Renaissance Reborn: The Thabo Mbeki School And The Transformation of Africa, By Toyin Falola

Toyin Falola

International Advisory Member, Thabo Mbeki Leadership Institute
Honorary Professor, University of Cape Town &
University Distinguished Teaching Professor and Humanities Chair
The University of Texas at Austin

Earlier in the outgoing month, it was the commissioning of the Pan-African Heritage World Museum right in the heart of the bastion of Pan-Africanism in Africa, Accra-Ghana, that rekindled the hope of a transforming Africa. Then I wrote about the birth of Blyden’s African Personality train. As I write this piece, the inauguration of the UNISA’s Thabo Mbeki African School of Public and International Affairs on September 22, 2020, reminds us that indeed, Africa could be suffering from leadership deficit—certainly at a cancerous rate more than its trade deficit—few still exist that beacon the impeccable character makeup of African Personality. A solution has arrived!

In a modern world of a planetary system anchored on excessive capitalism in which the state is prone to protect the interest of its bourgeois class against the workers, South African Trade Unions, Student Representative Council (SRC), and the University of South Africa came together to honor a former President of the country, Thabo Mbeki, with an Institute that seeks to prepare young Africans for leadership positions across the globe. Concentrating on eight critical areas of teaching and research, the Thabo Mbeki (TM) School of Public and International Affairs hopes to redefine the value of education in Africa by Africanizing knowledge production and dissemination process. This comes in the realization that the sustainable development of modern African states depends even more on the relationship among their production forces now than ever. A great idea has arrived!

Several projections estimate Africa to be home to the world’s largest (workforce) population from the next decade. Yet, these states’ economies have failed in many parts to equal this population boom or annex the potentials therein. The TM school came to be, in the realization that in as much as this form of projection sounds good for Africans whose workforce population was depleted by centuries of the slave trade across the Sahara and the Atlantic, it could also spell doom for its teeming population and the survival of African states in the future of the comity of nations.

Of course, one cannot overemphasize the effect of the committee’s composition that conferred Thabo Mbeki with the honor of associating him with this novel idea. As mentioned above, these entities and their submissions are pointers to the institute’s established goals and mission: building future Africans that can act as a bridge between government/public sector (policy) and the society/private sector (impact). If modern states have been conditioned to support the bourgeoisie at the detriment of the common people/workers/proletarians, the TM school wants to see how it could adjust extant colonial and neocolonial curriculum design regurgitated by several African institutions in response to solving this modern menace. There is no question that the social reengineering needed to balance, at least in the relative sense, the social relations among production forces in a state, lies in the education system. We have a great vision in place!

By imparting the right education appropriately, a generation could be built differently from others, thereby inflaming the smoke of hope many still hold for Africa. Considering that ideology and consciousness constitute the most potent weapon for the reinvention of society, educating the emerging outstanding African population in the following eight areas is designed by the School to ensure that energies are pulled together towards a greater good of the region:  Citizenship and Development, Leadership Studies, Peace and Development Studies, Study of Government Affairs, Urban and Regional Affairs, Simulations and Futuristic Studies, Security and Intelligence Studies, Sustainable Livelihood & Resources Management. This intellectual balance can deliver!

One after the other, these concentration areas not only summarize the challenges facing post-colonial Africa—even though they are not entirely the making of the people—they also project the possibility of remedies. Any research endeavor in these fields is expected to provide possible solutions to the issues in question in a lucid framework. While it is true that Africa has never been short of ideas and advice in the past or now, it is also true that with the establishment of the TM School and its methodological inclination, which includes a transdisciplinary approach to Africanizing knowledge in Africa, tend to have the capacity to fit into the African Union’s “African solution to African problems.”

Again, it is one thing to Africanize the problems and their solutions, and another it is to put them to tangible use without “embalming” them on rotten shelves to gather dust or throwing them in the bin to burn. This is why the school prepares African intellectuals and African leaders: those who could captain the drifting ship of modern African states through the turfs. As President Mbeki noted in his virtual speech given at the commissioning of the School, “the TM School will have to avoid the consequence so graphically described by Bryan Williams of Turning (Its Students) Into Corporate Stooges!” And what was this graphic description? Williams had written an article where he lamented the American university system’s mercantilist culture, which had been the touchstone of modern education in the world and the effect of this on the consciousness and practices of their graduates.  Williams was himself a graduate of one of the top Universities in the United States, Duke University, and was practically talking from first-hand experience. Suppose the tempo that establishes the TM School is sustained from all sides, it cannot be out of place to suppose that we’re witnessing the laying of the foundation of a new African intellectual culture. We gave a new set of ideas to power the ideals!

In addition to this, it is pertinent to add that if the School could “address the development challenges of societies in Africa; search for new knowledge and ideas, be in the forefront of the logic of invention and the logic of discovery; contribute to global discoveries; provide knowledge that accommodates inclusive growth, African thought, issues of sustainable development and human cohesiveness; reshape public-private sector relationships and determine the role of the public sector in economic development,” all through its graduates and interagency networking, it is only a matter of time for other African countries to replicate this structure in their higher institutions. To do this, both the leaders and the led in these states will have to foster a common course in the same direction with a clear vision. Like Mandela, Mbeki played significant roles in the making of the post-cold war in Africa and post-Apartheid in South Africa. His leadership quality and democratic badges could not have been misplaced when the unions and UNISA decided to hang this school on it. He is both a national and global leader— in the excellent function of these terms and as one committed to education. His fears about the African education system and what we call the gap between the town and the gown were palpable in his speech the 22nd of September, 2020, so much so that his only succor was in the Tanzanian scholarship.

His thesis: if Tanzanian scholars can distinguish themselves by producing Africanized knowledge and contributing meaningfully to the academic discourse of reinventing Africa, TM School should merge this with implementation mechanisms that the former lacks. It is still too early to measure the institute, but the quality it portends will surely give this a voice in the nearest future. The School is designed in such a way that its programs are focused on developing and training students in high-level trans-disciplinary research in public and international affairs, educate and train researchers who can contribute to the development of knowledge at an advanced level, preparing students to think critically, analyze and solve policy problems to become impactful leaders for the public good, training students to explore, creating and implementing policies to address the most pressing issues in society, and preparing students for advanced professional employment. This scope shows the bridge which the School intends to construct in the society. To fulfill the task of its establishment and the one ahead, the Institute is staffed by academic and professional leaders in Leadership Studies, Peace and Development, Simulation and Future Studies, Urban and Regional Affairs, Citizenship and Development, Feminism and Gender Studies.

With this, another significant stone is laid in making a new Africa in the world order: a stone of consciousness and conscience, intellect and excellence, liberation and power. But it is “not yet Uhuru” as the School will now have to earnestly activate it’s fundraising mechanisms to meet up with the quality improvement and sustainable measures, all of which boils down to the quality of its research outputs, students, facilities, alumni, and all that require massive investment in grants, scholarships, publications, and others. It needs no telling how these western structures have been transformed into the nucleus of knowledge production and impact worldwide. The former president and elderly statesman could also use political clout, institutional access, and network to enhance the program design of the School by providing graduate students with the opportunity to put their skills and knowledge into practical use during their study. Aside from improving their intellectuality, this aspect of their graduate experience is prone to increase the Institute’s chances of making an impact in its quest to reinvent Africa. The School must be aware that the old policies and programs for the management of the national and international affairs with the paradigm of “the might is right,” the official secrecy, and the almighty powers of the state apparatuses are now outdated for the new world. The School must be creative and proactive in its agenda to produce prospective leaders that will have the up-to-date management intelligence to effectively govern the Artificial Intelligence of the Millenia generational issues.  One can only hope to see more of these initiatives across Africa in carefully chosen innovative fields of study that address any of the myriads of problems confronting Africa today, with a futuristic outlook that places the image of Sankofa before it.

I join the global community of scholars and policymakers to congratulate South Africa, as a nation, Thabo Mbeki, on this well-deserved honor, and the UNISA, South African Trade Union, as well as the country’s Student Union in the execution of this initiative. I will continue to contribute my quota to this considerable initiative.

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