TWQ: The End of the African Renaissance - Fall 2010
October 1, 2010
Twenty years ago, African leaders and intellectuals proclaimed an African renaissance. The grim days of postcolonial Africa, they said, were over. The end of the Cold War and the growing popular disgust with misrule had created an opportunity for lasting change. In its place would come democracy, development, and peace. ‘‘Africa cries out for a new birth. We must, in action, say that there is no obstacle big enough to stop us from bringing about a new African renaissance,’’ President Nelson Mandela of South Africa told a meeting of regional leaders in 1994.
In a nutshell, the African renaissance was an attempt to have a fruitful encounter with modernity after decades of self-destructive ones. While no targets were set, the trends were supposed to be up. For perhaps a decade or so, they were. But since the early 2000s, the trends in the region have worsened. Today, it is time to admit that the African renaissance is over. Across the 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, tyranny, stagnation, and conflict are on the march again.
What is troubling, besides the end of the renaissance, is that Western countries have little interest and even less leverage to affect changes in Africa. But preventing Africa’s slide into oblivion is at least a pressing humanitarian issue, if not a security issue. Lives matter, and saving them will require a stiffer resolve than Western leaders showed in the 1960s and 1970s, when the last African renaissance collapsed. Do Western countries, especially the United States, have the political willpower and capacity to rise to the coming challenge?