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It's the similarities that matter: Interview with Professor Mandivamba Rukuni
Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa,
March 22, 2010

Read Inside / Out with Mandivamba Rukuni

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Mandivamba RukuniA graduate of the University of Zimbabwe (PhD), Prof. Rukuni-s career over the past 25 years has largely been as an academic associated with several universities. He has recently invested more time in the area of cultural revival for Africa-s renewal and he published a book entitled: 'Being Afrikan- in 2007 followed by "Leading Afrika" in 2009. Prof. Mandivamba Rukuni is the founder and current Executive Director of the Wisdom Africa Leadership Academy (WALA).

How do you think a dialogue about why Africa is not working can be started?
In one sense the dialogue should be easy; in another, it is extremely difficult. It should be easy because nothing is really working properly in Africa. If we divide life in Africa into four major areas: social and cultural; business and economics; politics and governance; and technology and the environment. If you look at them nothing is really working. The dialogue has to be almost similar to what Europe went through when they experienced their transformation, where every aspect of life is available for debate and dialogue. Not just to scholars or the intelligentsia but to everyone. Issues should be boiled down to simple ideas that can be communicated to everybody. On the other hand, when you-re poor and struggling in every field, debate is difficult; people are too busy trying to survive. I think that the real path for development is going back to our foundations.

What is the guiding philosophy behind your book 'Being Afrikan-?
I realised, after having been highly educated and being in the development field, that not much of what I-ve achieved has really made a difference to the people that I serve. Most of the people in my extended family are still poor. I realised that it was a false progress. I-m a professor, but it-s only good for me. I realised that there-s no developed or advanced society in the world that achieved that status by abandoning their history, abandoning their culture and then borrowing somebody else-s as a basis for development. Every advanced society in the world stuck to their cultural roots and modernized. Being Afrikan is an observation that Africans have abandoned their culture. Our culture, by the way, is built on three important pillars. The first is humanism, some call it ubuntu, and in Shona we say unhu, that-s what makes Africans the most relational people in the world. The second is strong families. We believed so strongly in families we even have extended families, which made it nearly impossible to have destitute orphans and elderly people. Once we were bombarded by new religions and cultural values we abandoned our family systems, thinking that there was going to be some other idea that would replace them. There is no substitute in Africa for strong families. The third pillar is strong community. This is the capacity to live together in a manner that makes it easy, or easier to deal with social and economic issues. We did not have to have any complicated systems to live fairly sophisticated lives. Listen

We are busy thinking that a strong society comes from having a strong government. But through my travels I have learnt that strong societies are built from strong communities and strong families. These are people, who are self-reliant, confident in their cultural origins and knowledge systems, confident that they will change their own lives. No strong society is built by people who lack that confidence, and sit waiting for government or NGOs to change their lives.

In a recent SAPES Seminar on the Land Issue you stated that organised politics is a major problem in Africa. How is this so?
Organised politics in Africa needs to be given its appropriate role, not the dominant role it has. Whatever covenants we sign among ourselves, as African people, be it in the Constitution or whatever, should make it clear that politics is not an end in its own right. That any political party to be formed should only be allowed to exist if it fulfils certain basic African values: respect for people and respect for peoples lives; love for the people you lead; dialogue as means of discussing and resolving issues; tolerance; and consensus in making decisions. All of these are values that have been crafted by African leaders over thousand of years. But political parties don-t respect this; they deal with things the way the western world deals with politics and numbers. Who has the biggest numbers? Numbers don-t always mean that you are right; in fact the majority can be wrong. I want political systems that allow other legitimate forms of leadership to be equally as powerful. Here in Africa we have 70% of the people living in rural areas, and we want a system that would recognise that organised political power should not be the singularly most important power. We also have selected and hereditary leaders. They should not be guided by politics. I want balanced power. Listen

How is organised religion a problem for Africa?
The problem with organised religions is that they wrote books and made doctrines. If you don-t follow that doctrine you are lost and you don-t know God, and you deserve to be killed or converted. Organised religion is the most violent attack on African culture in history. Our ancestors were humiliated, they were brainwashed, and they were told that they did not know God until these new religions showed up. The truth is that Africans knew God well before Islam and Christianity came to Africa. Organised religions carry capacity for extreme power, so in the end people follow without really debating about how does it change peoples lives. Most people go to church because they are honestly looking for spiritual growth. But Africans knew before how to achieve spiritual growth. Spirituality is very different from religion and it is far more valuable. Spirituality is the capacity to understand and know that you are connected to other people, you are connected to the environment, that you are connected to some force that you may not see but you believe is there. Spirituality understands the oneness of people in the Universe. Spirituality is not based on written doctrine it is based on enlightenment. Listen

A few years ago Thabo Mbeki spoke of the African Renaissance. What does the term African Renaissance mean to you?
I use the term periodically because it captures the essence of renewing our society. I differ in how I think it-s going to happen. I think the renaissance in Africa will come through a cultural revival, which then informs the transformation we need in society. I think its less likely going to come from simply getting democracy running in Africa and then having responsible governments who will know what to do to craft a society in Africa. That is a more uncertain route for me. If we are going to integrate Africa in one people, we need to recognise that it-s not the differences that matter, there could be a million differences;. The similarities are so powerful that if we concentrated on believing again that we are one people culturally, we will achieve more regional integration, than through thinking that it-s about economic integration.

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Audio File

  • Guiding philosophy
    Language: English
    Duration: 1min 40sec
    Date: March 22, 2010
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 1.52MB

  • Organised politics
    Language: English
    Duration: 55sec
    Date: March 22, 2010
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 867KB

  • Organised religion and spirituality
    Language: English
    Duration: 45sec
    Date: March 22, 2010
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 704KB

  • African Renaissance
    Language: English
    Duration: 1min 01sec
    Date: March 22, 2010
    File Type: MP3
    Size: 948KB

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