Renaissance Moments

Africa focus In 1960, Britain?s political elite conceded that the sun was indeed setting on the British Empire. Their capitulation is enshrined in a Feb. 3 address by then-British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to the parliament of South Africa during his tour of the dying empire?s African colonies. ?The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact,? Macmillan said.

That very year, 17 countries in Africa gained political independence from British, French and Belgian colonial rule. Accordingly, 1960 was dubbed ?Year of Africa.? The 50th independence anniversary of these countries coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre (March 21, 1960) in which police opened fire on thousands of South African men, women and youth protesting the apartheid regime?s odious pass laws. At least 69 were killed and nearly 200 injured.

Away from the pomp and ceremony of independence celebrations, momentum is building around a nascent African Renaissance that, supporters say, will mark the 21st century as the ?Century of Africa.?

The principal drivers of this renaissance are ordinary Africans on the continent and in the far-flung Diaspora, whose desire for personal prosperity and well-being is fueling unprecedented levels of economic, social, cultural, technological and scientific innovation and achievement ? all of it invested in Africa. Against this backdrop, signs of cross-border collaboration are emerging in such areas as trade, the eradication of poverty, hunger and disease, conflict resolution and mitigating the negative impact of climate change. And a new appreciation of the continent?s resources and potential is fostering trade and investment relationships that are altering its physical and human landscape.????

No other head of state is more vocal in championing this renaissance than Senegal?s President Abdoulaye Wade. ?It is the destiny of Africa, after four centuries of incomprehensible conflict and turmoil, to now become a continent united by the best of human achievement, cultural excellence, prosperity, security, peace and progress,? he says. ?The African Renaissance is more than a concept or a movement. It is the way of life.?

On April 3, the eve of Senegal?s Golden Jubilee independence celebrations, President Wade dedicated the African Renaissance Monument, a stunning 164-foot bronze statue whose depiction of a man, woman and child symbolizes the strength and promise of Africa. Built by North Koreans, who reportedly were compensated with land worth far more than the $28 million it cost to build it, the monument elicits mixed feelings among Senegalese. Its detractors condemn everything from its cost and cultural and religious ?insensitivity? to what they say are President Wade?s claims to a significant chunk of its future tourism earnings. However, even they like the idea of a monument symbolizing a new beginning for Africa.

So do other Africans. ?This ceremony is very important, not only for the people of Senegal but of Africa,? President Bingu wa Mutharika of Mali, current chair of the African Union, said in a speech at the ?Colloquium on the African Renaissance? that President Wade hosted in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, on April 3. ?This African Renaissance marks a new milestone in our effort to unify Africans.??

The U.S. delegation that President Wade flew to Dakar on a chartered flight and hosted for three days of festivities included representatives of groups that historically have been divided. There were members of the arts and entertainment industry; iconic figures of the Black power, civil rights and Pan-African movements; the clergy;

community organizers; government officials; investment bankers; and advocates for favorable U.S. policies toward Africa. Some have been outright hostile to each other; others have had little interest in Africa until recently, as the continent?s economic growth surged past that of developed countries and pictures emerged of an Africa of modern cities, thriving stock markets, lucrative investment opportunities and world-class tourist destinations.

Bringing these groups together for three days under the same roof in a show of unity for a Pan-African agenda was a feat few would have thought possible. In pulling it off, President Wade may have revealed the true heart of a seemingly fractious Diaspora.?????????

?This is a historic mission,? said Djibril Diallo, Ph.D., senior adviser to the executive director of UNAIDS and coordinator of the U.S. delegation?s trip to Senegal. ?The main purpose of the visit is to form a human chain, individually and collectively, to make sure Africa is one.?