Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

An African Renaissance in the 21st Century?

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

An African Renaissance in the 21st Century?

Article excerpt


The concept of an African Renaissance is currently used by scholars and politicians and is considered as the most significant process of the 1990s in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, there are few detailed descriptions of the said renewal and the exact meaning of the concept in practice. Therefore, the African Renaissance as used by president Thabo Mbeki is analysed as well as South African perspectives on the idea, as reflected in the foreign policy statements of the African National Congress (ANC) as the majority party in Government. The international environment of the African Renaissance as seen by the ANC is also analysed in terms of current international relations theory It is concluded that the ANC adheres to the "structuralist" paradigm of international relations, which has specific implications for South African foreign policy.

The comments of scholars, journalists and politicians on the African Renaissance vary between Afro-optimism and Afro-pessimism with Afro-realism taking the middle ground. The first school of thought seems to base its views on the renewal of Africa predominantly on normative considerations. Through an empirical analysis of the political, economic, social and military situation in sub-Saharan Africa between 1990 and 2000, it is shown that the sub-continent is in a dismal state and a lot remains to be done before there can be any question of an African Renaissance. In the light of this evidence it is argued that it will take at least a generation, or more, to renew sub-Saharan Africa.


In numerous of his addresses president Thabo Mbeki has referred to an "African Renaissance" or rebirth underway in Africa. The African National Congress (ANC)-led government places an unusually high priority on South Africa's relations with the African continent and has elevated the notion of an African Renaissance to a "national interest" in South Africa's foreign policy.

As a point of departure, this article delves into some of the more important speeches by Mbeki on the African Renaissance and also analyses a number of foreign policy documents of the ANC as the governing party in an effort to unpack the concept and to identify its constituent parts. This is deemed necessary because Africanist scholars, journalists and politicians alike, use the concept in different contexts without defining it or clarifying its meaning.

As the governing party, the ANC's foreign policy conceptions of the international situation are analysed within the context of current international relations theory. It is indicated that the ANC adheres to the globalism/structuralism paradigm of international relations theory -- which has implications for foreign policy because it is based on "Third Worldism" or a "South-perspective" of the world, accompanied by a close identification with the latter in international fora. This may be the reason why so much attention is paid to the African Renaissance and why it has been elevated to South Africa's "national interest".

The final section entails an empirical analysis of the political, economic, social and military situation in sub-Saharan Africa during the 1990s and at the turn of the millennium. This indicates what still remains to be done in sub-Saharan Africa before there can be an African Renaissance on the sub-continent.

The analysis leads the author to adopt a "realist" perspective of the chances of a future African Renaissance, as opposed to an "Afro-optimistic" view based on normative considerations. In the light of the dismal state that the sub-continent finds itself in, it is concluded that the notion of an African Renaissance will not be realised before the first quarter of the new century, if at all.


In 1993, before the ANC came to power in South Africa, it declared in a discussion paper that one of the seven foreign policy principles of the "new South Africa" would be "(a) belief that our foreign policy should reflect the interests of the continent of Africa". …

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