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As there are different authors for the articles on this blog, each article does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bokamoso Leadership Forum.

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30 March 2011

Building the new cadre 50 years after Fanon’s death: the place of intelligentsia in recreating societies in Africa

Zukiswa Mqolomba is a Masters in Poverty and Development candidate at the University of Sussex, England.

The year 2011 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Frantz Fanon, highlighted by various meetings in Africa, Caribbean, US, and Europe celebrating his work, years after his passing. The relevance of Fanon’s work is illustrative of the unique and important place of the thinking class in society. The celebration of Fanon’s legacy makes it imperative for us to ask about today’s thinking class in Africa- the intelligentsia. Indeed how do we build from the legacy of great thinkers of the continent? What is the place of intelligentsia in creating and recreating societies in Africa?

History attests that the thinking class of society has always been at the helm of evolution of whole societies. Not only has revolutionary thought been construed in centres of learning, but these centres have served as launch pads for revolutionary action. The advancement of whole societies has come about as a function of internalised struggles, opportunity and time as intellectuals have dedicated themselves to rigorous analysis in efforts to understand the way societies are organised, and most importantly how they could change these. Kwame Nkrumah, Cheikh Anta Diop, Joseph Ki Zerbo, Robert Sobukwe, Steve Biko, and Eskia Mpahlele have been quoted amongst Africa’s greatest thinkers, having ascribed ideas that became the bedrock of Africa’s revolutionary road.

Even globally, throughout the waves of globalisation (late 19th century to early 21st century), the Ivy Leagues and the Bretton Woods Institutions (World Bank and International Monetary Fund) have remained the architects of societies, including our own, producing and reproducing a scholarship that reproduces after their own likeness. The construction and reconstruction of the institutional architecture of entire societies has been a theoretical and functional response of these ‘advanced’ elements.

These scholars understood the intersection between cultural power and ideological hegemony, and how these evolve societies towards ones interests. Now more than ever, there is a strong case for developing a new cadre in Africa for Africa.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains behind in almost every human development indicator and economic development indicator. According to the forthcoming Human Development Report, Sub-Saharan Africa countries, even those classified as middle income countries, have disappointingly low HDIs. This is largely because states have not done sufficiently well in addressing the critical components of the HDI (Education, Health, and Employment). Similarly, with some exceptions, African states have not done well enough regarding institutional and cultural reforms; and ordinary Africans are paying the price.

There are other emerging challenges that require agile and capable scholarship. For instance, the 2nd scramble for Africa’s resources, the mineral-energy complex, estimated population growth, youth unemployment, rapid urbanization and urban poverty; all require a different approach to scholarship. Food security also remains a major threat to the continent and several African countries live on food aid, despite having arable land and human resources. Africa remains challenged on a number of fronts, including democratic governance, participatory democracy, and social inclusion. Bearing in mind the glaring complexities that face Africa’s, the reconstruction programme is, in essence, therefore a call to building the new cadre.

So what is the new cadre? Borrowing from Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s (1993) concept of ‘moving the centre’, the new cadre should be engaged in protracted struggles to shift the centre and to usher in a world order wherein multiple paradigms are the new orthodox. Neo-liberal orthodoxy and market-fundamentalism, as espoused by the Washington consensus, have dominated our discourse for far too long and to our detriment. External forces have for too long shaped and reshaped the thinking paradigms of Africa’s development discourse. The structural adjustments instruments imposed on African states in the 1990’s, for instance, have been proven to be part of the problem, and not necessarily solutions to Africa’s labour challenges; having pursued an accumulation regime devoid of social justice. Multiple theoretical prisms that are context-specific are definitely needed to usher in a new development trajectory in Africa.

Borrowing from Evan’s (1995) concept of ‘embedded autonomy’ which is central to the effectiveness of the developmental state, the new cadre should also be autonomous in thinking (in so far as the terms of reference contribute to the identification and resolution of strategic developmental objectives), whilst embedded or grounded in analysis and in a manner that sustains working partnerships with social groups in society. Critical theory must be combined with practical and normative thinking in order to explain what is wrong with current social reality and to develop a clear action programme to change these. Since there is dialectical relationship between theory and concrete reality, embedded autonomy only enriches and affirms the basis of scientific knowledge.

The new cadre should move beyond knowledge regurgitation to knowledge production, evolving beyond the thinking paradigms of classical scholars to producing new paradigms of their own that reflect the times as they are, as they see them. For indeed: “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity.” (Frantz Fanon; 1961). As this generation of African scholars, we too have an obligation to discover our mission, to fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity. We too carry the burden of producing scholarly work that enhances the freedoms of others.

Undoubtedly, the decade ahead promises to be dominated as much by developmental questions as by anything else and regional economies are expected to play an important frontline role. As we commemorated the 50th anniversary of African independence in 2010, the most pertinent question of this epoch remains: Whither Africa?

For this reason, it seems appropriate for a stock-taking and reflexive intelligentsia to regain lost grounds; to move beyond deconstructive theories to constructive theories for Africa’s development. The dilemmas facing Africa call upon African scholars to make concerted efforts to realize new commitments towards alternative growth paths in Africa. And in this regards “the ink of a scholar is more precious than the blood of a martyr (and the neither-here-or-there ramblings of a populist on tick)” (Ahmed Baba).

 The first version of this article was published in The Thinker volume 23/2010
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07 March 2011

Aligning Knowledge Production with Substantive Development: (re-) Assessing the Role of Intellectuals in Africa

Gcobani Qambela and Bose Maposa

The role of intellectuals in Africa's development has since the late 1950's occupied an ambivalent place in mainstream scholarly debate. Thembani Mbadlanyana in his article A conversation with Dr Kwame Nkrumah: Africans as Producers of Knowledge reminded us of the critical role and need for intellectuals to carve and churn out insightful narratives on and of Africa to respond to the old adage: "From Africa Always Something New" [Semperaliquid noviex Africa]. Indeed the task of African intellectuals in this era was primarily to restore Africa’s dignity at an era of imperial intellectual scholarship that supported the colonial domination by providing ‘scientific’ evidence of Africa’s inhumanity. Thereby African intellectuals were pillars of the colonial struggle, many of whom went on to become leaders of their independent nations.

A peculiar aspect of African intellectuals, since gaining their independence, has been the inability of these intellectuals to effectively apply the knowledge that they acquired to materially and substantively improve the lives of those served. From Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah's tragic Akosombe Dam/Volta Lake resettlement programs, to Tanzania's Julius Mwalimu Nyerere's failed African Socialism/villagisation initiative, and more recently South Africa's Thabo Mbeki catastrophic response and grasp of the HIV/AIDS in the African perspective. The argument here is that as thinkers and on paper, they excelled but as doers, not at all. All these great intellectuals, some of whom later gained the platform to implement their ideas in Africa’s highest offices of the presidency failed in applying their intellect despite sound and seemingly noble ideas. This is a flaw that appears to have penetrated and perpetuated even well into 2011. This is the task of our generation of African intellectuals - creating this bridge between knowledge production and implementation to improve African livelihoods.

Eusebius McKaiser, Associate at the University of the Witwatersrand Centre for Ethics and columnist for City Press in his piece No country for young intellectuals to spread their wings pointed to the devalued role of intellectuals in South Africa (and arguably Africa at large). While countries like the United States of America, the Republic of China and the United Kingdom have invested enormous amounts into their intellectuals most African countries have not emulated this model. One striking fact, even before we blame our leaders, is to note that McKeinser states that very few academics care little for public discourse, and hence "academics within the humanities and social sciences in particular, should be ashamed of themselves... [For] they have a social and intellectual obligation - partly because they get public funding - to make sure that their work speaks to and reaches the socio-political context within which their academic selves exist".

Yet, before we praise these countries, it is important to remember that unlike most African countries, these countries have a lot of universities (where many African intellectuals can be found), thus many intellectuals within their societies, many of whom then seek various avenues to unload their work and are also ready to engage their colleagues. Furthermore, not all these intellectuals manage to reach the public; the crucial role that they serve is to keep the ‘government’ accountable and intellectually engaged, in a manner that government decisions are scrutinized and explained, and thus their policies are a result of this exchange. In addition, those intellectuals that are valued by their communities have found different avenues to address and advice the public.

African governments should also support the ‘thinking class’ in an effort to place pressure on African intellectuals to produce knowledge that is culturally relevant. For as long as African research is supported elsewhere, its output will reflect the funders. The trend will continue to be an explanation of Africa and Africans to the rest of the world, instead of a work that helps Africans contest their historical and contemporary condition.

Indeed, if we take Cornel West as an example, his ‘blues’ and rap talk, his music albums his acting roles all are a part of casting the net and ensuring that the widest possible audience is reached. Perhaps African intellectuals ought to have an even deeper dialogue of who the knowledge is for. If the role of the African intellectual in the colonial era was restoring the image of the continent claiming it for the old civilization that it has always been to the world and primarily to Africans thereby; what is the role of the African intellectual in 2011?

What the paper argues therefore is that to truly have effective and socio-politically aware intellectuals in Africa, the disjuncture and vacuum that currently exists in Africa between the production of knowledge and the socio-application of that knowledge needs to be effectively bridged. For this to happen, we need to take time and look back into our own societies and their value systems. For most African cultures, it was never about just one person, but the community at large, and this in fact was how most ‘policy’ decisions were made- through a culture of engagement.

If the first half of a century of African independence tells us anything is that it is not enough for intellectuals in Africa to produce knowledge. If we are indeed going to develop our countries, sustainably, then we must realize that everyone has a role to play. Public space is not reserved for a select few, nor is this public space compartionalized. The urgency is therefore that intellectuals depart from their secluded spaces and as McKeinser states “keep the conversation alive”. They need to play an active role in the application of that knowledge in their respective contexts. Haroub Otham for instance notes that "an intellectual [is] not only a person who is able to analyze the present but is also able to articulate ideas that would have a lasting impact on those who receive them.”

(1) Othman, Haroub. "Mwalimu Julius Nyerere: an intellectual in power" in Chachange, C and Cassam, A. 2010. Africa's Liberation: The Legacy of Nyerere. Pambazuka Press: Uganda
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