What is Ubuntu?

Africa Ubuntu Shirt

TO BELIEVE IN FREEDOM contradicts the core values of Ubuntu? That’s what one of my friends on Facebook said this week.

What is Ubuntu? Does Ubuntu mean allowing every aspect of our lives to be controlled by the political elite? It’s a very important question.

No-one is against Ubuntu, Milton Friedman was not, nor is Themba Nolutshungu. Friedman encouraged people to be charitable and loving as much as they possibly can. What he was against though, was the idea that Ubuntu should be enforced by politicians. In other words, he believed that Ubuntu should be voluntary and out of one’s heart, nobody else.

As much as he thought charity and love was good for the progress of the society, he did not have powers to force people to do what he believed was right. Who was he to dictate what people should do with their freedom?

In Africa, the concept of Ubuntu (enforced by politicians), which is what the gentleman on Facebook referred to this week, has produced devastating results.

African history shows that, like many other parts of the world, to give ernomious powers to politicians who are expected to “work for the public good”, is similar to, “throwing our freedom away”.

They fail to see themselves as protector of our rights; rather, they see themselves as grantor of our rights – which is wrong. That’s not how it should be.

And because this is the case, gays are publicly shunned, humiliated and killed; women marginalized; tribalist rule; kids are sent to child marriages and to fight wars.

Shockingly, when you do the polling, you find that many people, the public, approves of these despicable acts. They believe they are done for the “public good”- which means that “individual freedom” – freedom to choose your partner, freedom to trade with whomever you want, freedom to choose your religion, is of less significance.

In that situation, when actions are taken for the “public good” and for the community at the expense of “individual freedom”, who suffers the most?

Adolf Hitler addresses a rally in 1930s. In his speech, he speaks of justice for the community. (Photo: Skepticism.org)
Adolf Hitler addresses a rally in 1930s. In his speech, he speaks of justice for the community. (Photo: Skepticism.org)

When a woman is stoned to death in West Africa, in broad day light, in front of the chanting crowds, just because she committed adultery, is that fine? It’s for the “public good”. The community demands it. So according to the gentleman on Facebook it’s the way to go. But how can you say that? Where do you get the courage to say that “individual freedom” should be abrogated for what is best for the public?

That, which we do collectively, for example through government, does not mean that it is moral. The public, the community, was behind Adolf Hitler when he committed one of the worst human rights violations of the 20th century. It was behind the South African regime when it discriminated against blacks for decades. As we speak, some public members are behind ISIS as it commits atrocities in the name of a religion.

The point here, is that “individual freedom” comes first, not what is good for the community or Pan Africanism. Only and only if, that “individual freedom” does not impact the third party without his consent.

The moment you depart from this thinking, the outcomes will be dire. Look at Africa. Post-colonial rule, we took our freedom and handed it over to the black political elite, because we thought that they would enforce Ubuntu. Well, they didn’t, at least evidence shows.

I can’t remember a single public official in Africa who embraced Ubuntu and executed his mandate as such. Perhaps Mandela tried. Robert Mugabe didn’t, in Mozambique they didn’t, in South Africa, after Mandela, they didn’t too.

I really can’t. It’s all just a dream that we Africans have failed repeatedly to make come true. Yet we so much like associating ourselves with it.

Ubuntu is on the eye of the beholder. Because it is so, I don’t believe anyone has an ability to fairly legislate it. The moment you try to do so, the net-effect will be negative.

“Individual freedom” is more vital than “what is good for the public”. We need to accept this fact, because evidence proves it true. That is the only way we can become a better society. I don’t think there is any other. I just wonder if we Africans will ever wake up from sleeping, and face up to reality.