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Ubuntu. Humanity towards others

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

Yesterday, I had a meeting with empowered and brave Kenyan colleague Sarah, about the importance of the community in Africa. She argued that the community is everything.

Today, I would like to reflect on the community and the influence of Ubuntu in Africa.

"Ubuntu" is a term that originated from the Bantu languages of southern Africa and is used to describe a concept that is central to many African cultures. It can be translated as "humanity towards others" or "I am because we are" and refers to the idea that a person's humanity is defined by their relationships with others.

In essence, Ubuntu emphasizes the interconnectedness of all people and the importance of community, mutual respect, and empathy. It is a philosophy that emphasizes the value of human relationships, recognizing that every person has inherent dignity and worth, and that this should be respected and honored in all interactions.

It is often associated with African communalism, which is a social system that emphasizes the importance of shared responsibility, collective decision-making, and mutual support. It is a way of life that emphasizes the importance of treating others with compassion, kindness, and respect.

Today, the concept of Ubuntu is increasingly recognized and embraced in other parts of the world as a powerful tool for promoting social cohesion, empathy, and compassion. In the computing world, it is also the name of a popular open-source operating system that was developed with the philosophy of Ubuntu in mind, emphasizing the importance of community collaboration and mutual support.

The concept of "community" is an integral part of African culture and is often understood in a collective sense, emphasizing the importance of group cohesion, collaboration, and mutual support. In African societies, the community is more than just a group of individuals living in the same geographical area; it is a social entity that is built around shared values, customs, and traditions.

In African communities, individuals are expected to prioritize the needs of the group over their individual desires, and decision-making is often made through a process of consensus-building that involves the entire community. Communities are also responsible for taking care of their members, particularly the vulnerable, such as the elderly, sick, or disabled.

In addition to providing social support, communities in Africa also play a significant role in economic development, particularly in rural areas, where communal farming and other cooperative economic activities are common. Thus, in African culture, the concept of community extends beyond just a social construct and is intertwined with other aspects of life, including economic and political systems.

Ubuntu and community are closely related concepts, as Ubuntu is essentially a philosophy that emphasizes the interconnectedness and interdependence of people, and the importance of community in shaping a person's identity and sense of self.

In African culture, the concept of Ubuntu is closely linked to the idea of community, with the belief that a person's identity and well-being are deeply connected to their relationships with others. Thus, Ubuntu emphasizes the importance of communal values such as compassion, empathy, respect, and cooperation, which are seen as essential for creating strong, supportive communities.

The Ubuntu philosophy encourages people to recognize their shared humanity and to see themselves as part of a larger whole, rather than as isolated individuals. This, in turn, promotes a sense of social responsibility, encouraging people to work together for the common good, and to support one another in times of need.

Thus, Ubuntu and community are closely intertwined, with Ubuntu providing a philosophical framework for understanding the importance of community in promoting human flourishing and well-being.

The concept of community in Europe differs from Ubuntu and community in Africa in several ways. In Europe, community is often seen as a group of individuals who share common interests or live in the same geographic area, rather than a social entity built around shared values, customs, and traditions. In contrast, Ubuntu emphasizes the importance of community as a way of life, with communal values and practices that promote social cohesion and mutual support.

In Europe, individualism is often emphasized over collectivism, with an emphasis on individual autonomy, independence, and self-reliance. This stands in contrast to Ubuntu, which emphasizes the interconnectedness of all people and the importance of communal values such as compassion, empathy, and cooperation.

Overall, while there may be some similarities between the concept of community in Europe and Ubuntu in Africa, the two differ significantly in terms of their emphasis on collectivism versus individualism, the importance of communal values and traditions, and the role of cultural heritage in shaping communal identity.

In essence, Ubuntu and community reflect a way of life that emphasizes the importance of human relationships and social connections in shaping our identity, sense of self, and well-being. These values remain deeply rooted in African culture and continue to shape the lives of millions of people across the continent today.

Here are some books related to the Ubuntu philosophy that you may find interesting:

  1. "Ubuntu: Curating the Archive" edited by M. Kriger and R. van Wyk - This book explores the history and cultural significance of Ubuntu, drawing on archival material and contemporary artworks to shed light on the philosophy's relevance in contemporary society.

  2. "Ubuntu: I in You and You in Me" by John Mbiti - This book offers a philosophical exploration of the Ubuntu concept, drawing on African proverbs, stories, and oral traditions to illustrate the importance of community and interconnectedness in African culture.

  3. "The Ubuntu Approach to Peaceful Coexistence" by Jonathan Jansen - This book explores the role of Ubuntu in promoting social cohesion and peaceful coexistence, drawing on case studies from South Africa and other African countries.

  4. "The Sacred Wisdom of Ubuntu" by Michael Tellinger - This book explores the spiritual and metaphysical dimensions of Ubuntu, drawing on ancient African traditions and modern scientific discoveries to offer a holistic perspective on the philosophy.

  5. "Ubuntu: The Spirit of African Transformation Management" by M. Makhene - This book explores the practical applications of Ubuntu in business and management, drawing on case studies from successful African businesses and organizations.

These books offer a diverse range of perspectives on the Ubuntu philosophy, exploring its historical and cultural significance, its practical applications in contemporary society, and its spiritual and metaphysical dimensions.

Curator Montse Domínguez i Munllonch

Pic by IG ianmachariaphotography

Sources :

  1. Ekeh, P. P. (1975). Colonialism and the two publics in Africa: A theoretical statement. Comparative studies in society and history, 17(1), 91-112.

  2. Gyekye, K. (1997). Tradition and modernity: Philosophical reflections on the African experience. Oxford University Press.

  3. Jansen, J. (2012). Ubuntu: The Heart of African Renaissance. Jacana Media.

  4. Kriger, M. & van Wyk, R. (2017). Ubuntu: Curating the Archive. Wits University Press.

  5. Makhene, M. (2017). Ubuntu: The Spirit of African Transformation Management. African Minds.

  6. Mamdani, M. (1996). Citizen and subject: Contemporary Africa and the legacy of late colonialism. Princeton University Press.

  7. Mbiti, J. (2001). African Religions and Philosophy (2nd ed.). Heinemann.

  8. Mbiti, J. S. (1990). African religions and philosophy (2nd ed.). Heinemann.

  9. Njoku, J. T. (2010). The history of Africa: The quest for eternal harmony.

  10. Tellinger, M. (2012). The Sacred Wisdom of the Ubuntu. Zulu Planet Publishers.


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