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Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: President Thabo Mbeki's Challenge To African Intellectuals: "Don't Be Educated Natives."

African intellectuals who had sat on the sidelines while the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) was prepared, and complained about not being consulted, should now stand up and be counted.

This was the challenge of President Thabo Mbeki, who addressed the 11th General Conference of the Association of African Universities in Cape Town on Tuesday.

"Why do Africa's intellectuals, why do they believe that they should be consulted? Because I would imagine that the first thing that they should have done ... was to come to those who have been elected as our rulers to say we believe that this is what we should do with regards to Africa's development, instead of leaving that ... to people who may very well be incompetent."

Mbeki said the African intelligentsia was one of the most powerful vehicles for the deepening of democracy on the continent, engendering values such as critical thinking and inquiry.

He said there was now an opportunity for the intelligentsia to participate in the political change sweeping the continent, after difficult days of repression during the 1970s and 80s, when people were persecuted for being educated.

Regarding the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the "tragic" inaction of the rest of the continent, Mbeki said circumstances were changing and Africa was trying to solve its own problems.

"The intelligentsia needs to ask itself the question: What is it that needs to be done to achieve peace, to consolidate stability on our continent? What is it that causes the absence of peace?"

He said politicians and peacekeepers could intervene in hotspot regions, but extinguished fires could flare-up again when the real questions of what started the fire were not answered.

Turning to the African peer review mechanism and the difficulties in entailed, Mbeki said this was another area where the intelligentsia could make an input.

"What we are saying as Africans [is], we have to decide for ourselves what is good and bad, what is right and wrong for ourselves. Be our own judges, and honest judges, and in that context I believe that Africa's intelligentsia has a central role
to play."

Mbeki said this was part of rediscovering the African identity and helping to overcome the "phenomenon of the educated native".

Mbeki seemed to be echoing Frantz Fanon and his view on the psychological dimensions of post-colonial alienation, as described in his book Black Skin, White Masks.

Mbeki said educated natives ended up in the middle -- detached from their people but aspiring to reach where their educators were.

"Part of the challenge that we face to define ourselves as Africans, educated Africans, not detached from the rest of the natives but part of that population of natives, but educated nevertheless. And that means we therefore have to participate in this process of political change that is taking place on our continent."

This article appears on Independent Online

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

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