Report on the conference
The Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute (TMALI) was launched through a high-level International Academic Conference which took place from 11 to 13 October 2010 at the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa. The launch created great interest and excitement among many Africans, including the youth and young intellectuals, who are keenly interested to improve their capacity to play a positive role in shaping the future of our continent.
The objectives of the TMALI conference were to create a platform for the exchange of ideas by distinguished thought leaders on African advancement and development. It also aims to enrich the programmes of TMALI. The target audience was scholars, academics, outstanding African personalities, including those in the diaspora, young intellectuals, private sector, civil servants and civil society members who are committed to the advancement of the goal of African renaissance The theme of the conference was “Investing in Thought Leaderships for Africa’s Renewal.”
The conference was opened on Monday, 11 October 2010 by Patron of TMALI, former President Thabo Mbeki. In his opening remarks he said ‘The fundamental proposition from which we proceed is that the transformation which Africa needs to achieve her renaissance requires that our Continent prepares the necessary human capital, the brain workers, who should both conceptualise such transformation and participate in its implementation. Immanent in this proposition is the assertion that that human capital should indeed be African, and therefore that to achieve our goals we must rely decisively on African minds. However I must hasten to add that I am not hereby suggesting an African intellectual autarky, but seek to emphasise the imperative that we do everything we can to build the critical mass of the human capital we need.’
The Chancellor of Unisa, Honourable Judge Bernard Ngoepe said ‘As a key stakeholder, not only in knowledge production through teaching, learning, research and community engagement, but also in the creation of intellectuals and future leaders, the University of South Africa (Unisa), with its significant footprint on the Continent and globally, aims to ensure that it facilitates thinking in Africa, on Africa, by African scholars, so as to arrive at an African understanding that is acknowledged by our global society. Unisa aims to make a direct and ongoing contribution to this country and this Continent’s intelligentsia – to our thought leaders and to our leadership. We are proud and honoured to be able to make that contribution.
As Chancellor of the University of South Africa I am able to tell you that the TMALI is fully supported the Council of the University, who no doubt, are cognisant of the imperative to ensure that this pan African centre of excellence will foster critical engagement on the Continent – with like minded institutes, scholars and other parties or bodies in pursuit of the renewal of our Continent. The purpose of this conference ladies and gentlemen, is to ensure an agenda for a programme for the TMALI, which TMALI will lead in pursuit of its goals and objectives. We are most honoured that through your attendance and participation you have signalled your support for the Institute. There can be no doubt that your respective contributions will add gravitas and lustre to the body of knowledge that will flow from the TMALI , which in time to come, will surely be regarded Continentally and globally as the repository of knowledge on Africa, by Africans.’
The Vice Chancellor and Principal of Unisa, Prof Barney Pityana said ‘Gone are the days when Africans were educated for service in the colonial administration, or as future generations for servitude, or in the church as ministers of an alien religion. What we do know is that these best laid plans (of mice and men) collapsed because, instead of producing docile Africans, the quest for freedom was accentuated. The elites soon claimed the humanity of Africa; they demanded the right to assert the soul of Africa.’ And he further said ‘The Thabo Mbeki Foundation should, alongside its purpose of eradicating poverty sand under-development, also attend to this matter of the poverty of the mind, to set free the intellectual potential of Africa if Africans are set to become their own liberators and subjects of their own development. I am afraid, that is what Black consciousness taught me, and our country today is crying out for a dose of black consciousness years after Steve Biko was murdered and many pioneers of the movement are no more at centre stage.
The partnership and collaboration between the Thabo Mbeki Foundation and the University of South Africa in the establishment of the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute should marshal these intellectual forces and critical voices to Africa’s betterment. This International Conference should set an agenda that will draw Africa’s intellectual resources, stimulate young Africa to become achievers bristling with new ideas and set the tone for a new positive inclination for Africa that honours its past, engages the present and shapes the future.’
It could be suggested that AU and NEPAD initiatives on our continent have not achieved their undoubted promise because of many debilitating power struggles that both disrupt and stunt socio-economic and cultural development. It is our view as the Council of the University of South Africa (Unisa), that Unisa’s partnership with, and involvement in TMALI will provide the opportunity to entrench - nationally, continentally and internationally – an underlying ethos of 4 sound management and moral and ethical leadership that will help break that cycle and lend impetus to the African renewal that we all desire.’
Subsequent to this a high level panel, moderated by Ms Lerato Mbele discussed the topic ‘What needs to be done to achieve the African Renaissance?’ The high level panel was comprised of former Presidents John Kufuor of Ghana and Joacquim Chissano of Moçambique, former Prime Minister of Italy and former President of the European Commission, Mr Romano Prodi of Italy, as well as Prof Bathily, a Senegalese historian and politician and Ms Christine Qunta a leading South African lawyer and social commentator. President Kufuor said that former President Thabo Mbeki has always been a pace-setter, even in establishing the TMALI he is setting the pace for other former heads of state in Africa to also consider establishing foundations and/or institutes in partnership with universities. President Chissano emphasised the role of ubuntu in building a strong movement of African renaissance practitioner. Mr Prodi emphasised the need for economic integration in Africa. He said African universities have an important role to play in changing the perception of the quality of knowledge produced in Africa. For example, there is no reason why it is mainly African students who are going to Europe to study and not European students coming to Africa to study.
Professor Abdoulaye Bathily stressed that while it is good to learn from other models of political and economic integration like the European Union and the Association of American States, no model can be transferred from one continent to another without the necessary adaptation. He said Africa must set its own policy agenda and take leadership on its own challenges. While regretting negative tendencies like regression to one-party States in some African countries, monarchical succession and the privatisation of State resources by the ruling elites for looting, he noted however that there are some positive tendencies as well. For example there is a movement towards economic integration at a sub-regional level, e.g., SADC, ECOWAS, etc.
In the afternoon of Monday, 11 October, the conference programme consisted of lead presentations of academic papers by eminent African scholars and international scholars on African affairs. Four thematic papers were presented by Prof Catherine Odora Hoppers from Unisa, Prof Locksley Edmondson from Cornell University; Prof Elias Bongmba from Rice University and Dr Ebrima Sall, the Executive Secretary of CODESRIA. This was followed by plenary discussions among over two hundred other scholars, including both established experts in their fields and young academics. Tuesday was dedicated to parallel sessions where over 50 papers were delivered by both established and emerging scholars.
On Wednesday, 13 October 2010 reports were received from the parallel sessions. Pillar 1, 2, 3 and 4 reports stated that generally the speakers addressed their topics with rigour and a great deal of depth. The papers were well researched and thought provoking. The discussion was also enhanced by intellectual, generational, gender and disciplinary diversity of participants and interlocutors of the themes.