What is Ubuntu?

UbuntuA cursory look at our global society aptly reveals that beyond the glitz and glamour of lights and colours, fancy automobiles and trendy gadgets, we are sick from within. I call this “soul sickness”. This soul sickness manifests in hatred, callousness, torture, killings, war and the totality of gross violations of human dignity that we witness among and around us.

For us as Africans, our unquestioning attraction to the meretricious values of the foreigners at the expense our salient values, values that used to define us, has led us to the point of damnation that we are. What Y. B. Keats wrote in 1919 remains a compelling reality today as “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;” and “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

In Nigeria of today, under the watchful eyes of our unruly rulers, our days are dangerous and our nights are nightmarish. There is plenty, yet there is want; we are rich as a country; yet we are wretched as a people.

When I look at how our politicians fight, how they bomb their opponents’ offices, how verbal attacks have become physical attacks, how the young generation only believes that money alone matters and values are antiquated, my heart aches as I wonder what the future holds in store for our beleaguered people. I soon came to the realization that saving today and tomorrow rests on the concept of “ubuntu”. What is “ubuntu”?

Mbuntu is a concept in Bantu languages and it is common in the Eastern, Central and Southern Africa. It is a human-oriented conception of peace that is found in many African cultures. It has six components through which it engenders peace at the individual, familial, local/societal, national, regional and global domains.

Ubuntu, an uneasy concept to define, is construed by Jannie Malan as meaning, “Every single human being only becomes a true human being by means of relationship with other beings”. It encompasses the philosophy of one for all, all for one.

The anti-apartheid cleric, Desmond Tutu, broadens our horizons on how “ubuntu” means being human and sharing what we have. With reference to others, Tutu said that “Ubuntu” means “my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in theirs, we belong to a bundle of life. We say, ‘a person is a person through other people’ (In Xhosa Ubuntu ungamntu ngabanye abantu and in Zulu Umuntu ngumuntu ngabanye). I am human because I belong, I participate, I share.

“A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able; for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes with knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than whom they are.”

The essence of “ubuntu”, as Prof. David Francis of the University of Bradford further tells us, “is to promote a culture of peace, tolerance, peaceful co-existence and mutual development”. He notes that it embraces the notion of acknowledgement of guilt, showing of remorse and repentance by the perpetrator of injustice, asking for and receiving forgiveness, and paying compensation or reparation as a prelude for reconciliation and peaceful co-existence.

If education is to serve any purpose, it is to serve the purpose of “ubuntu”. If Nigerian leaders were educated in the true sense of the word, they would appreciate that the Government needs the opposition to be kept on its toes so that it would not derail from the path of pursing public good. If Nigerian leaders were to have proper education, they would know that the opposition too needs Government because without Government, there wouldn’t be any entity to oppose and challenge.

We live for one another and without the other, we cease to exist. Live ubuntu; live and let live.