Mellon Scholars Program: Thabo Mbeki’s African Renaissance: A Transformative Vision for African Development?

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Tamba M'Bayo, Hope College
Dr. Anne Heath, Hope College
Dr. Ernest Cole, Hope College
Dr. William Pannapacker, Hope College

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In a series of speeches in the late 1990s, former South African Prime Minister Thabo Mbeki detailed his vision for an “African Renaissance” in the twenty-first century. Mbeki’s plan, centered on a rediscovery of the African past, has been a subject of debate among scholars and politicians in the past fifteen years. As the global ramifications of events in Africa are on the rise as we move into the second decade of the twenty-first century, understanding the current state of affairs on this troubled continent is increasingly important for those outside Africa. This project focuses on the rhetorical meaning of the term “renaissance”. Drawing on Mbeki’s speeches on African unity and development along with a collection of articles, I trace the origins of the term in an African context from its roots in the Pan-African unity movement of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries through its current application by Mbeki. Using Senegal as a case study, I explore the current state of progress of Mbeki’s African Renaissance. My research reveals the term “renaissance” carries a very different connotation for native Africans than it does for Westerners. It also illustrates that while the term adequately fulfills its origins in early modern Europe, to refer to a “renaissance” as a planned initiative for the political, social, and economic development of continent represents a clear departure from its European usage.

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