Value Exchange Africa - the Spirit of Ubuntu

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

Building 'one Africa' and uniting the plurality of peoples across the continent is a continuing ambition among Africans world wide. Although this is yet to be achieved, we ask the question: why does this desire still linger? Is it driven by the varied yet shared histories of oppression, manufactured division, and self-liberation? Or by the modern battle for social and economic equality? Is there, perhaps, a more positive uniting force beyond these shared struggles?


In answer, we draw upon 'Ubuntu.' An expression growing in exposure and reference that captures a positive uniting force being regenerated as a central pillar to Africa's renaissance.

Photo of Moroccan door in Marrakech by Thiebaud Faix

The word Ubuntu and its basis as a social philosophy can be summarized in the phrase “I am because of who we all are.”[1] The Zulu phrase “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu,” gives us a more complete understanding, translating to:[2]


I am because we are, since we are, therefore I am.”

Ubuntu as a philosophy describes social and human ethics.[3] It can be used to define the moral character of a person,[4] such that a person’s actions are determined to be right or wrong based on how it affects community.[5] Ubuntu raises the collective human existence, or the common good, to a virtue. It then places the individual person at the centre of all relationships[6] as the agent to achieve this virtue. The inter-connectivity Ubuntu creates between the individual and the world around them brings into play a spiritual dimension that cannot be ignored. The inherent oneness of the person, of peoples and the environment is a reflection of a shared spiritual connectivity.


The philosophy of Ubuntu was popularized in South Africa as the country’s antidote to the horrors of apartheid.[7] This sat alongside many other social programs to promote balance, equity, and justice in the country. However, long before these events, the philosophy was an underlying force throughout the continent of Africa.


In fact the specific Ubuntu reference can be found in numerous Sub-Saharan cultures beyond the Zulu peoples, for example: 'umundu' (in Kikuyu, Kenya), 'umuntu' (in Kimeru, Kenya), 'bumuntu' (in kiSukuma and kiHaya, Tanzania), 'vumuntu' (in shiTsonga and shiTswa, Mozambique), 'bomoto' (in Bobangi, Democratic Republic of Congo), and 'gimuntu' (in kiKongo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in giKwese, Angola).[8] Ubuntu as a term is therefore an iteration of an underlying belief system spanning the entire continent.


The spirit of community and balance behind Ubuntu extends beyond one region, and is a universal force that underpins human existence.

With no knowledge of the Ubuntu spirit in African social culture, European colonizers misjudged the ability of African peoples to share land and common resources, dooming any shared use with the phrase ‘tragedy of the commons.’ Yet before Europeans arrived, there existed flourishing pastoral and agricultural African societies. Within them, each community member understood the impact their actions and use of resources had on the wider society. Maintaining balance with one’s surroundings was innate to the way of life in many African societies.


In contrast, the Western solution to the ‘tragedy of the commons’ - Capitalism - developed into a resource extraction and depletion vehicle. Sustainability only became relevant if there was a market for such behaviour, or the activity was regulated. Balance was no longer a way of life. It was merely left to chance or left for the State to enforce.


The Ubuntu philosophy provides an unexplored global solution to the theory of social relations. Unlike Communism, it does not lessen the individual in service of the community; where the State dictates the common good and removes the individual as the agent to achieve it. On the other hand, Ubuntu is unlike Capitalism, which ignores or reduces the common good in service of the individual.


Capitalism, the most prevalent social theory today, has shown its weaknesses many times over. Disregarding the common good has created societies in which millions suffer from environmental pollution, chronic financial losses, inadequate medical care, and other socio-economic ills in order to sustain the financial gain of a few. Where the two leading Western social philosophies have failed opens an opportunity for a different approach. Ubuntu promotes individual benefit from the common good while recognizing each individual’s responsibility towards it.


African proverbs such as “it takes a village to raise a child,” are lived expressions of Ubuntu.[9] Every member of the village community forms an individual and joint responsibility to help raise the children of the village. Taking up the responsibility promotes the intrinsic and extrinsic value in nurturing the lives of young persons in society. The exchange is circular in nature. Each respective family unit receives and returns the benefit of nurturing the young[10] within the spirit of the common good and communal responsibility.


As such, Ubuntu demonstrates a social synthesis between person, community and the environment; and in this way Ubuntu is Africa’s internal and global view of societal relations.[11]


Photo by Rafael Freire

Hosted in Africa (HiA), introduces an open collaborative space that encourages a communal responsibility to restore the African commons. HiA is aware that Africa, and its diaspora as a whole, embodies a diversity of African peoples. In spite of this, we recognise that our shared space allows these diverse peoples to recreate the value exchange that once existed between diverse African groups of the past. Value exchange that was once based on the trade of palm oil, textiles, art, and gold can be reborn today and channeled through technological, industrial, corporate, and cultural exchanges.


HiA embodies the communal philosophy of Ubuntu that binds the continent physically, spiritually, culturally, and economically. It is a place to illuminate unique efforts and brilliance from across Africa and its diaspora. True to the spirit of Ubuntu, the space shall encourage authentic individual and collective creativity, in a value exchange arena, that aims to positively impact the wider society.


We call on, and welcome you to help renew the continent within the authentic African spirit of Ubuntu that drives Hosted in Africa.

[1] Mugumbate, J., 2013, ‘Exploring African Philosophy: The Value of Ubuntu in Social Work’, African Journal of Social Work, Volume 3, Number 1, <https://www.ajol.info/index.php/ajsw/article/download/127543/117068>, Page 83. [2] Manyonganise, M., 2015, ‘Oppressive and liberative: A Zimbabwean woman’s reflections on ubuntu’, Verbum et Ecclesia, Volume 36, Number 2, Article 1438, <https://verbumetecclesia.org.za/index.php/VE/article/view/1438>, Page 1. [3] Mugumbate, J., 2013, ‘Exploring African Philosophy: The Value of Ubuntu in Social Work’, African Journal of Social Work, Volume 3, Number 1, <https://www.ajol.info/index.php/ajsw/article/download/127543/117068>, Page 84. Manyonganise, M., 2015, ‘Oppressive and liberative: A Zimbabwean woman’s reflections on ubuntu’, Verbum et Ecclesia, Volume 36, Number 2, Article 1438, <https://verbumetecclesia.org.za/index.php/VE/article/view/1438>, Page 1. Gade C.B.N., 2012, ‘What is Ubuntu? Different Interpretations among South Africans of African Descent’, South African Journal of Philosophy, Volume 31, Issue 3, <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02580136.2012.10751789>, Page 492. [4] Gade C.B.N., 2012, ‘What is Ubuntu? Different Interpretations among South Africans of African Descent’, South African Journal of Philosophy, Volume 31, Issue 3, <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02580136.2012.10751789>, Page 488 – 489. [5] Manyonganise, M., 2015, ‘Oppressive and liberative: A Zimbabwean woman’s reflections on ubuntu’, Verbum et Ecclesia, Volume 36, Number 2, Article 1438, <https://verbumetecclesia.org.za/index.php/VE/article/view/1438>, Page 1. [6] ibid. [7] Gade C.B.N., 2012, ‘What is Ubuntu? Different Interpretations among South Africans of African Descent’, South African Journal of Philosophy, Volume 31, Issue 3, <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02580136.2012.10751789>, Page 485. Mugumbate, J., 2013, ‘Exploring African Philosophy: The Value of Ubuntu in Social Work’, African Journal of Social Work, Volume 3, Number 1, <https://www.ajol.info/index.php/ajsw/article/download/127543/117068>, Page 83. [8] Gade C.B.N., 2012, ‘What is Ubuntu? Different Interpretations among South Africans of African Descent’, South African Journal of Philosophy, Volume 31, Issue 3, <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02580136.2012.10751789>, Page 486.

[9] Mugumbate, J., 2013, ‘Exploring African Philosophy: The Value of Ubuntu in Social Work’, African Journal of Social Work, Volume 3, Number 1, <https://www.ajol.info/index.php/ajsw/article/download/127543/117068>, Page 95. [10] ibid. [11] Mugumbate, J., 2013, ‘Exploring African Philosophy: The Value of Ubuntu in Social Work’, African Journal of Social Work, Volume 3, Number 1, <https://www.ajol.info/index.php/ajsw/article/download/127543/117068>, Page 84.

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