No longer time to ignore African ideas
As Africa Day draws nearer, one cannot stop thinking of that epic song, Scatterlings of Africa, where Johnny Clegg and Juluka present a notion of the “African idea” whose aim is to “make the future clear”.
However, given the current challenges imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is really tough to see beyond the horizon. All we have for now is a hazy picture, making the drive towards the solution seemingly difficult. The things needed to fuel us to this re-imagined future are big ideas.
This brings us back to the importance of the African idea.
Some would posit this is an ephemeral, feel-good explanation of being an African. This myopia often traps our sense of identity as Africans. We are often comfortable when our relevance to the broader context of things is reduced to aesthetics manifest in the sights and sounds of our beautiful continent.
Yes, we should celebrate such appraisals. But our guided sanguinity and patriotism of being Africans may need to be bounded and even challenged. Let’s move from just the material celebration of the sights and sounds littered on our beautiful continent, to positioning the role that African ideas can play — especially concerning global challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic. We are more than just the Victoria Falls or the Big Five game animals, we are also ideas, the type that proffer not only localised solutions but have the potential to penetrate and have global resonance.
There are African ideas through platforms such as M-PESA, born and being used widely in Kenya but also inspiring innovations in the Middle East. African ideas exist that embrace sustainability such as those of SoleRebels, founded by Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu from Ethiopia, which makes stylish shoes out of old tyres. They are popular in Addis Ababa but there are also stores in Germany, Greece, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan and the US.
African ideas coming out of the Free State are building South Africa’s first commercial liquid natural gas plant, the aim being to produce 90% less greenhouse gas emissions and contribute towards reducing climate change. En route to achieving these organisational goals is the desire to benefit and create opportunities for local communities.
Africans themselves need a re-think of their worth. We need a radical, total mind-shift embracing the reality that something good can come out of Africa
Africans themselves need a re-think of their worth. We need a radical, total mind-shift embracing the reality that something good can come out of Africa. The precursor to the ideas we will generate must be a self-love and positioning of worth among Africans. This means getting rid of the cancerous pseudo-comfortabilities we get trapped in. It also means pushing the importance of ideas generated from the small town of Alice in the Eastern Cape to equate with ideas in the borough of Milton Keynes in England.
This can only happen when Africans destroy on the anvil tired clichés that make us comfortable as passive contributors and eager adopters of other cultures. Africans through their ideas should not wallow in the predicament of the present but frame a path (big or small) that paves a way, as Clegg and Juluka idealise, “to make the future clear”.
African ideas should not just be localised in their reach but also bring global solutions. Our ideas should have agency, voice and relevance. Agency would allow us as Africans the freedom and propensity to be able to decide and take control of our destiny. Voice would give us as Africans the platform to express and articulate the agency found in our ideas.
Through our ideas, we can bear testimony that we can be equally good. We will not be afraid to share our ideas at the expense of ridicule — at least we have shared something. We will not be reduced to a continent that is continually struggling but one with plentiful opportunity. The epithets of tribe, gender and race that we are often characterised by must fall. Ignore African ideas at your own peril!
Willie Tafadzwa Chinyamurindi is an associate professor at the University of Fort Hare with a keen interest in human capital development and a member of the South African Young Academy of Science. He writes in his personal capacity.