“Our history did not begin with colonisation. It did not even begin with the history of the infamous slave trade which lasted for over 400 years. Africa’s history has a glorious stance as the cradle of mankind”.
These were the words of former President of Ghana, John Mahama, when he delivered the keynote address at the Pan-African Conference on Restoring and Reviving African Dignity for the Africa we want through Advancing the History of African Ideas.
The two-day conference from 24 to 25 July at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban was co-hosted by the Department of Science and Technology – National Research Foundation Centre in Indigenous Knowledge Systems (CIKS); UKZN; the Forum for Former Heads of State and Government, Africa Programme; UN University for Peace, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; the Mandela Institute of Development Studies; eThekwini Municipality, and the Africa Forum.
Mahama reminded delegates of the continent’s varied contributions to the global pool of knowledge. ‘Africa has a history that we all can be proud of based on resisting oppression, of learning centres such as Timbuktu, Carthage, Alexandria, etc, to which others from across the globe, came to acquire knowledge of art, science and technology and all its complexities. The pyramids of Egypt, the Kente cloth of Ghana, the astronomy of the Dogon people of Mali, the paintings in the caves of Great Zimbabwe, the writings of Somalia, the terracotta, iron, bronze, gold, silver intricate artwork found all over Africa are the story of a once flourishing civilisation,’ he said.
Mahama posed the question: ‘Have we as a people finally shaken off the shackles of Western European control and influence?’
‘We must be our own historians and boldly challenge the misconception that knowledge emanates solely from the West,’ he said. ‘We must go back to the time when we owned our voices. The time when we recognised that we as Africans have not only contributed to Western civilisation, we have led the way. We have blazed the trail for the rest of the world in the area of writing, in science and technology, in education, in agriculture, in governance, in medicine, and in the arts and culture amongst others.’
Agenda 2063 was adopted to mark 50 years of the African Union (AU) and develop the continent into a global powerhouse in the coming five decades. South African Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and former Chairperson of the AU Commission, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who was the architect of Agenda 2063, made a special call to learners from schools across KwaZulu-Natal who attended the conference: ‘As young people, you must fashion and build the future that you want to inherit.’ She also emphasised the importance of continental free trade, manufacturing and innovation.
Poet Laureate Professor Wally Serote, who convened the panel discussion on African Liberation Movements and Lessons for the Africa we Want said ‘corruption is the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger problem.’
He added that, while threats can emanate from outside the movement, they can come from ‘within executed by enemy agents who have been infiltrated by apartheid security and intelligence forces.’
The conference included panel discussions on the Decolonisation of African Education Systems through Historical and Contemporary African Political and Social Thought; Harnessing the Contribution of History of African Science, Technology and Entrepreneurship in the Global Knowledge Economy; and the Role of African Literature and Indigenous Languages in Reviving and Restoring African Dignity for the Africa we want through Advancing the History of African Ideas.
Conference convener and the Director of CIKS Professor Hassan Kaya said the aim of the intergenerational dialogue was to revive African dignity through the history of our own ideas.
The importance of including the youth was a major theme running through the conference. Learners that attended posed thoughtful questions ranging from the history they are taught at school to how they can get involved in Agenda 2063.
Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer
Photographs: Albert Hirasen