By Victor Agi
Ubuntu, loosely translated as humanity, is a Bantu term among the Zulu speaking people in Southern African that encapsulated the African notion of existence which is the universal bond of sharing that connects humanity, irrespective of their origin. This was the identity of the African man and represented a sharp contrast from the Western philosophical foundation of “I-exist”, that is, the notion of individualism.
This ontological explanation of how the African man interrelates with his community is the basis for the philosophical belief of “we –existence” or ubuntu. It is a humanist ideology meaning: “I am, because, we are”; a belief in a universal bond sharing that connects all humanity, that is, humanity towards others.
The foregoing explications offer dual understanding of the traditional African man: he is a man that attributes his ‘beingness’ and achievements to the direct and indirect contributions of his neighbours and the community at large. The community has a moral obligation to empathise and sympathise with the “African man” towards the realization of individual and communal goal, hence, humanity is a quality we owe each other. The twin side of this belief is the commonality of interest on how the African man lives with each other; community dwellers all have vested interest in collective development of the community and how they relate with strangers alike because of common humanity.
The imperative of this background information is to present a clear picture of the extent of deviation and the mismatch that has now become of present-day African society in many respects.
Xenophobic attacks and sheer disregard for common humanity in many African countries have been a source of major concern. Before presenting instances of cases of xenophobic attacks in African countries that has resulted in a sharp shift in Africa’s ontological foundation to a system that is now alien, by every standard, certain imperatives must be pointed out in order to adequately understand where things began to fall apart.
One major imperative that the world has come to embrace for greater interconnectivity is globalization. Globalisation, in the simplest term is the economic, information, knowledge, socio-political, cultural, digital exchanges between countries of the world, which is primarily facilitated by developments in information technologies (internet), the consequent of which is today the “global family”.
The importance of globalisation to world trade/economies and peaceful exchange between countries, inter alia, cannot be overemphasized. However, one consequential impact of globalization in an heterogeneous global community is actual and perceived fear of cultural homogeneity. Cross cultural exchange or what is commonly known as transfer of culture between nations of the world must necessarily mean that the ‘weaker’ cultures suffer imposition and gradual extinction. Today, the popular belief is that the United States of America has become the police of the world, as it is held that it directly or indirectly dictates what others should think, believe and act.
While this may not be absolute, we cannot deny a fact that some dominant cultures among traditional Africa society have been lost to the forces of globalization, among which is the ubuntu philosophy.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) in their report of the World’s Unemployment and Social Outlook puts it that the 2018 unemployment rate in Africa is expected to be at the region of 7.2 percent, while the numbers of unemployed are projected to increase due to the region’s high level of labour force growth. Of great concern too, the report also notes that more than one in three workers is living in conditions of extreme poverty, while almost three out of four workers are in vulnerable employment. These conditions are expected to worsen if positive growth are not recorded in successive years.
“…we cannot deny a fact that some dominant cultures among traditional Africa society have been lost to the forces of globalization, among which is the ubuntu philosophy.”
The above submissions by ILO depict the unemployment scenarios in many African countries. In the two biggest economies in Africa (South Africa and Nigeria), the unemployment figures in the last quarter of 2018 were put at 27.1 % and 23.1% respectively according to expert figures, and this resonates in majority of African countries. It’s therefore a natural phenomenon and not surprising to see a surge in human movement between nations in Africa and beyond, where it is presumed that life’s expectancy will be relatively better.
When the pressure on the receiving nation becomes unbearable, is it possible that anything that defines humanity and the traditional African man will be jettisoned?
More so, the continent today is projected as the fastest growing in population. This mounts a significant pressure on available resources which in most cases cannot cater for indigenous habitat.
In a staggering 2015 UN population projection for African, the continent is projected to double its figure by the year 2050; from the current estimated figure of 1.2 billion to around 2.5 billion people, representing a growth of current 16% to 25% by 2050 as a result of inexorable population growth indicators.
The population boom which is not met by corresponding economic growth and development continues to put weight on the continent. The far-reaching implication of this uncontrolled population growth is that future generation of Africa will more than ever compete endlessly for survival amidst lean resources, or rather untapped human and natural resource. Whether this will change remains a quagmire that we will all get to know in years to come.
Lastly on this note is what many have considered as the fundamental issue of African underdevelopment; failed government. The continent has been most unfortunate in terms of its political leadership. Although it has been proven that the continent is well endowed and positioned to be the prosperity capital of the world, successive governments and seat tight leaders alike in Africa have failed to harness her rich heritages to better the lots of the masses. There is, largely, a leadership model and narrative that is inept and lack the foresights to redirect the abysmal failures of the continent.
Today, concerned by the continued and most embarrassing situation that has brought the continent under perpetual state of destitution in many regards, we have seen uprisings in some countries in Africa forcing a change in government. In Algeria, an ailing President, Abelaziz Bourteflika was only forced out of office after twenty years with really no tangible contribution to the per capital of a richly endowed country. A similar scenario played out days ago in Sudan where what began as an unrest over economic instability and stunted growth resulted in the toppling of Omar al-Bashir nearly thirty years rule by the military.
The recurrent explanation for these power thirsty shows across the continent as reported in BBC News is aptly captured in the words of Awad Ibn Auf, the defence minister of Sudan, who in a state broadcast attributed Bashir’s ouster to “poor management, corruption, and an absence of justice”. The vast of the population are largely cut off from the dividends of their common heritages, while clueless and selfish political office holders and their cronies feast on the collective endowment.
The above causative factors, among others, are responsible for the disappearance of the African value systems, which has resulted in many vices that are hitherto not known to the continent and betrayed the very essence of the African man and the very principles ubuntu.
Xenophobic attacks in South Africa have now become the new normal for a couple of years. There has been an upsurge of cases of lynching of other African nationals in the most despicable and inhumane fashion and clearly shows the heights of Africans’ cruelty to fellow Africans for reasons not unconnected to ethnic/national based discrimination and competition for available resources. Since the high-level xenophobic attack in 2008, South Africa has seen successful successive attacks against other African nationals, either as a result of continued local and regional governments’ negligence and their lack of political will to address the situation or the sheer resolve by these “unafrican” breeds to continue their irrational dislike and fear for people of other descent.
Also, in Ghana, there were also media reports of intolerance and discrimination against Nigerian traders at Kumasi market. This particular occurrence was unprecedented giving the role of ECOWAS in the region, especially the push for common currency and unilateral trade arrangement aimed at streamlining commercial activities in the region for greater productivity.
The aforementioned cases, in the estimation of some people, are only a microcosm of the scourge of inter-ethnic/interracial intolerance and/or xenophobia that characterized the new Africa, and indeed, the rest of humanity.
From earlier submissions, globalization which has resulted in the influx of cultures originally not known to the local people; increased unemployment rate that has left the largely “lazy” indigenous people in abject penury; population growth which has render greater number competing for infinitesimal opportunities, and then the ultimate failure of governments of these countries, all fuel these irrational fear and dislike for fellow human.
Unfortunately, this is our new Africa. Whether it is possible to regain the values and ideals of the African man remains an herculean task going by the current standard and scale of assimilation of outlandish and preposterous cultures.
What cannot be denied however is our common humanity. Insomuch that it’s justifiable to pressure Africa governments to fix the continent, and there is no gainsaying rhetoric in this regard to address fundamental problems ravaging the continent, the ultimate remedy lies with humanity; until Africans begin to see their brother as one of them, we have just begun the journey to this strange and new Africa that is doomed.
“…the ultimate remedy lies with humanity; until Africans begin to see their brother as one of them, we have just begun the journey to this strange and new Africa that is doomed.”
The writer, Victor Agi is an Abuja based Public Relations & Communication practitioner, a content developer and a researcher.