Ubuntu Philosophy: An Old Solution for Contemporary Problems

Source: 12 November 2018Analysis and Comment

An appeal to the African governments in general and the Zimbabwean government in particular as well as the politicians, rich, professionals and ordinary citizens to change the way they think, act and feel so as to make the life of the rural people less bad and at least human.


One of the shocking, disappointing and puzzling paradoxes on the discourse of development in Africa is that many if not all African states benefited from economic growth in past three decades but yet the majority of the population who resides in rural areas are trapped in a vicious unbreakable cycle of poverty. Michael Lipton in the 1990s wrote that in this current modern world the greatest decision is not between capitalist and communist, black and white, or even the global north and the global south, but rather the real division exist within the developing countries themselves s evidenced by the dichotomy between urban areas and rural areas. Lipton s assertion gains credence if one is to have a close look on the increased accumulation of wealth, technological advancements, employment opportunities, developed educational institutions on one part of the developing countries which is the urban areas and the increased malnutrition, hunger, illiteracy, poverty, disease and high infant mortality on the other part of the country which is the peripheral rural areas. Consequentially this scenario has entirely divorced the rural sector from its urban counterpart. A plethora of reasons have been put forward by development practitioners, donor agency, governments, economist on the causes of rural poverty, suffering and human decency. Reasons of corruption by government officials as they embezzle funds meant for rural development for their own personal enrichment, failed agriculture and even blaming the rural people as the cause for their own poverty. Much of the literature has focused on the causes rather than the prescriptions which are to be done to eradicate poverty and spear head development in rural areas. The writers of this paper assert that the diagnosis of the rural problems has been correct but what has been wrong is the prescriptions and the writers argue that if governments and individuals are to solve the problems of the rural people there is urgent need to revitalize the philosophy of Ubuntu in African states in general and Zimbabwe in particular.

What is Ubuntu Philosophy

The word Ubuntu is derived from a Nguni (isiZulu) aphorism: Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu, which can be translated as “a person is a person because of or through others”. Ubuntu can be described as the capacity in an African culture to express compassion, reciprocity, dignity, humanity and mutuality in the interests of building and maintaining communities with justice and mutual caring. The Ubuntu application is pervasive in almost all parts of the African continent. Hence, the Ubuntu philosophy is integrated into all aspects of day-to-day life throughout Africa and is a concept shared by all tribes in Southern, Central, West and East Africa amongst people of Bantu origin. The application of the Ubuntu philosophy optimises the indigenous setting of an African organisation. The Ubuntu philosophy believes in group solidarity, which is central to the survival of African communities, an African is not a rugged individual, but a person living within a community. In a hostile environment, it is only through such community solidarity that hunger, isolation, deprivation, poverty and any emerging challenges can be survived, because of the community’s brotherly and sisterly concern, cooperation, care, and sharing. Practising the Ubuntu philosophy unlocks the capacity of an African culture in which individuals express compassion, reciprocity, dignity, humanity and mutuality in the interests of building and maintaining communities with justice and communalities . Respect and love amongst the community members play an important role in an African framework. The African view of personhood rejects the notion that a person can be identified in terms of physical and psychological features. Ubuntu is the basis of African communal cultural life. It expresses the interconnectedness, common humanity and the responsibility of individuals to each other. The above descriptions of the Ubuntu philosophy bring to light that an African society is, in general, humanist, community-based and socialist in nature. The Ubuntu philosophy therefore underpins any grouping within an African society. Such groupings include formal organisations that operate within local communities. Thus, the African Ubuntu philosophy can play a significant role in helping rural communities in Africa to develop and escape from poverty.

Ubuntu as an old solution for contemporary problems hindering rural development and causing rural suffering.

Ubuntu and Corruption
The African leaders, government officials and individuals are well known for their proclivity towards corruption. In this current world, scarcely would a day pass without a news report on corruption. Although corruption is a universal concept found all over the word one cannot argue that it is more common in Africa and the quagmire is acting as a the greatest hurdle hindering socio economic advancement in rural areas. Cases of money meant for the agricultural sector , development of rural infrastructure and technological transfer being embezzled by government officials has become a norm rather than an exception in Africa and Zimbabwe is by no means and exception. In Zimbabwe, corruption is pervasive in both the public and private sector and it has provoked a series of criticisms from individuals, government and opposition parties. If corruption is to be solved in Zimbabwe and Africa by large, there is need to integrate the Ubuntu philosophy in governance. The Ubuntu philosophy is hinged on the principle of putting the community first before any personal interests can be pursued. The community is more important than an individual under the Ubuntu philosophy. This in turn means that before anyone thinks of practising corruption for his/her personal gains his / her conscience will tell him/her to serve the community first.

Ubuntu and individualism
The extremes of rural poverty African states are outrage. Poverty has been increased by the fact that these poor people in rural areas have no one to help them. Prior to colonisation, African communities were well known for helping each other and sharing burden of one another but when African communities had contact with the colonialists, this aspect of sharing, compassion embedded in the philosophy of Ubuntu was quickly evaporated and a new seed of individualism which is by all means un African was sown and cultivated within the communities and hearts of people. Now days instead of the rich urbanites to help their rural counterparts they instead mock them and refer them as “vanhu veku roots”, those from the bush. The hunger and starvation in rural areas is not because of famines but it is because of moral failure on the part of the government and the rich people as well as political elites when they fail to distribute food where it is needed. Instead food has become a political weapon used by politicians to win votes during elections as they lure the already starving and desperate rural electorate to their political side. This is a clear indication to the fact that African leaders and politician are so fluttered and obsessed with political power to the extent that they have abandoned “developmental politics” in pursuit for “politics of the belly” for selfish reasons. It is quite disappointing to note that those in urban areas are consuming more than what their bodies require while their rural counterparts barely put anything in their mouth. This perception of rural flock is dimwits who need a little dosage of urban wisdom is a preconceived western driven school of thought that is erroneous and directly contradicts the basic foundational principle in which the Ubuntu philosophy was built, which is the principle of mutual respect, caring, empathy and brotherhood. This article is therefore an appeal for the outsiders, those who stay in urban areas, the rich people to do more and help the rural poor. While it is not wrong for one to argue that the rural people should help themselves, it should be bore in mind that they are trapped with their wings clipped and therefore the responsibility lays on the outsiders, who are rich and stay outside rural perimeters. These outsiders are highly educated, eat more than what their bodies require, drive personal cars, attend classy private hospitals and schools yet their counterparts are heavily deprived of everything that makes a standard if not just a living. The writers are writing in the hope that these outsiders will get hold of this article and collectively, being driven by the Ubuntu philosophy, channel their resources towards helping their fellow rural counterparts to attain sustainable livelihoods.

Ubuntu and inequitable distribution of wealth and inequitable development
It has been widely acknowledged and agreed by many that rural areas did not and are not benefiting from globalisation and economic growth. The rural people have been victims of injustice, discrimination and unfairness in the hands of politicians and the government. The African governments being influenced by urban bias and non developmental politics they have been for a long time neglecting the rural poor and all developmental efforts are being directed to the urban areas while the rural people continue languishing in a vicious cycle of poverty and suffering. Although the national constitution posits that there should be an equitable development for all regions, the writers of this article opine that this has remained a lip service as there is a dramatic disjuncture between legal theory and actual political practice. What is perhaps surprising is that those rural people being neglected are fellow black Zimbabweans. African rulers inherited colonial ways of administration in which development was focused on urban areas at the expense of fellow rural people. Political systems are suffering from high levels of moral decency because they are used to exploit the weak and the poor. Ironically, the rural areas are endowed with stupendous resources yet they are the most underdeveloped regions.

What is the reason for the economic marginalisation and impoverishment of the rural people? It is indeed not a misnomer for the authors of this article to assert that, the answer to the question is because economic decisions and policies that directly affect them are made and formulated in large urban areas by greedy and corrupt political elites who make sure that policies facilitate the siphoning of wealth, literally form their feet of the rural people. The ruthless siphoning of minerals, diamonds in particular at Chiadzwa, Marange regions for urban development at the expense of the legitimate supposed beneficiaries which are the people of Marange is by no means untypical for all African countries and rural regions within them. These acts are a directly contravenes the fundamental principle in which the philosophy of Ubuntu was built upon, that principle of reciprocity and economic solidarity. Leaving behind the rural people from the developmental train is un African. True Africans bound by the Ubuntu Philosophy empathy and sympathy for fellow Africans who are suffering in rural areas and in turn wish them to also have a share of the developmental cake. The problem is clear, Africa has suffered lack of altruistic Ubuntu driven leaders committed to the welfare of their fellow black rural citizens and the solution lays in the Ubuntu philosophy itself, There is need for the Africa to breed new leaders who are committed to the welfare of the people and who are enlightened on the Ubuntu philosophy if one is to expect genuine development in the rural areas.


Underscored from this article is the assertion that the problems facing the rural people in the rubric of poverty and underdevelopment has been caused a result of denial and abandonment of the African Philosophy of Ubuntu. To this end the article is not an attack on the African governments, the rich and the politicians, nor are the writers being apologetic for asserting that the government by large has been failing to usher out development in the rural areas because the onus for rural development by large lies in the hands of the government. But the article is an appeal to the government, professionals, rich people and all African citizens to mainstream Ubuntu philosophy in all their human endeavours and government branches as they collectively channel available resources towards eliminating poverty and human suffering in rural areas which have reduces the rural people to beggars and paupers in their own countries. To do so, African leaders and citizens should embrace a continental ethic of Ubuntu which promote universal of love, caring, sharing, solidarity, reciprocity, compassion and tolerance before material, personal gains. Therefore, if properly implemented the Ubuntu Philosophy will act as an ancient solution for contemporary rural problems.

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Source: Emanuel and Courage Kusemwa