Monday, August 27, 2007

THE FATE OF AFRICA

This weekend I had the opportunity of hosting a friend from Zambia and we had some interesting discussions about Africa and the leadership crisis that we have. Our conversations centered around a book my friend is reading whose title is the heading for this post. Apparently this book is written by Martin Meredith, a journalist who started his career in post independent Zambia and first worked as a corespondent for the Times of Zambia.

We were basically revisiting our roots as a Continent through the eyes of our founding fathers like Dr. Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah and the rest who fought for an independent Africa. My friend took an interesting slant to the transformation of African Leadership and Africans as a people. He sited the philosophy of Ujamaa as a viable option for social and economic change. Dr. Julius Nyerere was the architect of this philosophy and summarized his rationale in the famous Arusha declaration.

"Ujamaa comes from the Swahili word for "extended family" or "familyhood" and is distinguished by several key characteristics, namely that a person becomes a person through the people or community. For Nyerere, an African "extended family" means that every individual is in the service of the community.[1] Thus, Ujamaa is characterized by a community where co-operation and collective advancement are the rationale of every individual's existence. According to Ujamaa, personal acquisitiveness is prohibited, thus allowing the distribution of wealth through society horizontally rather than vertically."

While recognizing that this philosophy certainly had its flaws the premise was good. We both subscribe to the notion that there can be no economic and social change unless we revisit our African roots. At the core of our culture is a sense of community that we're quickly losing as a result of our desire to be like the west. While we do subscribe to the fact that there are valid advantages to capitalism and the mind set it advocates, we are quick to point out that community should be at the heart of the development of any economy and people. Capitalism stresses the need for individual success; " Each man for himself and God for us all" kind of mentality while "Ujamaa" advocates for national and individual progress through the context of community.

What do you think about the concept of Ujamma and the contrasting vertical distribution of weath that seems to be the driving force of today's economies? Please can we have some discussion about this community thing and begin to rediscover our roots as a people. Your comments please.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've lived in distant parts of Zambia (NW Province) for several years and love the country very much. What always struck me most forcefully -- and positively -- in my village was the way that family and community tend to come before individuals getting rich (what you might call the "American model" of society).

The so-called "disadvantage" here is that, perhaps, less wealth is created overall; you don't have a Bill Gates in your village with more wealth than the rest of the people in your province put together, inflating the average wealth. If there's not a great incentive for a single individual to get rich, there's perhaps less individual entrepreneurship. At least that's what many Americans might say.

The clear advantage of Ujaama, however, is an increase in social harmony and community.

It's hard to get my fellow Americans to see the advantages of the African method, since we're indoctrinated in the supposed wonderfulness of the "American Dream." (Individual economic success at all costs.) But as American society -- and the world -- becomes more and more violent, more and more filled with partisan politics, special interests, and war I think the African Way -- whether you call it Ujaama or Ubuntu or whatever -- is looking better and better. Without it, the future is looking increasingly depressing.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Campbell Lumbila said...

"The so-called "disadvantage" here is that, perhaps, less wealth is created overall; you don't have a Bill Gates in your village with more wealth than the rest of the people in your province put together, inflating the average wealth. If there's not a great incentive for a single individual to get rich, there's perhaps less individual entrepreneurship. At least that's what many Americans might say."


David,
Thanks for your comment. One of the reasons that Ujamaa failed in my view, is that there was no real pyschological transformation in the people as a whole. And like my friend pointed out in our discussion, this was perhaps the biggest challenge that Ujamaa failed to conquer therefore, the leaders resorted to forcing it on people by methods such as nationalization-Putting natives in control of all aspects of the economy with heavy oversight from central government even when the people were not ready for such a drastic change.

Now, one of the plus sides of capitalism-believe me there's one or more- is the emphasis on human potential and the spirit of innovation. This is one of those things, if properly incorporated into the Ujamaa principle, would yield awesome results for African nations. The biggest challenge here is that people stay focused on the community so that even if one rises to the status of a Bill gates, for example, he would see the wealth he has accumulated as belonging to the WHOLE community and not to oneself. People may think am an idealist but this is possible if we're willing to try.

I remember hearing stories from my parents and other elders recounting the day that someone in their village advanced in education. They say the WHOLE village celebrated because it was seen as a victory for the whole community.This was Ujamaa at work-people working together to advance their community through advancing individual lives.

By the way am pretty impressed that an American is well versed with African history and current issues. Thanks for participating in this global village and let's share more ideas.

Fitty_Ngwee said...

Ujama and capitalism can exist hand in hand. Bill and Melinda Gates are fine examples of that. Not only do they share their wealth with their immediate neighbors, they share it with the rest of the world. At least in past generations, philantropy and civic duties were very emphacized in the US, in addition to persuing their individual dreams. If done in a conscientious manner, aspiring to better oneself first and then the community second is a good thing.

Campbell Lumbila said...

Fitty Ngwee,
Thanks for your comment. I do agree that SOME aspects of capitalism can co-exist with Ujamaa. However, even in the case of bill and melinda gates, it was personal drive-which is a key component of the capitalist mentality-that brought them wealth and there after allowed them to do what they are doing which is not a bad thing at all. However, what Ujamaa advocates is the corporate creation of wealth so that the whole community advances without the majority of wealth being in one or two individual hands. Its this gap that am worried about in our African context.
Waht can we do to narow this gap between the rich and the poor?