Friday, October 13, 2006

Common Humanity in African Leadership

I am preparing a paper on emerging African approaches to humane leadership as well as finalizing the itinerary for an up-coming trip to South Africa, and thus have been thinking about the promise that a humane approach to leadership (such as the African philosophy of Ubuntu) holds for the re-building of the continent.

Louw (2003) explains the basic premise of ubuntu: “Ubuntu serves as the spiritual foundation of African societies. It is a unifying vision or world view enshrined in the Zulu maxim 'umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu', i.e. ‘a person is a person through other persons’.” The birth of the new democratic nation of South Africa opens the door for a rediscovery of the possibilities of a humane approach to leadership. Maphisa (2004), writing on the eve of the birth of the new democracy says: “South Africans are slowly re-discovering their common humanity. Gone are the days when people were stripped of their dignity (ubuntu) through harsh laws. Gone are the days when people had to use ubulwane [i.e. animal like behaviour] to uphold or reinforce those laws. I suggest that the transformation of an apartheid South Africa into a democracy is a re-discovery of ubuntu”.

There is a similar approach in Paul's letter to the Phillipians (2:2-3) that is rooted in a mimetic devotion of Jesus as the Son of God. He writes: "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Further Reading:
Louw, D J 2003. Ubuntu: An African Assessment of the Religious Other. Unpublished paper: University of the North.
Maphisa, Sisho. 1994. Man in constant search of Ubuntu: a dramatist's obsession. Pretoria: Ubuntu School of Philosophy.