagery of the Great Pyramids of Giza, now with a more advanced and enlightened generation, Africans will hopefully one day push more boundaries in the fields of Science and Technology just like Elon Musk is doing with his SpaceX and Tesla projects.
So it is possible to say because African Ideologies and the African demographic landscape are fast changing due its fast-growing youth population, it is entering a time of enlightenment which is now being steered by a generation of well informed, better educated, more self-conscious individuals. This generation is moving away from the “traditional” way of doing things, they seek change and they want it now, evidence of this shift in the African philosophy of what governs their lives can be seen by the emerging leaders like Liberia’s new President, George Weah.
The 1995 FIFA World Player of the Year and winner of the Ballon d’Or won the hearts and loyalty of over 61.5 % of his country which in 2000 had 44% of its population being 14 years and younger. This is a generation which is part of a young African culture which seeks to create its own place in this world, they are a generation that wants basic human rights and decolonised education like the #FeesMustFall movement in South Africa.
George recently took a 25% salary pay cut and diverted the saving to his country’s national development fund, proving that the African attitude is becoming centralised on making the people better not just the individual gains. More and more people and countries are beginning to invest more in the development of the poor, the youth and infrastructure in order to increase the average African’s quality of life, people with relatable backgrounds who were fortunate enough to conquer their fields and are now giving back such as Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o and Akon.
Truth be told, if we were to count the amount of Africans leading our continent into a better future, that number would have significantly risen over the past decade and this is due to the fact that more and more of us Africans are in quest of a better future. And even though the modern day economy can be argued to have its foundations built on the backs of African slaves, we want to leave legacy that is more than slavery, more than colonialism, more than poverty, more and more of us want to see Africans leading humankind.