Ubuntu—The Cardinal African Value To Solve Our Problems As Ethiopians
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Ubuntu—The Cardinal African Value To Solve Our Problems As Ethiopians

By Tsegai Berhane (PhD)Tigrai Online, Ethiopian News, August 14, 2016

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As an Ethiopian, I am very much saddened by the unrest unfolding in my beloved country. It is really sad to see a brother killing a brother blinded by rage and hatred which is very unprecedented in my beloved country. I always believe that Ethiopia belongs to every one of us (irrespective of our ethnicity) living in it and who feel he belongs to it. No ethnic group has a special birth mark to be more Ethiopian than the other. No way! Gone are the days where one can be entitled to special privileges. If there are any perceptions or practices of inequality we need to sit down and discuss it through a very civilsed manner/civiliased discourses in line to the spirit of Ubuntu and the Constitutional framework put in place. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying everything is rosey in Ethiopia. No way! It is an open secret that corruption, bad governance and you just name it, is rampant in our country. However, what I would like to interrogate is the way we handle this open secret. Again it is my firm belief that the only way to resolve these problems is through civilized discourses in line to the spirt of ingenious African philosophy (Ubuntu) and the Constitutional framework in place.      

Ubuntu is an indigenous African philosophy based on the assumption that “I am because of you.” Unlike the Western philosophy which is based on the assumption that “I am because I think.” Ubuntu is anchored on humanity, caring for your sisters and brothers, underlying the idea of I am my brother’s keeper. Unlike the Western moral idea of social Darwinism—comptetion and win-lose conceptions.

Ubuntu is a spiritual ideal, a way of life that is conceptually represented in a wide range of sub-Saharan African societies. While Ubuntu exists in many variations within different African cultures and languages, each conceptualization retains the same core of meaning that is both a goal and a guide for humanity. The representation across widespread African cultures, unified by a common message represents a duality that is in itself the foundation of Ubuntu (Claire E. Oppenheim, 2012). 

Some argue that the word Ubuntu comes from the Xhosa/Zulu culture, the community into which Nelson Mandela was born, and has been summarized in the phrase Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu in the Nguni language of Xhosa, Zulu, or Ndebele. The concept of this phrase can be translated to mean A person is a person through other persons or I am because we are. (Ibid). 

Mandela touches upon the multi-faceted nature of Ubuntu, as well as the way one feels Ubuntu as an innate duty to support one‘s fellow man. People should enrich themselves, meaning grow in their own Ubuntu, but true enrichment will naturally align with the duty to act towards the spiritual growth of one‘s community. Mandela found that the power of Ubuntu, the inner core of every person‘s humanity, could move mountains (Ibid).

Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1999) offered a definition of Ubuntu as; 

A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from 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.

With regard to Ubuntu Tutu (2008) further explained;

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.

I strongly believe, as Ethiopians; regardless of our faith, political view, ethnicity, and gender; our destiny as one humanity is intricately woven together. As Sharmin Ahmed writes, “…, humanity is like a spider web. If you break one strand, you destroy the whole.” I also believe being an Ethiopian is like a spider web too. If we break one strand, that is, if an Ethiopian brother kills another Ethiopian brother or an Ethiopian sister kills another Ethiopian sister, or breaks the social fabric built for many, many … centuries by our forefathers’; we are destroying the whole essence of Ethiopianess. After all, the whole essence of Ethiopianess lies in the safety and security of all its citizens irrespective of their religion, political view, ethnicity and in which part of Ethiopia they live.  

Hence, as Ethiopians we need to develop a greater knowledge and tolerance of the people of different ethnicity, political views and faiths.  Whether we may like it or not, as human beings we all share the same origin; we are the children of Adam and Eve. As a human race, we all carry within us the same potentials, either to be constructive or destructive, or a mix of both. Thus, we need to sit down and settle whatever problems we have through a very civilsed dialogue in the spirt of Ubuntu and the Constitutional framework in place. If not, we will all end up being losers. I do not think there will be a winner. Of course, only those forces who do not want to see a greater, prosperous and stable Ethiopia will be the winners. I plead to all my compatriots and the government to give a chance to humanity, constitutionalism and democracy to win.

Tsegai Berhane (PhD)
Mekelle University, School of Law
Currently Post-Doc Fellow at UNISA
Pretoria, S. Africa

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