In April of 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, a collective of 100 African intellectual leaders published an open letter addressing the continents leaders. A year later, after much interest was sparked, they formed the Collective for African Renewal (CORA) under the leadership of political scientist Amy Niang, lawyer Lionel Zevounou and Senegalese-based economist Dr. Ndongo Samba Sylla.
African leaders and the driving forces of the continent have been encouraged to join this initiative which aims to build a post-Covid-19 Africa with paradigms different from the postcolonial world in most cases engineered by Africa’s former colonial masters.
During an exclusive interview with Africa Watch from his office in Dakar, Dr. Sylla when asked “Why CORA?” responded: “We believe that if you want to transform the continent you have to have a multidisciplinary perspective. That means you have to have a holistic approach. That means the hard sciences, social science, history, philosophy, etcetera.”
He added, “That’s why we choose to have a number of axis that showed areas of expertise of the members of CORA.”
Reflecting on the April 2021 six day or “six webinar” launch of CORA, Dr. Sylla said, “If you look at the launch you will see that we made the first day the role of African intellectuals because most of us are intellectuals or academics. And the five following days of the program mirrored the axis work of CORA. We are creating working groups of those different axis.”
Dr. Sylla, whose co-authored book, “Africa’s Last Colonial Currency: The CFA Franc Story,” was just published in English, believes if Africa continues to “mimic the West” it’s going “to create more misery for our people.”
He said, even how the pandemic has been handled Africa cannot follow the West. In the open letter the collective considered when the pandemic started in Africa many African leaders “were tempted to mimic the West.” Dr. Sylla said, this “meant (to many of them) imposing harsh lockdowns and even brutalizing people.” Many images of these brutal crackdowns were displayed in mainstream media outlets around the globe.
The collective wrote the letter telling the heads of state “to govern with compassion,” explained Dr. Sylla. He said, the group understood that this was “a crisis but Africa is different because most of our people are in the informal (rural, underdeveloped) sector,” where there are very limited in resources, and have limited infrastructure.
He also said the pandemic has “revealed the deficiencies in Africa.” Dr. Sylla, honored this author with membership in CORA. “Until then there was this course about Africa rising, the next frontier of capitalism and so on, (including) a high rate of economic growth,” he said.
“For us the pandemic was putting an end to that nice rosy story, but without being based on any real foundation,” said Sylla former advisor to Senegalese President Adoulaya Wade.
“Another message was that this crisis is an opportunity for radical change, and now we are at the crossroad and in need for radical change in Africa,” Dr. Sylla continued. “Africa has to create its own development model, which will ensure its own self-sufficiency. Its own sovereignty over all domains.”
The open letter was published April 13, 2020 and CORA launched on April 12, 2021. There was a six-day launch which included a series of six webinars.
“The seminars were very successful. The first webinar (focused) on roles and responsibilities of African intellectuals. We had more than 600 people who were online,” said Dr. Sylla. “That was without making much noise in mainstream media, but through our contacts,” he added. The opening session featured the former first lady of Mali, Adame Ba Konare.
The second webinar focused on what Dr. Sylla called “global disorder.” The third webinar focused on Pan Africanism and all its ramifications. Participants included Lewis Ricardo Gordon, who works in area of Africana philosophy and is an expert on Franz Fanon and David Anthony III, a historian at the University of California at Santa Cruz. The fourth webinar was about economics and monetary sovereignty. The fifth webinar focused on how arts and culture could promote African transformation.
The next to the last webinar included Kenyan Nobel Prize in literature winner, the writer and college professor Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. Wa Thiong’o once said, “prison formed me as a writer.” Thiong’o is the country’s most celebrated poet and playwright who was jailed in Kenya for writing a play in Gĩkũyũ, his mother tongue, rather than in English.
The sixth and final webinar focused on the role of science and technology, and indigenous knowledge in African transformation. The keynote for this session was former president of Mauritius and renowned scientist Madame Ameena Gurib-Fakim.
The webinars are currently being edited and each session will include subtitles in French, English and Portuguese. Follow @JehronMuhammad on Twitter