The Role of Intellectual Dissidence in Redefining Africa’s Position in the World

Published on 15th September 2016

African intellectuals have played a crucial role in the struggle towards Africa’s emancipation from colonialism and neo-colonialism; apartheid and white minority rule in Southern Africa; authoritarian one-party rule and military dictatorship in post-colonial Africa, political and economic world order that favours industrialized countries. 

Moreover, the role of African intellectuals and other progressive forces in the struggle for the restoration of political pluralism in the 1980s and 1990s cannot be gainsaid. African intellectuals have also challenged the dominant development paradigm that seemed not to have addressed underdevelopment in the continent. Through their academic work, policy analysis and activism, African intellectuals have critiqued non-responsive policies imposed on African states by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other external actors. The intellectuals have also fought for the decolonization of the African mind and striven to place African discourses at the centre of scholarship on Africa. 

Even though African intellectuals have played a considerable role in the struggle to liberate Africans from various forms of domination, oppression and injustices, the intellectuals should not be seen as a homogeneous group. In post-colonial Africa, different intellectuals have had diverse perspectives on Africa’s development trajectory, democracy, governance and foreign relations policies. Intellectuals  who have been part of government have played a significant role in the  African policy making process. 

Some intellectuals believe that Africa and Africans are yet to experience meaningful emancipation despite formal independence from colonial powers. Such intellectuals are convinced that political instability and conflicts, deepening mass poverty and unemployment, ethno-nationalism, corruption and other social and governance ills facing post-colonial Africa are due bad policies and inept leadership. They believe that the ideals that inspired anti-colonial struggles have been forgotten by those who have been in power in successive governments. A number of these intellectual dissidents have faced criticisms from African leaders or top bureaucrats who view them as rebels and mere detractors seeking unnecessary attention yet Africa is already on the path towards economic growth and development. 

How can African intellectual dissidents offer leadership in policy process in the 21st century? 

Since the beginning of this century, Africa has made considerable progress in several fronts. The transformation of the Organization for African Unity (OAU) to the African Union (AU) in 2002 was a milestone as the AU strove to alter Africa’s peace and security architecture radically. The AU has taken an active role in regional peace support operations in Africa through contribution of troops to  the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and the establishment of five sub-regional standby forces in the five regions of Africa: East, West, Central, South and North. 

Regional integration has also heightened in the last two decades as African countries strive to advance deeper economic cooperation and promotion of intra-African trade and investment. The implementation of the New Partnership of Africa’s Development (NEPAD); renewed relationship between Africa and emerging economic powers; and the launch of Agenda 2063 are being seen as major steps towards promoting socio-economic development; peace, stability and security; democratization and good governance; and advancing Africa’s position as a major actor at world stage. It is also notable that Africa has experienced impressive economic growth despite the turbulent world economy in recent times. Africa’s robust growth is being driven by increase in commodity prices, better economic policy management, diversification of trading partners, improvement of democratization process and accountability, decline in prevalence of armed conflicts and rise in domestic demand as the continent’s middle class expands. 

Despite significant progress made in recent years, Africa’s position in the world is still determined by major economic powers. Moreover, the AU still largely depends on external powers for financial resources, capacity building and other logistics support for its peace support operations and exploitation of hydrocarbon resources. A number of regional economic blocs largely depend on external assistance to implement their activities. While new discoveries of hydrocarbons and other minerals in several parts of Africa are likely to contribute to economic growth, good leadership and efficient management of the resources will determine whether meaningful development will be achieved.  Africa’s share of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is still very low globally. For instance, FDI flow to Africa was US$54 billion in 2014 while the FDI flow to Latin America and Asia was US$ 159 billion and US$ 465 respectively during the same period. Furthermore, Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of world total trade is merely 1.7%. Intra-African trade is 16% of the continent’s total trade while intra-Latin American trade and intra-Asian trade are estimated at 21% and 50% respectively. Manufacturing accounts for a mere 10% of Africa’s GDP in the last decade. Interestingly, Africa’s factories are mainly concentrated in South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco, Angola, Tunisia and Kenya, comprising 80% of Africa’s manufacturing sector. 

The state of affairs shows that Africa still faces enormous challenges in spite of the modest progress that has been realized. The “rebirth” of intellectual dissidence is imperative in providing critical positive thinking and alternative views that will enable the continent to realize its aspiration as an influential global player and partner. With opening of political space and free thought in a number of African states, African intellectual dissidents need to enrich policy debates and development discourse through evidence-based policy research and analysis. 

African intellectuals, policy analysts and academics have greater opportunity to determine Africa’s development trajectory if they remain steadfast to Africa’s emancipation and holistic development. How can African intellectual dissents contribute to regional integration initiatives? How will their efforts help in the new relationships Africa is developing with emerging economies and traditional development partners? Can African intellectual dissidents develop an African philosophy, ideology and spirituality that will become the bedrock and engine of Africa’s development? What role can African intellectual dissidents play in redefining Africa’s industrialization policy? African intellectual dissidents should stand out to be counted.

By Paul Odhiambo

Policy Analyst, Trade and Foreign Policy Division.

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