/ 8 September 2017

The continent urgently needs to change its mindset

Practical: Students at the technical and vocational college in central Johannesburg attend a mechanics class.
The aim of the TVET Colleges is to develop and produce employable young people with high quality occupational and vocational education and training skills. Photo: Lisa Skinner


Thought leadership is important for a renewed Africa because it can enable the continent to realise a new socioeconomic development paradigm.

In his writings, Steve Biko reiterated the need for Africans to tackle the challenge of “mental slavery”. A colonised mindset has produced a colonised approach to development.

But thought leadership alone is not enough for a renewed continental outlook. To create a positive and sustainable development outlook, which addresses the economic and social conundrums, is at the core of this process. Everyone needs to be involved in unlearning, relearning, unthinking and rethinking the oppressive and dominant thought philosophies and patterns of their interactions with colonial forces over the past five centuries.

In the pursuit of thought leadership for Africa’s renewal, the continent has an opportunity and responsibility to tap into the unmined wealth of Africa’s former leadership experiences — the Mfecane, the Great Trek, the youth, new trends such as African feminism and digitisation. We need leaders who will evaluate legacies such as dependency on foreign aid and foreign interventions.

Post-colonial African leaders have lacked the capacity and vision to procure and trust the role of thought leadership for a renewed Africa. Our leaders have forfeited their powers to the Global North and betrayed the hopes and aspirations of the very people who elected them into power.

Pan-Africanist solutions centred on the African development problem need to be crafted, implemented, monitored and re-evaluated. Pan-Africanism has the opportunity to decolonise the colonised African mind. But it is important to embrace the emerging trends to see an Africa vested in the interests of its people, yet also remain globally relevant. For further analysis, the roles of culture, language and gender need to be looked at as part of a new Africa.

Africa has no homogeneity in terms of its developmental approaches. Development on the continent is arguably Westerncentric. The trends of most development in Africa are inconsistent. Africa needs uniquely African solutions.

Thought leadership, thought liberation and critical consciousness should be the main ingredients and anchor for economic and social development.

Various developmental approaches (from the Global North and West) have been implemented for Africa’s case. But Africa needs more than just solutions from elsewhere.

Evident to this day, from a developmental perspective, colonialism has misled African history, marginalised African creativity and done away with native critical thinking approaches. The effects of this have been a continental psychology dominated by an inferior expression of African and pan-Africanist ideas, a consuming and not producing continent and an unliberated thought class of African political leaders.

Leadership and not just economic models should shape the future of where the continent is heading. African citizens need to be vested in what makes us African and to tap into indigenous systems to realise the possibilities of how they can move the continent forwards.

Africa, its people and its resources are capable enough to change the current shape of how we are viewed. It is in the interest of the continent’s future for leaders to be accountable and have a keen interest in the role that people in rural and urban settings can play alongside institutions such as the African Union and marginalised groups such as women and the youth.

Many leaders have argued that Africa is capable and aligned to achieving goals such as those set out in the AU’s Agenda 2063. But Africa doesn’t need Agenda 2063; Africa needs Agenda Now!

Significantly though, not all underdevelopment is the result of Western doctrines. Africans still feel inferior to, inadequate and less intellectually capable than their white counterparts. Consequently, this leads to a Eurocentric way of thinking and acting, and cultural dilution.

Doing away with traditional approaches and embracing “modern ways” is not the core development solution for Africa. Instead, modern ways are limiting and contradictory.

Modernisationcentric approaches to development have propelled a significant gap between the haves and the have-nots in the continent.

Westerncentric approaches to development overlook the building blocks that form the core traits and characteristics of the lesser developed nations, such as cultural beliefs and religion.

An example is the Westerncentric prescription of the linear stages of growth. In some African states, the injection of capital coupled with government intervention has meant an increase in corruption and unfair distribution of wealth and income.

Structures such as social welfare, the political emancipation of citizens, increased literacy rates and gender parity and agency, to name a few, should be seen as building blocks that need to be present to foster and fast-track development.

Africa needs more than political systems to guide its future. Strategic leadership is needed as the core building block towards economic, political and social emancipation.

Kholekile Mnisi is in marketing communications and is a writer and gender activist.