- Published on Friday, 20 April 2012 08:44
- Written by Holly McGurk
Is criticism of Africa, her politics and her people detrimental to our development, or an honest way to assess and overcome our flaws?
We are all aware of the presence of afropessimism in various aspects of our society: the media, academia, and the perceptions of individuals. The image of Africa as eternally poor and underdeveloped is pervasive in the minds of foreigners and Africans alike.
The afropessimism within the continent is evident from the level of menial dinner-table discussion to more serious repercussions such as investment patterns or the mass emigration of our qualified citizens.
It is this issue that Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation focused on when she visited UCT this month. She delivered a lecture entitled Celebrating the Legacy of Liberation Movements in Africa, in which she emphasised that "South Africa has a leadership role to play in removing pessimism against our mother continent," emphasising that "this responsibility has been bestowed on us by history."
The minister urged students to take up this challenge in their choice of career. She pointed to possibilities such as specialising in African economics, building infrastructure connecting African economies, and developing socio-cultural connections. That the department is making such a proactive effort to engage with students and tackle the issue of afropessimism is an exciting and positive initiative.
What is less positive, however, is that the minister defines afropessimism so broadly as to encompass any negative statement about the continent; this does not invite candid discussions or the development of solutions. At one point, a student asked a question about the inefficiencies of African governments.
The minister, instead of answering, accused the student of afropessimism, a claim that was wholly unfounded and which appeared to be a below-the-belt method of avoiding any criticism of African leadership.
This raises the question of where to draw the line between a frank assessment of Africa’s position and prospects on the one hand, and afropessimism on the other. To acknowledge that there are problems in Africa and ask about how they can be addressed, as this student did, is not afropessimism. Additionally, to denounce a relevant and insightful question as such is not constructive.
There are many opportunities for the youth of South Africa to engage with the continent in a way that will benefit them personally and contribute to its development, such as those, mentioned above, that the minister alluded to in her speech. It is possible to embrace these positives while at the same time acknowledging Africa’s problems, and we should not be labelled afropessimists for doing so.