African Politics and Ethics: Exploring New Dimensions [1st ed.] 9783030541842, 9783030541859

In this book, Munyaradzi Felix Murove explores African traditional ethical resources for African politics. Arguing that

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African Politics and Ethics: Exploring New Dimensions [1st ed.]
 9783030541842, 9783030541859

Table of contents :
Front Matter ....Pages i-vii
Introduction (Munyaradzi Felix Murove)....Pages 1-6
African Ethics in a Nutshell (Munyaradzi Felix Murove)....Pages 7-30
Ethical Politics in the Context of African Traditional Religion (Munyaradzi Felix Murove)....Pages 31-51
African Ethics and the Post-colonial Politics of Tradition (Munyaradzi Felix Murove)....Pages 53-82
Politics of Tradition and African Identity (Munyaradzi Felix Murove)....Pages 83-101
African Traditional Humanism and the Ethic of Collectivism (Munyaradzi Felix Murove)....Pages 103-114
Regional Integration and the Ethic of Co-operation in Post-colonial Africa (Munyaradzi Felix Murove)....Pages 115-138
Traditional African Resources for Ethical Leadership (Munyaradzi Felix Murove)....Pages 139-165
Back Matter ....Pages 167-173

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African Politics and Ethics Exploring New Dimensions

Munyaradzi Felix Murove

African Politics and Ethics

Munyaradzi Felix Murove

African Politics and Ethics Exploring New Dimensions

Munyaradzi Felix Murove Religion, Philosophy, and Classics University of KwaZulu-Natal Scottsville, South Africa

ISBN 978-3-030-54184-2    ISBN 978-3-030-54185-9 (eBook) © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover illustration: Walter Bibikow / Getty Images This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


My greatest appreciation goes to my postgraduate student and research assistant Miss Lulama Vuyiswa Dlamini, who was always available to get whatever books and journals I needed from the library. I also would like to thank my colleague Dr Noleen Loubser for proofreading the book. Her professional assistance in this regard has been immense. Finally, I want to thank my niece, Tafadzwa Muzamai, who kept on nagging me about the progress of the book!



1 Introduction  1 2 African Ethics in a Nutshell  7 3 Ethical Politics in the Context of African Traditional Religion 31 4 African Ethics and the Post-colonial Politics of Tradition 53 5 Politics of Tradition and African Identity 83 6 African Traditional Humanism and the Ethic of Collectivism103 7 Regional Integration and the Ethic of Co-operation in Post-colonial Africa115 8 Traditional African Resources for Ethical Leadership139 Index167




Why write about African politics and ethics? From colonialism to post-­ colonialism, politics has remained the primary causal factor for all that has gone wrong in our current post-colonial societies in sub-Saharan Africa. Most of the social ills such as corruption, poverty, economic underdevelopment, poor governance and civil wars are prominent African problems that have their genealogy in politics. From colonialism to post-­colonialism, the continent has been in a state of perennial crisis. For reasons that have remained unknown, so little has been written on politics and ethics in post-colonial Africa even though politics has been the number one factor in the ruining of people’s lives. Whilst Africa has been described as rich in terms of moral values, the political terrain remains characterized by moral barrenness. Though scholars from various disciplines have proffered different solutions to Africa’s political problems, none of those solutions seem to have worked. An academic once remarked that the problem of Africa is that those who are in political power in Africa are usually uneducated or poorly educated whist those who are educated do not have political power. This remark is quite incisive because political power has been the preserve of the poorly educated rather than the well-educated. But again, this claim cannot be sustained because the educated political leaders in Africa have behaved in a way that has caused untold human suffering. The political field does not have a culture of professionalism because politics in the African context shares a lot of similarities with the culture of urban gangsterism. © The Author(s) 2020 M. F. Murove, African Politics and Ethics,




The absence of professionalism in politics has contributed to a general common sentiment that ethics and politics is an oxymoron because one cannot be ethical and simultaneously enjoying a successful political career. In politics the ends justify the means because whatever tactic a politician employs against his or her opponents is justified on the basis of the favourability of the outcomes. The Germany politician, Otto von Bismarck is on record for saying that ‘politics is the art of the possible’! This means that within the political arena whatever is deemed possible can be used for the furtherance of one’s political objectives. Alliances with one’s political foes is usually acceptable in so far as that alliance can help in furthering one’s political interests. I was once invited to give a talk on Ethics, Governance and Leadership to a group of civil servants in a certain South African province. After this talk, at lunch time I was approached by a very friendly guy who introduced himself as a politician from the ruling party and a member of parliament. He shook my hand and hugged me in appreciation of my talk and later on told me that if only such workshops could be attended by all politicians and civil servants, then society would be a far much better place. However, he went on to advise me that the political context was completely different because all those ideals about ethical leadership are not seen in terms of changing the individual politician’s life, instead, the political ideal would be to use ethics as a technique for scoring political points against the opposition or the ruling party. It seems that politicians do not have a sense of concern for the wellbeing of the people they lead. It is no surprise that people are now accustomed to utter the following epithets about politicians—‘what do you expect from a politician?’, ‘don’t believe in what he says’, ‘politics is a dirty game’ and ‘he is a career politician’. These epithets imply that politicians are averse to ethics and most of the socially cherished virtues such as honesty, truth-telling, magnanimity, empathy, just to mention but a few. All the above epithets seem to suggest that politics has nothing to do with ethics. In a context such as that of post-colonial Africa which is characterized predominantly by excruciating poverty, poor governance, poor culture of accountability and the continuous corruption, the need for ethics in African politics cannot be overemphasized. As if that is not enough, environmental degradation is currently exerting unprecedented pressure on the human population as well as that of the natural life. In post-colonial Africa, the exercise of political power has exacerbated the existence of the above social ills because political power is being exercised in a way that impoverishes and disempowers them such that on the final analysis they



are physically and mentally incapacitated to deal effectually with their existential problems. The dominant organized religions such Islam and Christianity have failed spectacularly to provide society with strong moral leadership. Because of political and economic crises that have besieged sub-Saharan Africa, many people have fallen prey to the new form of power which is being paraded by charismatic founders of new African Pentecostal Christianity. Leaders of these new churches are currently inundated by followers because of their claims to divine power of healing most of those dreaded diseases that are currently incurable as well as their power to bestow material prosperity to the economically wretched African majority. These Pentecostal leaders have become extremely powerful and rich such that their followers and politicians alike can do almost anything for them. Sometimes these new African Pentecostal leaders have pronounced prophesies on the social media concerning the futures of African political leaders and the fortunes of the nation. Though their prophecies have not always materialized, their followers do believe in these prophesies unquestioningly. A common motif in the prophetic messages of African Pentecostal leaders is usually about the direct involvement of God in the political affairs of the country, and that whatever is happening is part and parcel of God’s grand plan. Pentecostal leaders are not so much concerned with ethics or morality. Their main interest is power. In this regard, their charismatic religious activities have not helped to bring about social, religious and economic transformation. The mushrooming of Pentecostal churches in Africa brings into focus the importance of ethics because some of these religions are unethical religions. African ethics as captured in traditional African humanism has been integral to the political discourses of post-colonial nationalists such as Kwame Nkrumah, Leopold Senghor, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda and Seko Toure. The writings of these fathers of African nationalism exudes some passion for the inclusion of traditional African humanistic values in their efforts towards the reconstruction of the post-colonial economic and political life. In the light of the writings of these African nationalists, the popular claim that ethics and politics are incompatible cannot be sustained with impunity. For example, though Nkrumah and Nyerere’s were highly sensitized to the ethic of the common good, with ethically good intentions they ended up impoverishing their societies. The colonial experiences of subjugation and dehumanization sharpened their moral imaginations in the reconstruction of their post-colonial societies. Politics



and ethics in the ethical genre of African traditional humanism remained entangled. The post-apartheid ANC-led government spearheaded an ethical renewal programme which it called the Moral Regeneration Movement whose objective was to nurture a culture of moral sensitivity in all spheres of government and society at large. In African traditional societies, one could hardly be a leader without some authentic commitment to the shared moral values of the community. Religion plays a vital role in the making of a people’s political outlook because political power is usually presumed to have some divine origins. It is for this reason that power is regarded as sacred. A political leader who founds favour in the eyes of religious followers is most likely to enjoy a long time of uninterrupted term in political office. In the Western world, especially with the influence of the monotheistic Judeo-Christian religion with its belief in an all-powerful God, a political culture of totalitarianism and intolerance became popular, especially during the medieval ages of European history. The connection between the culture of political totalitarianism and the belief in an all-powerful God can be discerned from the early Christian doxology which said, ‘All glory, honour and power belong to our God for ever and ever’. In the Old Testament the book of 1 Samuel has a story which says that when the Israelites requested Samuel to appoint a human king for them instead of Yahweh, it is said that after praying to Yahweh about this request, Yahweh responded jealously as follows, “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king” (1Sam. 8: v7). Evidently Yahweh was not in favour of sharing his power with human beings. Not wanting to share power with others is a practice well imbedded in the culture of political totalitarianism. Under a totalitarian political system, all the organs of the state or organizations are controlled by an ultimate authority that enjoys an unmitigated monopoly of power. In the medieval history of Christianity, the Church was totalitarian because it spread all its tentacles into all spheres of social life. One finds that religious conceptions of God as impassable and a Controlling Power have contributed enormously to an understanding of God as an all-intrusive power in the lives of believers and everything that exists. The human response to this awesome power is supposedly to come in the form of complete submissiveness on the part of the believer. The idea that human beings should only respond to this type of power through submissiveness implies that it is the type of power which is imagined to be exercised in an arbitrary manner—no one knows what God will do in the



next moment of one’s existence. This type of Godly power estranges humanity from God as a genuinely loving creator. In the book of the prophet Isaiah 55: 8–9, it is said that, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”. We can deduce from this verse that this type of Godly power is a power which human beings should not even dare fathom participating in its execution because it is exclusively God’s power and belongs wholly to God as his or her divine prerogative. Under a totalitarian political system, all the organs of the state or organization are controlled by an ultimate authority that enjoys the monopoly of power. For example, the former totalitarian Malawian President, Hastings Kamuzu Banda was known for his ruthless suppression of opposition to his rule to such an extent that he acted as if the whole country was his personal property or inheritance. The popular political slogan of his Malawian Congress Party was, “Zonse zimeni nza Kamuzu Banda (Everything belongs to Kamuzu Banda)” (Tambulasi and Kayuni 2009: 429). Kamuzu Banda’s totalitarianism was not unique to him. Decolonization in Africa was followed by a crop of African dictators who turned their countries in their personal private property. Within such a political context, citizens are usually treated in such a way that they are meant to feel as if they are tenants or visitors in their own country. In other words, it is an exercise of power which estranges the people who are supposed to be served by it. All over the world, Africa is known mainly as a continent that has been mercilessly ravaged by unprecedented poverty. But the ironic part of African poverty is that it is a continent that is endowed with enormous natural resources such that if properly utilized African poverty can be a thing of the past. Rampant corruption and lack of concern for the economic development and ultimate wellbeing of the citizens remains a common story in African politics. A political talk about eradication of poverty has become a common strategy for African politicians who aspire to get into political offices. Whilst there have been talks about organizing African states into economic regional units for the specific purpose of dealing with poverty, the political will has remained dismal. A certain prominent scholar in Africa has once said that ‘the African politicians remains the main curse for Africa’! This book is about the connection between African ethics and African politics. My interest is to discuss what I see as the African traditional



ethical resources for African politics. With this aim in mind, the book will unfold as follows: Besides this first chapter, which is an introductory chapter to the book, the second chapter will introduce the reader to the main characteristics of African ethics with the aim of mentally preparing him or her to some of the African political issues and their relationship to African ethics. The third chapter is a discussion of African traditional religion and the influence it had on politics prior to the advent of colonialism. In the fourth chapter I will look into the issue of the controversy of African traditions and politics and how African traditional values have been the basis of the political behaviour in African societies. Are values of traditional societies applicable to our contemporary African political context? In the fifth chapter I discuss the issue of the predominance that is usually given to tradition as a prerequisite to an authentic African identity. The sixth chapter looks critically into the ethical debate of African humanism and its symbiotic relationship to the post-colonial socio-economic ethic of collectivism as an attempt constructing a poverty alleviation policy. The sixth chapter will go on to show how the post-colonial attempt at poverty alleviation has been integral African political efforts at pursuing regional integration through an ethic co-operation has been integral to post-colonial political efforts aimed at overcoming the scourge of poverty. Finally, the seventh chapter selects three leaders—Nkrumah, Nyerere and Mandela— and discusses how African traditional values had shaped their visions of ethical leadership.

Bibliography Senghor, L.S. 1968. On African Socialism. London: Macmillan. Tambulasi, R., and Kayuni, H. 2009. Ubuntu and Democratic Good Governance in Malawi: A Case Study. In African Ethics: An Anthology of Comparative and Applied Ethics, ed. M.F.  Murove, 427–440. Scottsville: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.


African Ethics in a Nutshell

Africa is immensely rich with moral values and ethical traditions, which to a great extent have not been investigated adequately by scholars. What has remained as the main preoccupation of academics in post-colonial Africa is the usual tendency of thinking and writing predominantly about ethics in terms of the Western ethical traditions such as utilitarianism and the Kantian deontological ethics. This scholarly tendency has consequently failed to take into account the contribution of African ethical traditions in the day-to-day reflections of African socio-economic, political, psychological and religious realities. Sometimes an uncompromising commitment to the hegemony of Western ethical values manifests itself through condemnation of traditional African values as barbaric, pagan, animistic and uncivilized. In most cases the condemnation and critique of African ethics is usually done from a very superficial perspective masquerading as genuine African scholarship. In this regard, the salient presumption is that African ethics could only be authentic if it is commensurate with the Western philosophical and religious ethical modes of thought. In the scope of this chapter, my main aim is not to investigate the merits and demerits of the above pessimistic scholarly outlook towards African ethics, but to discuss the main characteristics of African ethics succinctly in a way that will later on demonstrate to the reader how African ethics has been theoretically integral to post-colonial political discourses. For conceptual clarity purposes, I have divided this chapter into three themes that tend to

© The Author(s) 2020 M. F. Murove, African Politics and Ethics,




complement each other in African ethics. These themes are Ancestors, Ubuntu (Humanness) and Relationality.

African Ethics as Ancestral Ethics In African culture, tradition plays a prominent role in the day-to-day ordering of social life. From a very tender age, a child is gradually introduced to the traditions of the community or tribe. For example, in Zulu the word traditions is Amasikho—a word which means traditional ritual practices that must be observed as a way of recognizing the child’s stages of growth as well as confirming her or his identity and the inevitable reality of communal belongingness. Through these rituals, the child is ushered into communion with her or his ancestors and the present community. In those instances when amasikho are not performed for the child, it is usually the case that the child’s growth into adulthood will become problematic because his or her relationship with the ancestors and a sense of belongingness to the present community or family is usually deemed to be none existent—hence such an existential predicament is regarded as an identity problem. The present community owes its existence to the past or the ancestors. The relationship between the present community and the ancestors is regarded as based on the principle of ontological interdependence. This implies that the existence of the present community cannot be severed from the existence of the ancestors. Whilst the present community exists in the state of mortality, ancestors exist in the realm of immortality. There is a strong belief among African people that human life is characterized mainly by interdependency between mortality and immortality. Through the observations of amasikho or traditions, ancestors remain related to their progenitors to whom they come from time to time to celebrate life with their families. Whilst ancestors are commonly known as protectors of their progenitors against the vagaries of life, their protection is usually premised on the person’s relationships with other people and the natural environment as well as on whether their progenitors were observing the traditions that have been bequeathed from the past. By virtue of existing in the realm of immortality, ancestors have a far superior knowledge which stretches from the past, present and the future. They know the lives of their progenitors more than what their progenitors know of themselves. Geoffrey Parrinder (1954: 58–59) alluded to the above insight when he said that in the African traditional religion, “ancestors are believed to have



survived death and to be living in a spiritual world, but still taking a lively interest in the affairs of their families”. In other words ancestors are intimately connected to their families and are interested in the day-to-day affairs of their families. Because of this intimate relationship between ancestors and their families, Africans believe that their ancestors “are not far away”, and hence “they are believed to be watching over their families like a ‘cloud of witnesses’.” Whatever is the issue of concern within the family such as “health and fertility” are considered to be of great interest to the ancestors because “they are its elders and will also seek rebirth into the same family”. Ancestors are supposed to be consulted when it comes to issues of land, its fertility and the general material wellbeing of the family. The consultation of ancestors on such issues is based on the belief that they are still member of the family even though they have been buried into the earth. What remained in the earth and decomposed in it was their material bodies but their spirits survived death. The African belief in ancestors is based on the idea that life is endless. For this reason, the world of mortality is inextricably linked to the world of immortality. Ancestors are regarded as those members of the community who existed in the past and after transiting into the world of immortality through a process of death, they live a life closely linked to that of God. They are regarded as having departed physically but always being present in spiritual form. Ancestors are concerned with what goes on in the communities where they once lived during their lives of mortality materially, morally and spiritually. It is mainly for this reason that ancestors are thus regarded as custodians of the traditions of the community. In Chap. 3 we shall see how this African belief in ancestors as custodians of the traditions of the community has influenced African politics. However, for now I want to pay special attention to the role of ancestors in African ethics. Here it needs to be bore in mind that ancestors are regarded as the custodians of moral values in traditional African societies because religious beliefs are infused in all the spheres of existence. This is the point which was well put by John Mbiti (1970: 2–3) when he said that African traditional religion in Africa permeates “all the departments of life” to the extent that “there is no formal distinction between the sacred and the secular, between the religious and the non-religious, between the spiritual and the material areas of life”. It was one of the main theses of Mbiti that the African universe was entirely a religious universe because religion permeates all spheres of life so that everything in life is interpreted from a religious perspective. A person is understood primarily in religious terms



and the ethos of the individual’s belongingness to the community has its origins in the African traditional religious outlook. As he puts it, “Traditional religions are not primarily for the individual, but for his community of which he is part. …To be human is to belong to the whole community, and to do so involves participating in the beliefs, ceremonies, rituals and festivals of that community”. The religious beliefs and practices helped to emphasize the idea of the individual’s belongingness to the community. In African traditional religion, the secular and the sacred are not compartmentalized as different realms of existence; rather, they are understood as intertwined with each other and cannot be disentangled from each other. An individual can participate in the ceremonies, rituals and festivals of the community without necessarily professing some commitment to a particular doctrine as a precondition to participation in these religious activities of the community. This African traditional religious outlook might be the reason why Africans have a general inclusive ethical outlook. Whilst in many African languages south of the Sahara there is no word for religion as understood in Western philosophical and theological patterns of thought, in African traditional patterns of thought what can be regarded as religion is the relationship that exists between the living and their ancestors, the land, the natural environment and God. Moral values are what actually permeate all the spheres of existence. As I said previously, ancestors are the guardians of these moral values and they are endowed with the powers to approve or disprove in accordance with what they would have perceived from their infinite wisdom to be the implications of the actions of a particular individual or community to the common good of the generality of existence. Taboos about land and the environment constituted part of the narrative of ancestral origins. For example, according to the oral religious narratives of the Shona and Ndebele people of Zimbabwe, the God Mwari (a god who was believed to be a god of fertility and a creator) is believed to dwell at the Matopo Hills. In communion with the ancestors Mwari would send rains. Because of their proximity to Mwari, moral precepts from the ancestors are thus regarded as sacrosanct by all members of the society—whether king or subject. Ancestors are mostly revered because they are the ones that provide a link between the world of mortality and immortality. For example, Mbiti called ancestors ‘the living-dead’ because of their ability to commune with both worlds of the living and that of the ancestors. For this reason he maintained that the ancestors “speak the language of the spirits and of God” who is



ontologically in close proximity to their immortal state of existence. These spirits have remained in the memories of the living members of their families. From time to time ancestors return to their families “and share meals” in a symbolic manner. According to Mbiti, ancestors have a knowledge and interest in the family affairs because they are “the guardians of family affairs, traditions, ethics” and all the other day-to-day family mundane activities (Mbiti 1970: 108). Here it can be deduced that ancestors and their descendants are affectionately related to each other. Death does not spell the end of existence; rather it’s a passage into another form of life. The concept of ‘the living dead’ that is used by Mbiti to describe ancestors drives home the idea that ancestors continue to exist in the realm of immortality. In African traditional religion death is not regarded as the end of life; rather it is a graduation from the world of mortality into the world of immortality. The world of immortality becomes connected with the world of mortality because of the ancestors who are regarded as a bridge for these two worlds. The African traditional understanding of death is that those who die continue to live in the realm of the spirit and interact with the living and sometimes the spirits of the dead are considered as shadows, a term that implies their continuous protection over their descendants who are still alive (Janheinz 1958: 108). This also shows that the African conception of ancestors is based on the idea that the dead are still alive and live a life which is integral to the lives of those who are still living. Ancestors do reincarnate into the lives of their descendants. This African understanding of death reinforces the idea of continuous existence of ancestors because death is regarded as a passage into reincarnation into the lives of those who exist within the realm of mortality and the natural environment. In traditional African culture, a child is usually seen as a continuation of the life of the ancestor to the extent that the child is sometimes named after his or her grandfather. But ancestors are not only understood as incarnating in their human families, they are also incarnated in nature—an idea that was the bedrock of the African traditional ethos of environmental conservation. Since ancestors are understood to reside also in nature, the land and its natural resources are regarded as sacred to such an extent that the king or chief understood his or her political responsibility in terms of stewardship. The real rulers of the land are the ancestors who were the founders of the land and its people.



What is going on in the world of mortality with regard to human relations, communal traditions and ethics is regarded as the primary concern of the ancestors. Because of the ancestors, ethics in African traditional categories of thought is not a social mechanism invented by human beings in order to make social relations manageable in human societies. On the contrary, ethics is connected with the idea of the teleological dimension of human existence—namely, that our human actions at present have some consequences that tend to supervene into the future existence. It is partly for this reason that African scholars such as Bujo (2001: 56—57) would characterize the relationship between the living and the ancestors in Africa as based on anamnestic solidarity. Thus he writes, “African ethics is articulated in the framework of anamnesis, which involves remembering one’s ancestors. As a narrative community, fellowship here on earth renews the existence of the community of the ancestors”. In the act of remembrance which I have described as Amasikho, the community of the living demonstrates the existence of a symbiotic relationship between themselves and the ancestors who remain the pillars of the community. This act of remembrance “gives a new dynamism to the earthly fellowship” such that we can say that “ethical behavior in Black African context always involves reestablishing the presence of one’s ancestors”. Without remembrance, the relationship that exists between the living and their ancestors will be severed. Through remembrance the community of the living is reminded of the founding values of the present community or those values that brought the present community into being. The act of remembrance of one’s ancestors carries with it some moral obligations for the individual and the community. Without remembrance people are most likely to forget the mistakes or sins that were committed in the past. In the Shona language there is a proverb which says, Ziva kwawakabva mudzimu weshiri uri mudendere. This literally means, you must know where you came from because the ancestor of a bird is in the nest. This proverb is usually uttered as a reminder to a person who is hell-bent on forgetting the importance of the past in the making of the present social existence. The above proverb finds its equivalent in a Zulu proverb which says, Ungakhohlwa imvelaphi yako ngoba indoda eqotho etkhotwa amadlozi—Don’t forget where you came from or your roots because a good man is he who is licked by the ancestors. The message that is imparted in such a proverb is that a good person is someone who remembers where they came from. One cannot know where one’s going if they have no idea of where they came from. As an ethical tradition that is steeped in remembrance, sometimes this ethic



has been criticized on the grounds that it overemphasizes the past at the expense of the present. This type of critique can be discerned from Augustine Shuttte, who declared that, “If Africa is to play a part in the worldwide ethical discussion, it cannot be content simply to rehearse its ancient wisdom in the forms in which it was first formulated” (Shutte 2008: 16). One can easily infer that Shutte is alleging that the African ethical discourse does not have a relevant role to play in today’s modern world because of the emphasis that is put on rehearsing ancient wisdom in the way it was originally formulated. This is an over-exaggerated critique of African ethics because it is a general human experience that there has never been a wisdom or an ethical tradition that has remained so static such that it could be rehearsed in such a way that it is reproduced in a form in which it was formulated initially. A discourse on ancestors and African ethics does not demonstrate an uncritical acceptance of traditions; rather it shows that there is solidarity among the living and the ancestors. This solidarity serves as a springboard for the narrative nature of African ethics. In the light of the preceding discussion, we can deduce that because of its original connection with ancestors, African ethics can be regarded as an ethics of anamnestic solidarity between the living and their ancestors. Through the process of remembrance, a relationship is established between the living and the ancestors. What is remembered in this regard is those acts of the ancestors which brought the current community into being. The presumption here is that the present community was originally brought into being through ancestral ethical rules. Whilst African ethics in this regard can be regarded as ancestral ethics as stated previously, there is also room for improvisation where those ethical traditions that were received from the past are usually interpreted and reinterpreted in the light of the present contextual experiences. For example, through the use of proverbs, we are introduced into “…a world in which people, nature and spiritual world move in step, where social organization, social control and moral balance are maintained by clearly defined and subtle protocols of law, custom and rituals articulated in artistic form and where language has a powerful social purpose and value” (Furusa 1997: 93). The use of proverbs in moral deliberations allows people to use their own intellectual imagination on what could be the best ethical solution within a particular given contextual problem. For this reason, anamnestic thinking does not inhibit the individual from being ethically creative. The room for creative thinking in African anamnestic ethical thinking was well observed by Bujo when he said anamnestic thinking “…does not prevent African ethics from



being innovative. In the nonverbal communication, the community conducts a non-verbal palaver which challenges the participants to reflect and to adopt a critical position vis-à-vis the ancestral tradition” (Bujo 2001: 66). In a cultural tradition where there is no recourse to linear logical reasoning about ethical issues, an ethical tradition that is based on reinterpretation of ethical issues in the light of new contemporary challenges does give room for improvisation and creativity. For Bujo, the African anamnestic ethical modes of thought does give room to creativity because of the palaver element embedded into it—a practice which does inhibit the tendency of coming up with logically tailored reasons as ethical solutions. Such a practice often inhibits innovative ways of doing and imagining about ethics. The African anamnestic palaver model gives room to creativity because of the tradition of open-ended ethical deliberation on the meaning of the received ethical traditions in the light of the present challenges. For this reason Bujo critiqued the modern African political practice of dictatorship on the grounds that it strayed from the African anamnestic palaver ethical tradition. He writes, “The anamnestic solidarity is concerned not only with infringements of human rights in the present; it includes equally the injustices done to those who lived in the past. This naturally also involves the guilt of the ancestors: solidarity requires that this be expiated by their descendants” (Bujo 2001: 66). According to Bujo, the practice of political dictatorship which is so rampant on the contemporary African political scene is an affirmation of the failure by African politicians to take into account the innovativeness inherent in African ethical traditions as inherited from the ancestors. The idea of anamnestic solidarity implies that political concern on the violation of human rights should not only be restricted to the present, but be extended such as to include some of the injustices that were done by the ancestors. Among the Shona people, the idea of anamnestic solidarity between the present generation and its ancestors has been expressed in the belief of the existence of Ngozi (an aggrieved spirit). An aggrieved spirit is usually the spirit of someone who was murdered. Also, heinous act such as stealing, rape and ill-treatment of one’s parents has been considered to give rise to Ngozi in the future. Once a person died with a bitter heart, the ancestors would not receive that person in their ranks; rather they would insist that she or he should go back to the world of mortality and seek redress for the injustice that was perpetrated against him or her. All members who belong to the family of the perpetrator are regarded as collectively responsible for the wrong that was done by their relative, and hence



they are liable for the propitiation of Ngozi. Since in African ethics the individual’s existence is understood collectively, whatever the individual does has some consequences for the collective. In the world of the ancestors, the individual’s existence is understood collectively. For this reason what the individual does is to be accounted for by the whole community (Murove 2016: 124; Gelfand 1981: 9; Samkange and Samkange 1980: 51). Related to the concept of Ngozi is the belief that what has been wronged or righted in the world of immortality will find its ultimate rectification in the world of immortality. One is not only accountable to those who exist in the present, but one’s actions at present do affect those who will exist in the future. The futuristic aspect inherent in anamnestic solidarity implies that one not only must be interested in pursuing the good in the present but has to take into account the consequences of one’s actions to those who will exist in the future. The main ethical issue that comes from anamnestic solidarity comes in the form of a question on the values which the present generation nurturing for posterity. A harmonious existence in the present has to be understood in terms of what actually transpired in the past. This also implies that a situation of disharmony in the present is most likely to see a situation of perennial social discontent in the future (Murove 2016: 157–158; Maier 1998: 52). People who are usually concerned with their selfish interests as their main goal in life are most likely to lack any sense of concern for the wellbeing of those who will exist in the future. Most of our current problems as a human family can be traced to our inherited fractured history characterized by a litany of wars, systematic exploitation of the natural environment, greed and the marginalization of the weaker members of our human societies. Anamnestic solidarity summons the human race to look back and learn from what has gone wrong in the past if ever there is going to be a brighter future. The dominant modern way of thinking prioritizes the pursuit of self-interest in politics and economics and remains a threat to anamnestic solidarity. Another important characteristic which is pivotal to African ethics is humanism. In the preceding section we have seen that African ethics is human-centred. Our discussion of ancestors was also based on the belief in the immortality of a human spirit. Even those who have died continue to participate in the family or communal affairs of their relatives. Ancestors regard communal harmony as the main goal of social existence. Anamnestic solidarity can only exist when there is communal harmony. The goal of social existence in African traditional societies is to live in harmony with fellow human beings. As we shall see in Chap. 4, the African post-colonial



political discourse was based on nationalistic attempts to reconstruct a new post-colonial African society on the basis of the primal African understanding of a person. The colonial and apartheid political eras were based on political policies that thrived on the dehumanisation of people. It is partly for this reason that one finds that a theme that has dominated the discourse of African politics and ethics is that of ubuntu.

Ubuntu (Humanness) in African Ethics African ethics refers to the ethical values that are mostly cherished by indigenous African peoples in south of the Sahara. In traditional African societies, ethics supervenes in all spheres of human existence—religious, economic, social and political. One moral attitude influences all these spheres of existence. Discourses pertaining to all these spheres of human existence are always replete with phrases about whether what has been done by a particular individual is ethical or not. The religiosity of a religious leader is not judged on the basis of his or her piety to the deity, but rather on the basis of his or her moral standing within the community which is supposed to be demonstrated by what the Shona people of Zimbabwe called Unhu or Ubuntu/Botho (Zulu/Sotho). This phrase means humanness. Among the Nguni peoples of Southern Africa, there is an adage about Ubuntu which says that Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (Zulu/Xhose/Ndebele/Swati). This adage means that a person is a person because of other persons. As human beings we need others to realize our full capabilities. This adage implies that as human beings our humanity is inseparable from the humanity of others. Some scholars, as we shall see later on, have come to regard Ubuntu as the summation of African ethics and philosophy (Ramose 1999; Ngubane 2015; Shutte 2001; Dandala 2009; Praeg and Magadla 2014; Nussbaum 2009). To be regarded as a person one must demonstrate a sense of care and concern for the humanity of others in word and praxis. The meaning of Ubuntu is multifaceted as we shall see in this section. First, some scholars have emphasized the fact that Ubuntu implies that a human being is regarded as a human being by virtue of his or her inherent sociality. For instance, Nhlanhla Mkhize observed that, “To be a human being (ukuba ngumuntu) is a social practice; it requires one to co-operate with others by doing good, thereby promoting the balance that is thought to characterize the universe. It requires human beings to live in solidarity with fellow human beings, their families, their communities…and the rest of the world



in which they find themselves” (Mkhize 2008: 40; also see Gelfand 1973: 57; Samkange and Samkange 1980; Coetzee and Roux 1998: 320; Shutte 2009: 93; Murove 2012). A person is recognized as a person on the basis of his or her commitment to communal belongingness. Someone who disregards the wellbeing of the community is hardly recognized as a real person. It is the quality of social relationships which the individual enters into with others which ultimately leads the community to refer to her or him as someone who has Ubuntu. Mogobe Ramose maintained that Ubuntu is about ‘doing’ instead of ‘being’. He writes, “Because motion is the principle of be-ing for Ubuntu do-ing takes precedence over the do-er without at the same time imputing either radical separation or irreconcilable opposition between the two” (Ramose 1999: 36). The gist of Ramose’s observation is that Ubuntu is based on the idea that we are recognized by others on the basis of what we do. Relations that show the existence of Ubuntu in the individual are those relations whereby someone demonstrates an attitude that shows that she or he regards the humanity of others in a similar way that he or she regards his or her own. In Ubuntu it is self-evident that African ethics puts emphasis on community. In this regard, Ukuba ngumuntu means having a sense of concern for the wellbeing of others within the community. As Desmond Tutu puts it, “A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are” (Tutu 1999: 31; also see Dandala 2009: 261; Prozesky 2009; Bujo 2001: 67). It is within the communal context that the individual’s humanness is recognized. One needs the community for the realization of one’s own full potential socially and psychologically. Mluleki Munyaka and Mokgethi Motlhabi propounded the reality of individual communal belongingness well when they said that, “It is in a human community that an individual is able to realize himself or herself as a person. The personal growth of individuals happens in community. Only through the co-operation, influence and contribution of others, can one understand and bring to fulfilment one’s own personality. One is able to discover a sense of self-identity only in reference to the community in which one lives” (Munyaka and Motlhabi 2009: 70). It is an



indisputable truism that the community plays an indispensable role in the overall ultimate wellbeing of the individual. The community exists prior to the individual because the individual subsists within the community. It is not individuals who came together to form the community, but rather it is the community that forms or enabled the existence of individuals. The idea that the individual subsists within the community was eloquently put by John Mbiti when he said, “[T]he individual does not and cannot exist alone except corporately. He owes his existence to other people, including those of past generations and his contemporaries. He is simply part of the whole” (Mbiti 1970: 141). It is the responsibility of the community to nurture and cultivate a sense of Ubuntu individual in the lives of individuals because the individual depends on the community for his or her ultimate wellbeing. The individual’s consciousness as a person and his or her responsibilities to fellow human beings is attained in relationships with others. The idea that the individual subsists within the community is obviously at variance with the Western philosophical notion of individual autonomy, which was strongly entrenched in the Western philosophy of the Enlightenment era, especially the philosophy of Rene Descartes. But here I would like to assert that it is not all Western philosophers who have subscribed to the Western Enlightenment philosophical doctrine of individual autonomous existence. For example, the Anglo-American philosopher and Mathematician, Alfred North Whitehead observed that, “The misconception which has haunted philosophic literature throughout the centuries is the notion of ‘independent existence’. There is no such mode of existence, every entity is only to be understood in terms of the way it is interwoven with the rest of the Universe” (Whitehead 1948: 64). The point that is being made by Whitehead is that everything in the universe is related and interrelated with everything else. Reality is so intertwined to such an extent that it becomes an illusion to postulate the existence of entities that have some autonomous existence from other entities within the generality of existence. This philosophical outlook affirms the main assumption of Ubuntu—that we are human beings because of our relationality with other human beings. It is this ontological relatedness which ultimately makes us human and recognized by others as human beings. However, there have been some critics of Ubuntu who have argued that the emphasis which this ethic puts on individual dependence on the community can easily undermine the ethical ideal of individual responsibility. For example, Stephen Theron proffered a scathing critique of



Ubuntu in which he argued that “if a person is a person through other persons then no one is a person. The closest thing to a person would seem to be the tribe” (Theron 1995: 34). The presumption inherent in such a critique is that persons should be seen as autonomous beings whose existence should not be seen primarily as relative to the existence of other persons. What this critique implies is that persons are unique entities whose ontology of personhood cannot be subsumed under the collective ‘we’. Theron went on to allege that when persons are subsumed under the collective they lose their individual personalities and individual responsibility. He avers, “As for ethe ethical implications, the proverb [Ubuntu] simply side-steps the slow Western development of the idea of personal responsibility, charted in the Bible and elsewhere, and now known to Africans” (Theron 1995: 35). This is a typical example of a racialist and condescending critique that arises from a superficial understanding of the ontology of the individual in Ubuntu. In African ethics there is a recognition of individuals qua individuals. Individuals are expected to be responsible for their actions as well as to take initiatives for the betterment of their own lives. Ubuntu recognizes the existence of individuals because its moral teachings are mainly addressed to the individual as a subject of decision making. For example, in Zulu there is a proverb which says, Musa ukuqeda ubudlelwano manje ngoba kusasa uzofuna ukubuyela—do not disrupt mutual relations at present because tomorrow you might want to come back. It is clear that in such a proverb the individual is being advised not to spoil present relations because in future she or he might require those relations. What African ethics does not condone is individualism or the doctrine of atomic individualism where the individual is presumed to exist as a self-­ enclosed entity who does not need others for his or her wellbeing. What is right or wrong requires a communal context. Solidarity does not spell the end of individual identity. Rather, solidarity implies a deliberate intentional effort by the individual to empathize with others within the community. In this regard the individual remains an indispensable member within the group. The individual is expected to express his or her own moral convictions in a way that nourishes the general wellbeing of the community. In other words, as individuals, our humanity is entangled with the humanity of others regardless of our racial, cultural or religious affiliations. The way one relates to other people determines his or her predisposition to Ubuntu. Behaving in a way that promotes social or communal harmony remains the main factor that is depicts a person as endowed with



a sense of Ubuntu. If living harmoniously with others is the determining factor for Ubuntu, it is also possible that a person who is not an African can have a sense of Ubuntu whilst an African might not have a sense of Ubuntu if she or he does not exist harmoniously with others. The ethical implications that have been deduced by many scholars with specific reference to Ubuntu are as follows: One should always act in a way that does not dehumanize other people. The adage Umuntu ngomuntu ngabantu is mainly intended to drive home the idea that one should thus always act in a way that maximizes the humanity of others. Hence, failure to act humanely towards other people is an outright expression of one’s lack of humanness or lack of Ubuntu. This inevitably follows that someone who dehumanizes other people cannot be considered to be a person (Murove 2012: 37). Here I should like to concretize the above assertion with an example of Adolf Hitler and his holocaust program against Jewish people during the Second World War. We can deduce from such an example that anyone with conscience and a sense of humanness can hardly regard Hitler as someone who was endowed with any sense of humanness. In the Americas during the days of slavery, slave masters acted in ways that failed to show the existence of humanness in their behaviour towards their slaves. In Africa, the era of colonialism was the utmost expression of dehumanization of the majority of the colonized African people. Because of the behaviour of slave masters and colonialists in Africa, the word person or umuntu could not be attributed to white people. In this regard Didier Kaphagawani made an insightful observation when he said among the Chewa people of Malawi, “it is said, Azungu asiwanthu. In literal translation this statement means ‘Whites are not human’, which would seem to indicate that the Chewa deny humanness to whites” (Kaphagawani 1998: 171). In other words, Ubuntu carries with it some moral implications which ultimately qualify someone to be considered as a person. The moral implications of Ubuntu are usually found in what someone does with specific reference to his or her behaviour towards others. To act in a way that dehumanizes other people is to abstract oneself to the reality of our common humanity as enshrined in the ethic of Ubuntu. The realization that a person owes his or her humanness to the humanity of others carries with it some strong ethical obligations on the part of the individual. In traditional African culture one of those obligations is respect. In African culture, respect for other people is a cardinal virtue of Ubuntu. Children are taught from a very tender age to express a sense of respect



towards other people and that this respect will be reciprocated in the future. The cultivation of the virtue of respect is actually intended to help the individual in his or her future career. Even those in positions of high authority such as kings and politicians are usually judged as endowed with a sense of Ubuntu primarily on the basis of their ability to treat those they lead with respect. On this point Munyaka and Motlhabi cannot be bettered when they said that, “Ubuntu ethics can be termed anti-egoistic as it discourages people from seeking their own good without regard for, or to the detriment of, others and the community” (Munyaka and Motlhabi 2009: 71–72). In the light of the observation of these scholars, it can be deduced that the virtue of respect in Ubuntu comes in the form of an all-­ inclusive outlook to the wellbeing of everybody. One must recognize and appreciate the reality of the multiplicity of our human modes of being in the world. Another implication of Ubuntu which has been observed by scholars is that it is an ethic of relatedness and interrelatedness. In the ethic of Ubuntu, a human being is regarded as originally a relational being. She or he is related and interrelated with others. Thus the primacy of relatedness and interrelated which is encapsulated in the ethic of Ubuntu was eloquently articulated by Martin Prozesky (2009: 80) as the foundation of the reality of our human relatedness and interrelatedness when he said “for every individual there are countless other selves and even more non-human objects which greatly affect every individual, so that reality is always, objectively, more constituted by that preponderant externality than by its individual subjects on their own”, therefore “any adequate account of human existence must pay particularly careful attention to the drive to maximize well-being in relation to the total context of human existence…”.

African Ethics and Relationality That a human being is a relational being is one of the most emphasized characteristics of Ubuntu. This characteristic is regarded as the main characteristic of African humanism as we shall see in Chap. 5. As human beings, as it is the case within the generality of existence our existence is related and interrelated with the existence of others and even other none human entities within the cosmos. The predominance of relatedness and interrelatednesss among all that exists was thus expressed by Ali Mazrui as follows, “African civilisations were characterized by the following attributes: no great distinction between the kingdom of God, the animal kingdom



and the human kingdom; the crocodile could be a god, no sharp divide between the living and the dead” (Mazrui 1994: 175). The implication of this observation is that the general African outlook towards life is originally holistic because everything is understood as intertwined with everything else. It is the existential reality of relatedness and interrelatedness which ultimately gives the real meaning of what it means to be human. Among the Shona people of Zimbabwe the concept of relatedness and interrelatedness finds its articulation in the concept of ukama—a word which means relationality. However, in Shona, as in many other African languages, the meaning of Ukama is not restricted to marital and blood relations. For example, instead of addressing an early person as ‘madam’ or ‘sir’, within the categories of ukama such persons can be addressed as mama (mother) or baba (father) in Shona, Zulu or Ndebele languages. The presumption is that being human entails living in relationships, seeing one another as relatives, or expressing relationality as an indispensable existential actuality (See Dale 1994: 127; Bourdillon 1976: 34; Gelfand 1973: 136; Murove 2009: 316). Through ukama relationality among human beings or umuntu is stretched to include God and the ancestors. In African ethics, the present community has been brought into existence by those who existed in the past. Those who have existed in the past have contributed positively or negatively to the present existence. For this reason many scholars have argued that an authentic perspective of African ethics has to take into account the contributions of ancestors in the making of the moral values of the present community. Another main characteristic which we can extract from Ubuntu is the primacy of the community. In the light of the preceding discussion, it is beyond doubt that African ethics is a communitarian ethic. It is the community which forms the individual and not individuals that form the community. From the Western philosophical perspective, especially the Hobbesian contractarian theory of society, it is individuals who enter into a covenant with Leviathan to form the community with the tacit aim of averting a universal war of all against all. The Hobbesian community is formed by individuals who see the formation of the community as a shield against attacks on their self-­ interests. The idea of community from this Hobbesian perspective became an additive congregation of self-interested individuals. Ifeanyi Menkiti (2001: 197) argued against this Hobbesian philosophical view of community when he said that this understanding of community is not just “an ontological claim, but a methodological recommendation to the various social or humanistic disciplines interested in the investigation of the



phenomenon of individuals in groups; hence the term ‘methodological individualism’”. From the African communitarian ethical perspective, the individual belongs to the collective to such an extent that individual affairs are also communal affairs. As human beings we collectively share certain characteristics which to a greater extent can be regarded as instinctive in such a way that these shared characteristics help us to recognize the other person as belonging to the same community with us. In the previous section where I discussed the Ubuntu, it became crystal clear that the African understanding of a person was based on the presumption that a person subsists in a web of relationships whereby she or he is conceptualized in terms of belongingness to the community. In this regard a person does not exist for herself or himself as a self-enclosed entity. To be a person implies being open to others and being influenced by others. Since the relationship between the individual and others is based on solidarity, this solidarity implies the individual is a purposive agent who is endowed with the capability to influence others. After making a comparative analysis between African and Western understanding of a person, Augustine Shutte (1993: 46–47) came to the conclusion that in Western philosophy, “the self is always envisaged as something inside a person, or at least as kind of a container of mental properties and powers.” Contrary to this Western view of a person, Shutte said that, “In African thought [the self] is seen as outside, subsisting in relationship to what is other… Self and the world are united and intermingled in a web of reciprocal relations”. In other words, the African understanding of the ‘self’ is based on the presumption that ‘the self’ subsists in reciprocal relationships whereby it influences others in as much as it is influenced by others. As we have seen in the preceding section, the relations in which the individual subsist include the ancestors, the community and the natural environment. From an African communitarian perspective, the individual’s actions are deemed ethical when they advance the interests of the community. It is in promoting the interest of the community that the individual is only able to come to the realization that she or he belongs to the community or to the collective. The individual’s ‘I’ is an ‘I’ that subsists in the ‘we’ such that the individual’s ‘I’ cannot be autonomous at the expense of the community. In this regard, it is the community that shares itself in the making of the individual’s identity. From an African communitarian perspective, the idea of individual uniqueness which is commonly found in Western philosophy and psychology is based on an illusion where the



individual is presumed to be a self-enclosed entity with unique traits that cannot be found in other people (Uzukwu 1995: 42–45; Bujo 2001: 60–61; Murove 2005: 160–161). African communitarianism is based on a relational ontology where the individual is seen originally in terms of common belongingness. A natural instinct within us as human beings comes in the form of an incessant desire to belong. African ethics sees the individual as simply immersed in a web of relationships. It is these existential relationships which give the individual his or her consciousness as an experiencing subject. This consciousness gives rise to a natural feeling of being a person by virtue of belongingness. Through the totemic system, from time immemorial most of the African people south of the Sahara believed that they belonged to the natural world where they originated from. Thus these peoples could trace the history of the family as having originated from a totemic animal. In this totemic frame of mind, a human being did not only belong to the human community, rather she or he understood herself or himself as historically as belonging to the natural world and being a relative of a natural species. The ethical values inherent in the totemic system were that of inclusivity or the idea of human common belonging within the natural environment. The idea of a soul which was identified by religions such as Christianity and Islam as the main characteristic that separates humanity from the natural world was at variance with the African traditional cosmological outlook which saw all of nature as permeated by the spirit(s). Thus totemism as “a selective kind of animism…blurs the distinction between the living and the dead, between the human and the nonhuman, between the animate and the inanimate” (Mazrui 1976: 46; also see Mutsvairo 1996: 53; Frazer 1910: 67). In totemic modes of thought, human existence and the natural environment have knitted together with what one can metaphorically call threads of common belonging which was identified as integral to the concept of ukama (relationality). This totemic mind framework was also the rationale for the African ethic of environmental conservation. The natural environment was permeated by the primordial creative cosmological spirit. It was this primordial creative cosmological spirit which enabled everything that exists to participate in common life. Thus the idea of belonging could hardly be restricted to the human community, but was of the whole of creation. The concept of common belonging has some political implications as we shall see in Chap. 4. People understand themselves as primarily



belonging to land. They were born from the land or soil, and it is back into the land that their mortal remains are to return. The land carries with it some sacred or spiritual connotations. Firstly, ancestors were the founders of the land and they dwell in it even though they exist in the realm of immortality. The land was a gift which God gave to the ancestors and their progenitors. For this reason land cannot be bought or sold. The whole community belongs to it—hence the phrase ‘communal land’. The land is also a predicate of identity because many times you hear people referring to each other as ‘child of the soil or son of the soil’—Mwana wevhu (Shona). Such titles are regarded as highest form of praise that can be bestowed on somebody. When titles like these are used in addressing the individual, they evoke a strong feeling of belonging to the land and to the whole community—past and present. The values of the community are embedded in the land and it is imperative that the individual observes the moral traditions of the land as a way of demonstrating his or her belonging. The political responsibility of a traditional leader is to ensure that everybody “is given a portion of land equal to that of the others” in the community (Gelfand 1981: 10). An egalitarian ethical outlook towards the land is mainly based on the belief that it is a gift to the community from God and the ancestors, and hence it becomes unethical for one individual to claim monopoly over the land. The main reason which led to the African revolt against colonial rule evolved around the issue of land ownership. Since colonialism was about the expropriation of land from the indigenous African people, a revolt against this intrusive political system was understood by the majority of the indigenous African population as a struggle for the restoration of the land into the hands of its rightful owners who are the ancestors and the community. After the colonial expropriation of the land, the indigenous African populace was left without any sense of belonging. Without a sense of belonging to the land, indigenous African people felt to have been robbed of their identity. As a people who belonged to the land, the colonial expropriation of land left the majority of the African people physically and emotionally destitute. Physically they could no longer meet their material needs from the land, and emotionally they were left existing in a situation where they could no longer claim their traditional communal land as a predicate of their identity (Plaatje 2007: 61; also see Wilson 1923: 86–87). The African ethic of belonging to the land is still prevalent in modern times because when an African refers to his or her habitat in town she or he refers to it as ‘a house’ whilst the traditional communal



habitat is referred to as ‘home’. A house in town can be bought and sold whilst a home in the traditional communal setting cannot be sold. This shows that for indigenous African peoples there is a sense of belonging in the land of their origins as compared to a habitat in the city. A home could not be sold in as much the land could not be sold because home and land belonged to all members of the family. Finally, an African ethical outlook fosters an ethic of common belonging by being welcoming to strangers. Within the African traditional context, a visitor is treated in a way that shows that even though she or he is in a foreign land, she or he belongs to our common humanity. Virtues of Ubuntu dictate that no one should be treated in way that shows that they are strangers; rather a stranger should be treated with great respect and friendliness such that she or he will experience a sense of belonging. Having a stranger in your midst is regarded as a blessing. For this reason, everything possible was done in order to make sure that the stranger feels that she or he belongs. For example, there is a Swahili proverb which says, Mgeni siku mbili; siku tatu jembe—One is a guest for two days, on the third day give him or [her] a hoe (Nyerere 1968: 6; also see Prozesky 2009: 11). This proverb implies that strangers are supposed to feel that they belong to the people they have visited. Giving someone who is a stranger the opportunity to work with others is the most affectionate way of authenticating to the stranger the ethic of our human common belonging as encapsulated in the ethic of Ubuntu. In other instances a stranger who stays longer than what is expected is usually given land to farm so that she or he can sustain himself or herself. In so doing, the stranger became a full member of the community. Hospitality towards strangers is a civic duty whereby the horst is supposed to demonstrate an attitude of magnanimity, compassion and acceptance (Munyaka and Motlhabi 2009: 77). The practice of these virtues has become integral to one’s habit or a communal collective instinct towards strangers which has helped to instil a sense of belonging. In Shona there is a proverb which says, Kutuka werwendo, kuzvisosera nzira neminzwa. This proverb literally means ‘to scold or insult a traveler is to block one’s path with thorns’. The stranger is not supposed to be ill-treated because in the future one might end up a stranger in the land of the person you ill-treated in the past. The ethic of common belonging that is nurtured in African ethics is also based on the political idea that one can only grow one’s communal identity by entering into relationships or ukama with peoples from foreign lands. In the quest to foster the ideals of an ethic of common belonging,



one finds that in many African cultures marriage must be between two strangers where there is no consanguinity. This practice helps to expand the circle of common belonging with people who are strangers from distant lands. Through marriage the two families or communities become hama (relatives) who are bound together by the union of two people. In the quest to expand the circle of common belonging, there is a Zulu proverb which says, Induku enhle igawulwa ezizweni—a proverb which literally means that the best walking stick is found in foreign lands or foreign countries. Such a proverb is usually used in advising young ladies that the best love relationship is that which is acquired from foreign lands. In other words, the proverb admonishes people to be outward looking such that they foster the ethical ideal of common belonging within the generality of human existence. However, as we shall in Chap. 6, the post-colonial African political efforts to create a political and economic order of integration have been inspired partly by the African ethical ideal of common belonging. In this chapter I have provided the reader with a succinct account of the main characteristics of African ethics. Most of these characteristics will keep on recurring throughout the following chapters. The main concern of the following chapters is to demonstrate critically how African ethics has been integral to post-colonial political discourses whilst at the same time being excluded when it comes to political action aimed at the genuine transformation of post-colonial African societies. The exclusion of ethics from African politics remains entrenched in the political science curriculum at our institutions of higher learning. But ironic enough, as we shall see in the following chapters, African political discourses are replete with the above features of African ethics. Most of the post-colonial sub-­ Saharan socio-economic policies are based on the ideals of African ethical traditions. The prominence that has been given to African traditional values in post-colonial sub-Saharan Africa remains a perennial theme that can be discerned in the writings and socio-economic policies of many African nationalists. But whether these African traditional values have been translated into meaningful transformative political and economic policies remains a question that is open for debate. Some scholars have argued that the African elite have been seduced by the capitalistic goods of modernity and have as a result turned their backs on African traditions. As Mike Boon puts it, “But there is a dark and utterly destructive cloud to the Third Word: a massive movement of individuals turning their backs on their traditions and discipline and, in so doing, also on the closeness of



community and Ubuntu” (Boon 2007: 48). In such observations there is an appreciation of African traditional values, which is also attended to by a regret that this rich ethical tradition is being increasingly abandoned by a group of modernized Africans who are supposed to be their guardians.

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Ethical Politics in the Context of African Traditional Religion

The times of ethical politics in Africa can be found in African traditional religion and culture. In Africa religion has played a critical role in traditional politics. Kings and Chiefs were believed to have been appointed by the ancestors. It is mainly for this reason that political authority or power was regarded as sacred. Political power without some form of a sacred genealogy was regarded as illegitimate. Ali Mazrui puts it well when he said that in traditional Africa, “A traditional chief was not always an instance of personalized power. …In fact, as often as not it was the institution rather than the personality of the incumbent that commanded authority. But although the personalization of power in traditional Africa was thus by no means universal, the socialization of authority virtually was. There was always a spiritual basis to legitimate rule in traditional Africa” (Mazrui 2009: 207). In other words, knew that the political power which he wielded a power which he wielded in trust. The institution of traditional authority was the source of power instead of the individual ruler. People were the custodians of the political power of the traditional authority. Legitimate rule was derived from the ancestors because in African patterns of thought ancestors were understood as the originators of political power. This also implies that in African traditional political system, the power to rule which was on the individual in his capacity as king or chief was not personalized, but rather it was a power that belonged to the institution. It was the institution of kingship or chieftaincy that was endowed with the © The Author(s) 2020 M. F. Murove, African Politics and Ethics,




authority to rule instead of the individual. The power to rule found its legitimacy from the realm of the spiritual world through the ancestors. Political power was thus conferred on the individual for the sake of the institution as the guarantor of the political and economic wellbeing of the people. Political power was not for individual prestige and personal glory; rather, it was a power that was bestowed on the individual in order for him to serve the people through the traditional institution of chieftaincy or kingship. The chief or king is usually regarded as the founder of the community or nation. In his study of the Shona people of Zimbabwe, Michael Gelfand observed that, “After the death of the founder of the clan, his spirit (mhondoro) is deified and the clan looks upon this spirit to guard its welfare and bless it with good rains, plentiful crops and everything concerned with the wellbeing of the whole community” (Gelfand 1981: 66). The implication of Gelfand’s observation is that the chief or king was ruling the people on behalf of the ancestors or the founding ancestors. Political leadership was about ensuring that one’s followers enjoy a prosperous life. The spirit that usually directed the affairs of the chief or king in traditional Shona society was known as mhondoro—a word that means lion spirit. Mhondoro is mostly concerned with the wellbeing of community or kingdom as a whole. A lion upon which mhondoro has incarnated was believed to be harmless towards people and their livestock. An important point to take note of is that mhondoro was the spiritual guardian for the whole of the chiefdom or kingdom. Michael Bourdillon (1987: 254–255) echoed the above point well when he said, “The spirits of a chiefly family are spirit guardians not only of their own descendants, but also of the chiefdom as a whole.” In other words these spirits of the chiefly family “are thus associated with a territory which they ‘own’ rather than with a kinship group of which they are senior members. In some areas, this territorial guardianship is emphasized, each lion spirit having its own clearly defined ward in the chiefdom”. In this regard, one can easily deduce that Mhondoro of a particular chiefdom will be more concerned with the religious, moral and political affairs of its own territory instead of a kinship group. Mhondoro’s interest was in the land and the welfare of all the people who stayed in it. The concerns of Mhondoro are for the wellbeing of the whole community instead of the individual or a family as a unit within the chiefdom or kingdom. Mhondoro or lion spirit was the proprietor of a chiefdom, and this was shown in the rituals that were supposed to be observed and the interest which the Mhondoro showed towards the general wellbeing of the



people with regard to the fertility of the land in general instead of individual interests. Mhondoro or lion spirits exercised ultimate sovereignty over the land and it was their sacred responsibility to appoint and mentor the king or chief on how to rule the kingdom. Mhondoro was the incarnation of the founder of the land and represented all the ancestors of the community. The spiritual phenomenon of Mhondoro promoted the African political belief that chiefly or kingly power was there for the national common good. For this reason, the sacredness of chiefly or kingly power which was conferred upon the elected individual had no other purpose besides the promotion of the common good by ensuring that the material and spiritual needs of people are collectively realized. Thus political power was not there for individual personal self-aggrandizement; rather political power was given to a particular individual for the promotion of the common good as the will of the ancestors in the personification of Mhondoro. Political leadership was inseparable from spirituality because the office of traditional leadership carried with it some spiritual obligations because such an office originated from the spiritual world. For this reason, the world of mortality and immortality was consummated on the person of the African traditional leader as the one who was chosen by the ancestors. In the African traditional polity it became incumbent for the office of traditional leadership to ensure that harmony existed between the world of mortality and immortality. Whenever there was harmony between these two worlds, the land was going to yield bumper harvest. This harmony between these two worlds was attained through the strict observance of the laws of the land which prescribed that which was permissible and not permissible. In cases where an injustice was committed by the ruler, the ancestors would summon the king or chief for redress. However, is also needs to be observed that related to the primary spiritual function of Mhondoro was to ensure that the mores and taboos of the kingdom or chiefdom are strictly observed lest the harmony that exists among human beings in society and the natural environment is disrupted by human dissolute behaviour. Since the natural environment was regarded as the abode of Mhondoro, it was one of the primary sacred functions of a chief or king to ensure that the economic activities of his or her subjects do not compromise harmonious relationships between humanity and the natural environment. Whilst traditional healers and other family spirit mediums were able to give attention of individual or family health affairs, “Lion spirit mediums [Mhondoro], on the other hand, are essentially public figures and their operations are for the most part open to the local



public” (Bourdillon 1987: 256). The distinction between traditional healers and the Mhondoro reinforces the idea that lion spirits (MhondoroI) were there for the common good. It is mainly for this reason that in traditional African societies the political institution of chieftaincy or kingship was spiritually and materially understood in terms of fostering the common good.

Symbiotic Relationship Between Ancestors and Political Power In the light of the above discussion of lion spirits or Mhondoro one can easily deduce that there is a symbiotic relationship between ancestors and political power in traditional African societies. The African traditional belief in the existence of the paranormal is related to the idea that the political realm is in perennial intercourse with the sphere of immortality. Political power is conferred to the ruler by the ancestors and these ancestors continue to guide the decisions of the ruler throughout his life. In African traditional societies, political power was in the hands of the ancestors. The chief or king was understood as a symbol of the incarnation of the founding father of the kingdom or chiefdom. In his person as a symbol of the incarnation of the founding father of the kingdom or chiefdom, all the members of the kingdom or chiefdom are thus recognized as related and interrelated. This relatedness is captured in Shona culture through the concept of Ukama, meaning ‘we are related’). Since I shall come back to this concept later on, however, for now my focus is on the chief or king as the symbol of the incarnation of the ancestor of the founding father. Aeneas Chigwedere puts it so eloquently when he said, “In installing a new traditional Chief, probably the most important ritual was the one that made the new Chief the incarnation of the founding father. This meant INFUSING the essence of the founding father into the new Chief” (Chigwedere 2014: 14). As the incarnation of the founding ancestor of the chiefdom, the new chief was understood by the community as the representative of the founding ancestor because the chiefdom was literally understood as belonging to the founding ancestor. The installation of the new chief was usually done on the condition that she or he was accepted the by founding ancestor. The chiefdom or kingdom which the new chief or king inherited the chiefdom or kingdom from the ancestors.



In other words, the chief’s power was not a power which could be personalized because it was a power that was held in trust on behalf of the ancestors. It is ancestors who are believed to share in the life of God because of their attainment of the existential status of immortality. Whilst chiefs or kings are the incarnation of the founding father, ancestors communicated their messages to the chiefs or kings through spirit mediums such as lion spirits or Mhondoro in the case of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. The power which the chief or king exercised was regarded as sacrosanct in the sense that its genealogy could be traced to God via the founding patriarchy of the nation whom the chief or king represented. For this reason, all the powers to rule the nation were bestowed in the hands of the chief/king. What is regarded today as the separation of powers ‘between the Executive and Legislature and the judiciary’ was unheard of in precolonial Africa because the kingdom or chiefdom was understood as a theocracy in the sense that the chief or king was also in charge of the judiciary functions. This meant that “politics, economics, law and religion were inseparably intertwined together under one head” who was chief or king. According to this precolonial African traditional policy of theocracy, the spiritual element enveloped every aspect of social life (Chigwedere 2014: 27). Whilst the idea of the separation of powers had its origins in the Western societies’ tradition of mistrust towards a king, in African tradition societies kings or chiefs were fully trusted on the understanding that the power they wielded was of divine origins, and as such they could not misuse it in pursuit of their personal selfish-interests. As the custodian of divine and ancestral powers, the chief or king became the custodian of all the dimensions of the lives of his people. On the basis of this trust, the wellbeing of his people is of prime importance before anything else. The chief or king is ultimately accountable for everything that happens within his kingdom or chiefdom. Continuous communication with the ancestors helped to reinforce symbiotic relationship between the past, present and the future. Since African tradition kingdoms or chiefdoms were theocratic, some places were regarded as the abode of ancestors and the deity. In the case of Zimbabwe, the Matopo Hills were regarded as the sacred place where the deity Mwari resided and gave oracles about the general wellbeing of the country from time to time through his or her priests. The affairs of the kingdom or chiefdom were run in consultation with the Mwari deity. For example, for Cecil John Rhodes to assert his political authority among Ndebele and Shona people of Zimbabwe, he had to impose his authority



on the sacred Matopo Hills. Rhodes’ conquest of Matopo Hills had some strong political implications to the surrounding kingdoms and chiefdoms in Southern Africa. First, Rhodes had sent an unequivocal message to the indigenous peoples of Southern Africa that he was now the new deity that replaced the old Mwari deity. In his will, Rhodes had the temerity to write that he should be buried at Matopo Hills and that African people should visit his grave as a place of pilgrimage instead of the shrine of Mwari (Murove 2016: 24). The wealth which he hoarded in African lands made him feel that he had the power which was far greater than that of the Mwari deity, and hence he should be the object of worship for indigenous Africans instead of Mwari. What Rhodes did to the Africans was similar to what Yahweh was believed to have done to the gods of the Canaanites. By conquering the gods of the Canaanites, Yahweh, the God of war, had demonstrated that he or she was the only true God who wielded all the powers and the Israelites were supposed to worship him only in perpetuity in the temple which the Israelites believed to be his or her abode. Similarly, when Rhodes requested that his remains should be buried on Matopo Hills, the shrine of the God Mwari had sent a strong message to the indigenous African pilgrims that he had taken over from Mwari as the true deity to be worshipped instead of Mwari. To most of the colonialists Rhodes’ conquest of Mwari Shrine became a symbolic political gesture of his ultimate triumph of the religious and political order of the indigenous African people (Ranger 1999: 31). Rhodes’ conquest of Zimbabwe and the Mwari shrine at the Matopo Hills was also read to imply that he had conquered African ancestors and their God. Up to the present day, the grave of Rhodes is still at Matopo Hills—a dramatic symbolic gesture of colonial conquest which also came to imply the conquest of people’s religious belief system. With such a gesture, Rhodes wanted the indigenous Southern African population that made pilgrim to the Mwari Shrine increasingly to also worship him alongside Mwari. In African traditional religion, God was not understood as a God of war; rather she or he was a God of fertility or a God of life who was also understood as a sharing God. God shared his or her divine powers with the ancestors and all living things. Ancestors in turn shared this divine power with their progenitors who are currently existing within the realm of mortality. It is usually on the basis of this reason that some scholars have characterized the African universe as a universe that is saturated with life which is understood to stretch from mortality into immortality. An



important characteristic that was inherent in African traditional religion was the idea of the sacredness of the natural environment. The belief that ancestors resided in particular valleys, mountains and rivers instilled in people a sense of respect for nature and the natural environment. The environment was an embodiment of a people’s history in such a way that it was a relative to live with. The idea that humanity originated from the natural world and not from the Garden of Eden which Charles Darwin has been credited for, was an idea which was already integral to African people’s cosmology and cosmogony. The natural species was a relative in a way that was rather concrete. Hence, in such relationships when one avoided eating a particular animal or plant, it was concretely an avoidance of eating one’s own flesh. Consequently it could be said that there was some unity of principle whereby the human community shared some common origin with a natural species which was to be defined as one’s own flesh (Knight 1991: 107–108). For this reason one finds that a totemic animal was a relative upon which the history and identity of a particular community or people was predicated. The totemic system served as a way of preserving the memory of identity of a particular people or community from posterity to posterity (Mutsvairo 1996: 16). When it comes to marriage one could only marry someone who did not share the same totem with him or her. The rationale behind the belief in the totemic system was not to differentiate people; rather, the aim was to foster a sense of our human common belonging to each other and also our relationality with the natural environment. A colonial missionary anthropologist, Henri Philippe Junod studied totemism among indigenous South Africans after which he made the following deduction: Totemism presents three main characteristics: (1) A definite relation between one animal species or one object and a definite social group; (2) a belief that a definite relationship exists between the members of this social group and the animal, the plant or the object, a belief which amounts to an imagination that this human social group proceeds originally from the animal, the plant or the object-totem; (3) a kind of respect or worship of the animal, the plant or the object. (Junod 1938: 108)

What one needs to deduce from the above description of totemism is the idea that totemic system was based on cosmological outlook which espoused the idea of our human common belonging with the natural



world. It was not only a human being who was sacred, but the totemic species or the natural world that was endowed with sacredness. In his field work research among the Ndau people of the Eastern part and Zimbabwe, Junod was taught by his field work interpreter Office Muhlanga whose totem was Zebra on the significance that existed between the African people and their totems as follows, “We resemble our totem in spirit (mweya). The zebra has got our manners, we have the same way of living. If on my way I am threatened with an accident, or likely to be in danger, for example, if there is a chance of meeting lions, I am stopped by my mutupo” (Junod 1938: 110). A totem was undoubtedly a relative which imparted messages to its human relative about impending dangers. For this reason the relationship between humanity and the natural world was not an abstract one, but rather it was concrete. The sacredness in a totemic species was not based on superstition as early missionaries and Western anthropologists had taught, but rather it was a sacredness that was based on the belief that all nature was endowed with a sacred virtue of being bonded in life. One of the responsibilities of a traditional leader was to guard against the violation of the rules and taboos that protected the sacredness of the natural environment. The environment was not only the abode of the ancestors, but it was also an abode of God. The idea of the sacredness of the natural environment was well articulated by Ignatius Zvarevashe (1980: 297) in relationship to the Shona people’s belief in God (Mwari) as follows, “In Shona religion, Mwari (God) is present, indwelling gin creation, nature is not dead, it is alive. Nature is vibrating with life, nature has got a certain force emanating.” He resented the tragic fact that missionaries and colonial anthropologists superficially studied and wrongly interpreted the African traditional attitude of connectedness to the natural environment as evidence of the prevalence of animism and superstition in African traditional religion. The current environmental crisis is a crisis that is partly caused by Christian and early anthropological teaching that insisted on the narratives that were mainly premised on the debasement of the natural world. These narratives stripped African traditional authorities of their responsibilities of maintaining harmony between human beings and the natural environment. From an African traditional religious perspective, God is a sharing God. In this regard, people and all creation participate in the creative work of God. To be fully human implies being able to participate in the life of the community. A chief or king with good leadership qualities is someone who ensures that the people she or he leads participate fully in the day-to-day



activities of the community and that the integrity of the natural environment is maintained. Thus one finds that the ethos of inclusiveness is at the heart of African traditional religious practices. With specific reference to African traditional religion among the Shona people of Zimbabwe, Gelfand made the following observation, “The religion of the Shona with its ritual practises serves to bring about or to ensure the concept of brotherhood (kunzwanana and ukama). Religion has a tremendous influence on the behaviour of the clansmen [sic]. With this form of worship the strong kinship ties would not probably survive in the traditional environment of the people” (Gelfand 1973: 136–137). The words kunzwanana (mutual understanding) and ukama (relationality) have been used here by the author to denote the idea that African traditional religion fosters harmony among people. This helps to avoid divisive tendencies in human society. Within such a religious outlook, God was understood as a God for everybody by virtue of being human. The rituals that were carried out in African traditional religion became mystical mechanisms of ensuring peace and tranquillity among people. The existence of peace and tranquillity reverberated into the realm of immortality where God and the ancestors dwelled. Without peace and tranquillity in human society, a harmonious existence between human beings, God and the ancestors is inevitably disrupted. Mwari was not in control of everything in creation, but rather she or he was a sharing God. This God shared duties with ancestors and other creatures in creation. Mwari was also understood as a God who cherished peace and justice. It is for this reason that some scholars have argued that the Mwari cult was responsible for the first Shona resistance against colonialism. The resistance against colonialism was effected as a result of the communion between Mwari and national spirit mediums, Nehanda and Kaguvi. Inus Daneel (1993: 6) stated the relationship between Mwari, ancestors and people as follows, “In national crises the concerted action of spirit forces—both God and the tribal ancestors—became manifest in the close collaboration between territorial cultists and the senior spirit mediums of outlying districts.” This creator God of ecology, whose indigenous name was Mwari revealed himself as a God who was mainly concerned with rain, crops and human fertility, attracted “the imagination of his or her people during the rebellion as a militant deity; the god of war and peace and the god of justice opposing oppressive rule”. Thus the African traditional religious understanding of God as a God of peace, justice and harmony became the source of inspiration for the



rebellion against the oppressive colonial establishment. The power of God or Mwari was a power that was shared with people and the whole of creation. Sometimes a mistake that is made by scholars arises from interpreting the mediatory role of ancestors to imply that the God of African traditional religion was a remote God who was not intimately related to the people and creation. In this regard, it is claimed that the God of Christianity was more intimately related to the people than the God of African traditional religion. For example, with reference to the Shona deity Mwari, one finds the anthropologist Michael Bourdillon (1987: 285) averring that, “All Christian mission churches offer to the common people means of directly approaching the high god. Instead of the high god of traditional Shona religion who is too remote to be concerned with the personal problems of individuals”, the Christian religion presents a transcendent god as someone affectionately concerned with the wellbeing of all the people. This is evident from the fact that the God of Christianity was “someone to whom all and any may pray, and who has provided a mediator in this son, Jesus Christ.” This God of Christianity was concerned with all the minute details of people’s lives, and dictated the moral code which was supposed to be followed by all people regardless of tribal affiliation. However, needless to say, Bourdillon’s observation can be taken as a classic example of an erroneous conceptualization of the God of African traditional religion. As we have seen in the previous chapter, in African traditional religion, God was understood as intimately related to the whole of creation and participated in all the affairs of creation because she or he was wholly immersed in creation as the creator. As we have seen previously, among the Shona and Ndebele people of Zimbabwe, God was believed to dwell within the majestic rocks of the Matopo Hills. The idea of a God who dwelt within nature was rather convulsive and barbaric in the eyes of the early Christian missionaries who evangelized pre-colonial Africa. The presumption of these missionaries was that God was not supposed to be intimately related to nature because an intimate relationship between God and nature was regarded by early missionaries as animism. For example, when the Jesuits missionaries entered Matabeleland in 1879 prior to the advent of colonialism, they discovered the Matopo Hills was the shrine for the African traditional religion—“the oracular cult of the High God, Mwali” (Ranger 1999: 15). In such examples one can easily infer that the African traditional God was not a remote God who ruled creation from the remote heavens through the insertion of power, but a



God who was wholly immersed in the day-to-day affairs of creation. For those Jesuit missionaries who were accustomed to worshipping the Christian remote god could not appreciate the idea of a god who dwelt in nature; hence they could not help but only to demonize Mwari: “This God lives in a subterranean cave in a labyrinth of rocks…In this cave is a deep, black well, the well of the abyss. From time to time dull sounds like thunder come forth from this well.” According to these missionary accounts, African worshippers of Mwari put their offerings on the edge of the cave. These offerings were in the form of “wheat, corn, poultry, cakes and other gifts” which were offered with the aim of appeasing Mwari so that she or he could be propitious towards her or his people. These early missionaries alleged that the African religion was an infantile religion which was supposed to be changed through a process of evangelization of the Christian religion (Ranger 1999: 15). Missionary Christianity was intolerant towards any religious belief system that did not share in its religious beliefs. Any religious belief system which was not Christian was described in derogatory terms such as ‘superstition, barbarism, evil, animism and heathenism’. All these derogatory terms which were used to describe African tradition religion reflected an intolerant mindset. In traditional African culture tolerance was a highly prized virtue which was found among those who were regarded as people of high moral integrity or those who were naturally endowed with ethical qualities of ubuntu. The prevalence of the virtue of tolerance is an explanatory reason why after gaining their independence many African militant nationalists did not revenge against their yester colonial oppressors. Other African scholars such as Ali Mazrui observed that, “Africans fight deeply and passionately, sometimes ruthlessly, in defence of their identities or values. But when the fighting is over, African cultures have a low level of hate-retention” (Mazrui 2009: 37). This low level of hate retention has its origins partly in the African traditional religion which had an inclusive approach to religion. The whole of the universe is a religious universe to which everybody belongs. For missionaries the idea of a god who dwelt among nature and entered in conversations with human beings was something unheard of. In other words, God was not supposed to dwell in nature and communicate directly with human beings through nature. Those who believed in such a god were thus described as gullible or dupable. It is no wonder that devotees of African traditional religion were described as existing in a state of infantile bliss. However, missionaries did not recognize African traditional



religion as a genuine religion that had to do with the worship of God. The God who was worshipped by indigenous African peoples at the Matopo shrine was demonized. For these early missionaries, the only true God was the Christian God and anything else was interpreted as demonic. Thus the encounter between Christianity and African traditional religion was heralding the political conquest of Africa by European powers. This conquest manifested itself in the form of the bastardization of the African God and religious practices that were related to the belief in this God as demonic worship. In this spirit of political conquest, Africans were forced to adopt the Christian God as the only true God for the whole world. In support of my argument that early missionary evangelization was poised at political conquest of Africa, I should like to quote Bourdillon (1987: 285–286), who made the claim to the effect of the absoluteness of Christianity as the only true religion for the Africans as follows, “Traditional religion was concerned primarily with respect for spirit guardians, and has little to say on people’s relations with strangers or anyone outside their communities”. This was rather an erroneous understanding of African traditional religion. As have seen in the previous chapter, African religion and ethics placed prime ethical value on the principle of human common belongingness. The idea that to be human is to belong carried with it an inclusive vision of society in which everybody was welcomed. We have also seen that African religion and ethics had a pantheistic view of existence because everything is understood as interconnected with everything else. Bourdillon went on to allege that once African small communities disintegrate and start having “dealings with an ever widening society, it is advantageous to find an overall religious view, which incorporates all the people they may meet and which implies universal ethical norms” (ibid.). The allusion of the above quotation is that African traditional religion was rather ethnic instead of being universalistic. This ethnic orientation of African traditional religion could be discerned from the respect that is given to the ancestors. According to Bourdillon, an ethnic outlook ignores relations with strangers or those who are seen as not belonging to the ethnic group. Like all other Eurocentric anthropologists, Bourdillon provides us with a typical superficial understanding of African traditional religion. But this superficiality needs to be understood in his salient quest for Westernization through the universalization of the Christian religion. It is a quest for power and conquest which to a certain extent enthused the anthropological scholarly bastardization of the God of African traditional religion. The political ramifications of this bastardization of African



traditional religion resulted in the promotion of European imperial power under the guise of universal religion in the form of Christianity as the only legitimate religion befitting for an authentic worship of a universal God. Early missionary Christianity was bereft of religious and cultural diversity in its spiritual orientation. This Christianity was imbued with some totalitarian tendencies. It is for this reason that missionary Christianity presented itself as the spiritual counsel for imperial powers in their justification for conquest and ultimate subjugation of the colonized. Thus in his scathing critique of Christianity and imperialism, Eboussi Boulaga (1981: 66) argued that missionary Christianity was imperialistic because it was a religion that imposed itself upon the people and it tore those who were converted “by the roots, out of where-they-live, out of their being-in-the-­ world” and offered them a religious “faith only at the price of depriving them of their capacity to generate the material and spiritual condition of their existence. …There is no common, shared experience among them”. In the light of the above observation we can deduce that the Christian religion has been the most divisive factor in African societies which cherished humanistic ethical ideals of communal common belonging and harmony. Because of its connection with European imperialism, early missionary Christianity became notoriously intolerant towards African tradition religion. If Africans had other religious belief systems and moral values apart from the Christian ones, it inevitably meant that they were on the wrong path. Thus by claiming an exclusive relationship with God, the Christian God was no longer a sharing God as it became only the Western world which was saved while all other cultures were portrayed as living under sin. African tradition religion was inclusive and tolerant in the sense that one did not need to confess some doctrine or commit oneself to some congregation as a precondition for acceptance into participating in religious rituals. Everyone was welcomed to participate in the rituals of community simply by virtue of being human. It is the prevalence of inclusivity which makes African traditional religion to be regarded as an ethical religion. However, the most significant negative impact of Christianity came in the form of religious fundamentalism which influenced the South African political landscape with disastrous consequences. The early Afrikaners who were steeped in the sixteenth century doctrines of Calvinism saw themselves as the Chosen people of God in South Africa whilst the British imperialists were regarded as the Pharaohs of Egypt and the majority of the indigenous Africans as the Philistines of the Bible (Moodie 1980:



11–12). The belief in God as someone who predetermined the Afrikaners as an elected people became integral to the history of racism and the political ideology of apartheid in apartheid South Africa. The political ideology of apartheid and its inherent bigoted socio-political outlook led to the formation of an Afrikaner semi-cultic political secret organization which was called the Afrikaner Broederbond (Afrikaner brotherhood). Whilst this secret group claimed to have been formed with the aim of promoting Afrikaner culture, it had such a tremendous influence on all South African spheres of life. Ivor Wilkins and Hans Strydom observed that, “Its All-­ pervading influence has made its indelible mark on South Africa. The Bantustan policies, the Christian national education policy, the sport policy, the coloured and Indian policy” (Wilkins and Strydom 2012: 2). This secret organization became the brains behind all the political machinations of apartheid as it spread its racist tentacles all over the spheres of the apartheid South African society. Hence, “all the major political peculiarities which have shaped South Africa into a constitutional oddity bear the stamp of the Broederbond on their formulation and execution” (ibid.). An element of divisiveness was inherent in conservative Christian fundamentalism. In the political history of South Africa, apartheid found its religious justification in Calvinistic teachings which were rudimentary interpreted by Afrikaners to mean that God chose them above the indigenous peoples of South Africa (Du Toit 1983: 927). The idea of Afrikaner people seeing themselves as a chosen people metamorphosed into racism or and fundamentalist belief in ethnicity as a divinely inspired social ordering. Because of the symbiotic relationship that existed between Calvinistic Christian fundamentalism of the Dutch Reformed Church and the apartheid National Party, South African militant nationalists used to euphemistically refer the then National Party apartheid led government as ‘the Dutch Reformed Church at prayer’. However, the question we need to ask ourselves is whether African traditional religion promoted an ethnic life outlook. African traditional societies were very hospitable to strangers or visitors. When Portuguese traders under the leadership of Vasco da Gama came to the shore between South African and Mozambique to repair their ship, they were warmly received by the African people with a spirit of generosity to the extent that they named that area Terra da boa gente—the land of the good people (Prozesky 2009: 3). Friendliness and hospitality to strangers is one of the most cherished virtues in African traditional societies. A visitor or a stranger was treated with utmost respect in a way that made his or her stay a



pleasurable experience. The whole family was expected to put up the best behaviour whenever a stranger or a visitor was around. Mluleki Munyaka and Mogkethi Motlhabi observed that in traditional African societies travellers or strangers “were served with food unreservedly”. Their presence was seen as more of a blessing than a burden and, as a corollary, brought joy to children who knew that the best meals would be served when visitors are in the family. The practice “of hospitality may explain why, among the Batswana people, there is a saying which states, Moeng goroga re je ka wena (Come visitor so that we can feast through you” (Munyaka and Motlhabi 2009: 76–77). Among the Shona people, the whole chiefdom or kingdom contributed to the chief or king’s granary—Dura ramambo. Strangers who visit the chiefdom or kingdom were usually sent to the chief or king’s palace where they were treated as guests of the chief or king. Traditional leadership was more focused on promoting the common good.

African Traditional Leadership in Modern African Politics Up to now African traditional political belief systems have had a great influence on modern politics in post-colonial Africa. In post-colonial Africa there has been a tendency of wanting to recapture the pre-colonial African traditional political system in the present post-colonial political condition. For example, Ali Mazrui (2009: 206–207) discussed this yearning for pre-colonial African traditional political system as “The Monarchical Tendency in African Political Culture”. Mazrui identified four elements in post-colonial African politics that show the existence of monarchical tendency in African politics namely: “the quest for aristocratic effect”, “the personalization of authority” and “the sacralization of authority”. The quest for an aristocratic effect manifests itself in the form of a “partiality for splendid attire, for large expensive cars, for palatial accommodation, and for other forms of conspicuous consumption”. On the other hand, the personalization of authority comes in the form of a personality cult which “goes to the extent of inventing a special title for the leader—and occasionally the title is almost literally royal”. Finally, the sacralisation of authority is “linked to the process of personalizing authority” in the form of “[t]he glorification of a leader”. The idea of seeing the modern political office in monarchical terms is partly based on the post-colonial political quest for the restoration of African kingdoms and chiefdoms that were



destroyed by colonialism. The attainment of political independence is thus understood as a moment of a reincarnation of the old traditional political order in the present. The quest for the reincarnation of the old kingdoms or chiefdoms in the post-colonial order is related to the desire to recover the national political identity within the present post-colonial dispensation. In this quest for a post-colonial political identity, is what Mazrui called the paradox of “the innocence of newly born nationhood” accompanied by “the desire to be grey haired and wrinkled as a nation; of wanting to have an antiquity”. This paradox was demonstrated by “Nkurumah’s ambition for his country whereby he wanted to “modernize and ancientize at the same time” (Mazrui 2009: 218). The political pursuit for Africa’s glorious monarchical past is based on the belief that African kings and chiefs were great rulers, and hence there is a continuity between the post-colonial African political dispensation and pre-colonial African kingdoms or chiefdoms. When the then Gold Coast gained its independence as a new state, it went on to adopt “the ancient name of Ghana” and similarly when Rhodesia got its independence it adopted the ancient name of Zimbabwe—a name that belonged to the ancient kingdom of Great Zimbabwe empire (ibid.). In this quest for an ancient glorious political past, there is a salient belief that the ideal African polity existed in the past and the present polity should learn from the past where everything existed in a state of perfect bliss before that fateful encounter with colonialism. The former South African president, Thabo Mbeki gave a maiden speech that was titled “I am an African” on the occasion of the adoption of the democratic South African constitution by parliament. In this speech one can easily discern the usual African tendency of revelling in ancient glory within the modern post-colonial political dispensation. Thus in this speech Mbeki had this to say, “I owe my being to the hills and the valley, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, and the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land” (Mbeki 1996). This speech echoes the African ethical belief in the primacy of common belonging with the whole of creation. This reflects a pantheistic outlook which recognizes a holistic understanding of reality. This pantheistic outlook was a radical antithesis to the apartheid or colonial society which thrived on fragmenting human social existence on the basis of skin colour. Mbeki went on to affirm the historical authenticity or indigeneity of black people when he said, “I owe my being to the Khoi and the San whose desolate souls haunt the great expanses of the beautiful Cape—they who



fell victim to the most merciless genocide our native land has ever seen…” (ibid.). The above thought shows the common post-colonial African political of eulogizing the past. This ethos is partly a reaction to the usual Western arrogance of portraying pre-colonial Africa as a continent that did not have a history. The need to affirm that Africa had a history was done in a way that carried with it the paradox of appreciating the African past whilst at the same time committing the newly independent nation to the modern era. But African politicians have taken an ambivalent political posture with regard to the importance of traditional African political institutions. The role of chiefs and kings in post-colonial Africa has been reduced to ceremonialism. Politically they are accountable to misters and public servants who are in charge of traditional affairs. In this regard, their decisions about certain political matters in their communities can easily be set aside by civil servants. Whilst chiefs and kings in post-colonial Africa are playing a symbolic role of the African traditional sacred past, the post-colonial African polity does not show any reverence to that African traditional sacred past. The sacred political authority of chiefs and kings in post-colonial Africa is only acknowledged when it helps to advance the political interests of the modernized African ruling elite. Whilst the political authority of African chiefs and kings is claimed to originate from Africa’s primordial sacred past, the political authority of post-colonial African political leaders can be traced from the colonial interlude, an historical epoch that casts into doubt the suzerainty of the modern state over the African traditional institutions. This situation can best be described an aporias one because it is imbued in a contradiction between the past and the present whereby an admiration of the past has not been authentically complemented by the way how African politicians have exercised power in the present. In their exercising of political power, African leaders have disparaged the African traditional past as engendered in African traditional humanistic values which they sometimes claim to be the source of Africa’s political identity. However, the institution of African traditional authorities is usually relegated to the ‘customary’ or ‘retraditionalisation’ in a rather condescending manner. In the modern era, the significance of the chieftaincy in post-colonial Africa remains a politically debatable issue. The significance and role of chieftaincy has been relegated to the sphere of preserving that which is deemed customary to African traditional societies “which, from a Euromodernist perspective, occupies an irreducibly alien, immobile space-time. By some accounts, this



‘resurgence’ is itself part of an ur-process increasingly dubbed ‘retraditionalisation’” [their italics] (Comaroff and Comaroff 2018: 7–8). One can read the above observation to imply that African traditional leadership is contemporaneously understood as belonging to the conservative customary institution that is poised at retraditionalizing the modern post-colonial African society. But such scholarly critiques tend to cast doubt on the relevance African traditional political institutions within the contemporary post-colonial African society. Obviously this bergs the question of whether such political institutions are relevant to the modern African polity. In addressing this question many scholars have proffered diverse, and sometimes conflicting answers. One finds Comaroff and Comaroff (2018: 14) advancing the thesis that the resurgence of African traditional chiefs and their clamouring for the recognition of African customs by post-colonial African governments should be understood as an attempt by these chiefs to claim legitimacy from the past African polity, thus repositioning themselves in a way that ultimately make them beneficiaries of the goods of contemporary neo-liberal capitalism. As they put it, “in asserting themselves as a rising force in the twenty-first century, many indigenous rulers borrow heavily from the lexicon of the eternal-­customary, the transcendant ancestry, the ethnocultural, the ‘sanctity of age-old rules and powers’”. Within the modern post-colonial African state, the political power of African traditional leaders find their legitimacy from the past mainly because of the dominance that is given to the role of ancestors in African traditional modes of thought. The legitimacy of a ruler depended on the genealogy of his or her ancestral origins with specific reference to chieftaincy or kingship. The past provided the chief and or king with political capital upon which recognition within the chiefdom or kingdom was premised. For this reason, as Comaroff and Comariff put it, traditional leaders “serve as nodal points in the development industry between their constituencies and donors, venture capital, NGO’s and other ‘stakeholders; to transform their trusteeship over territory into proprietorship, itself a refiguring of ‘the customary’, in order to elicit rents from extractive industries…” (ibid.). The argument that is being advanced by these authors is that traditional leaders are using their traditional authority to benefit themselves from the goods of modernity and capitalism because their traditional authority makes them the points men or women for community development projects and foreign venture capital. Traditional leaders have remained the main beneficiaries of developmental projects, especially those developmental projects that are pursued under the banner



of developing grassroots communities. Grassroots communities are usually rural communities that fall under the authority of traditional authorities. Traditional authorities in Africa have facilitated the introduction of foreign investment in their communities. For example, foreign companies do coalesce with traditional authorities in pursuit of what they might deem as lucrative business ventures. Sometimes these traditional authorities do not request for the consent of the community because they believe that what is good for them is also good for the community. It is mainly on these grounds that traditional authorities have been accused of perpetuating the colonial indirect rule which is some form of decentralized despotism. British colonialism has been the architect of this type of despotism in the form of its policy of indirect rule. Here it needs to be submitted that the critique that is being proffered by the Comaroff and Comaroff against African traditional rulers or chiefs is unjustifiable for two reasons. First, African traditional rulers’ political power has been undermined by the post-colonial political dispensation because in most cases it is the party political leaders in post-colonial African states who have usurped the power of chiefs and kings in societies. On this point I want to shield myself behind Ali Mazrui’s argument in which he said that in modern African politics, “What is a more widespread phenomenon is the general quest for aristocratic effect. This manifests itself not merely in the paramount leader, but also further down in the pyramid of elite status” (Mazrui 2009: 229). Here Mazrui’s argument is that the modern post-colonial political leaders in Africa are the ones who are behaving like pre-colonial African chiefs and kings. In some cases African political leaders have understood themselves as sacred rulers in such a way that the political tendency has been that of anointing their sons or a favourable party follower as successor to their rule. Second, the critique of the Comaroffs trivializes the role that is played by chiefs in traditional communities in settling disputes among their subjects. The majority of the African population resides in traditional rural communities where access to modern courts of law is not always readily available. Most of the disputes that arise in these rural communities are usually settled within the chief’s court in accordance with the mores and customs of the community. One also finds that these traditional judiciary responsibilities of the chiefs are not financially compensated for as compared to their counterparts who are judges in modern courts. In the aftermath of colonialism, the political reconstruction efforts have been committed to trying to find the appropriate foundational values for



the post-colonial African state. Africa’s attainment of independence from colonialism was not a panacea to Africa’s socio-economic problems. After independence, most of the newly independent African states found themselves engulfed in vicious cycles of ethnic conflicts, civil wars, corruption, poor governance and economic underdevelopment. The legacy of colonialism is that it created states before creating nations. Previous ethnic groups were balkanized into a nation-state. The struggle against colonialism became a struggle to create national unity as well as a struggle to assert Africa’s identity. One finds that for many scholars and some African politicians the solution to Africa’s problems was to be found in learning from the traditions of Africa’s past. This should be seen as a revolt against the euro-centric idea that Africa was a continent without a history or that it was a continent whose history started with the advent of colonialism. For this reason, the narrative of African ethics was tied up with the reconstruction of African traditions.

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African Ethics and the Post-colonial Politics of Tradition

Any serious discussion about ethics in the African context has to start with the role of African traditions in determining what is deemed ethical or unethical behaviour. Because of the emphasis that is put on traditions in ethics, one is most likely tempted to describe African ethics as ancestral ethics. What is regarded as morally acceptable or unacceptable is usually traced from the past. Africans are not obsessed with the past for the sheer sake of it; rather there is a metaphysical presumption which is based on the understanding that the present is what it is because of that which transpired in the past. This relationship of the past and the present implies that the present will influence the future when it has become the past. To ignore one’s ancestors is synonymous with invoking a curse upon oneself. Nothing in life will ever work when one is cursed by one’s own ancestors. One can only succeed in life or in one’s dealings when the relationship between the past and the present are not severed. One’s present problems can only be dealt with intelligibly if one has some knowledge of what transpired in the past, be it for better or for worse. The emphasis that is put on the past does not necessarily mean that reality is static. Change remains integral to everything that is real. Some scholars have argued that Africa’s post-colonial political problems are related to how she has dealt with the existential reality of change. Africa’s post-colonial embrace of change was not based on fostering cultural continuity between the past and the present. There has been a speedy abandonment of African culture and traditions in the post-colonial African © The Author(s) 2020 M. F. Murove, African Politics and Ethics,




political landscape. Most of the inherited Western political institutions were actually maintained without taking into account the issue of their relevance or irrelevance to the contemporary post-colonial society. For this reason, some people have lamented the fact that whilst African traditional political values have been the main supporting pillars for political stability and social cohesion, post-colonial African politicians have turned their backs on those values and put all their energies in the adoption of Western political values. Consequently, what we have in post-colonial Africa is a social situation of rapid Westernization which is dovetailed by a spontaneous process of de-Africanization. Decolonization in Africa was not an epoch that heralded the end of Westernization. Rather, decolonization should be understood as an epoch that ushered Africa on the crossroads, where the road of Westernization as a vehicle of colonialism intersected with the road of retraditionalization. The road that was mostly followed in the aftermath of decolonization was that of Westernization or modernization. But strangely enough, many nations of the world have always preserved their traditional political values in an uncompromising manner. There are scholars who maintain that traditions are not ahistorical social practices; rather a cursory look at human history shows that they are created as a result of the historical exigencies of life circumstances. What might be considered as a timeless traditional practice could be a social practice that came about because of historical circumstances. The historian Terence Ranger (1983: 220–221) is among those scholars who argue that traditions are not ahistorical social practices. In support of this argument he said that most of the so-called African traditions were invented by colonialists in Africa. Ranger identified two ways which were used by Europeans in asserting their “invented traditions to transform and modernize African thought and conduct”. First, it was through the idea that some of the Africans could be incorporated into the class of the rulers of colonial Africa through a process of training them “in neo-traditional context”. Second, “there was an attempt to make use of what European invented traditions had to offer in terms of a redefined relationship between the leader and those who were led”. What this implies that is that those who were incorporated into the new colonial establishment were supposed to live and behave in a way that concurs with the expectations of the colonial masters. Ranger’s argument gives the impression that African traditions were created by colonialists—thus implying that after colonialism there were no indigenous African traditions. The colonial invented traditions helped



Africans to commune and survive within the colonial world. The colonial invented tradition opened the door for Africans to enter into the world of the colonial masters. However, in this world of the colonial masters, they remained as subordinates in a master–servant relationship. As Ranger puts it, “the historical literature is full of Africans proud of having mastered the business of being a member of a regiment of having learnt how to be an effective practitioner of the ritual of nineteenth-century Anglicanism” (Ranger 1983: 227). Ranger’s observation is also more relevant to Lusophone and Francophone Africa whereby those Africans in Portuguese colonies who were able to speak Portuguese fluently became citizens of Portugal. In this regard the Portuguese colonial policy was called Assimilado—meaning those who were legally theoretically assimilated into the Portuguese culture under the pretext of civilizing the colonized Africans (Mahajan 1978: 50). Similarly, in Francophone Africa, those Africans who were educated in the French language and culture were called Évolués, a term that was used to imply those Africans who were regarded to have evolved in terms of adopting values and behaviour that were reminiscent of French people. Such Africans strictly adhered to following French values instead of African customary law. It was for this reason that they were considered as civilized. In other words, to be civilized implied rejecting African traditions and to speak the colonizer’s language very fluently. Franz Fanon argued that for the colonizers, “Native society is not simply described as a society lacking in values. He is, let us dare to admit, the enemy of values, and in this sense he is the absolute evil” (Fanon 2001: 32). The colonial policies such as Assimilado and Évolués were based on the colonial political practice of disparaging African traditions and values. This in a way gave colonialists the reason to justify their presence in colonial Africa. Thus Africa was regarded as a society without traditions and moral values. Africans were regarded as people who needed to change their way of life and their belief systems if ever they were to become a civilized people. As Fanon puts it, “The customs of the colonised people, their traditions, their myths—above all, their myths—are the very sign of that poverty of spirit and of their constitutional depravity. …In fact, the terms the settler uses when he mentions the native are zoological terms” (Fanon 2001: 32–33). Colonialism was about the denigration of African traditions and values. The only traditions and values which Africans were supposed to follow were those of the colonial masters. The colonized African’s way of being-in-the world became the main colonial focus for



deconstruction. To the colonizers, according to Fanon, the African in his or her traditional setting was not a human being. However, the question that arises is whether Africans deliberately accepted colonial traditions whole-heartedly or they embraced those colonial traditions for survival strategic purposes—admission into the world of the colonizers. Without knowledge of the colonizers’s world, the colonized African would have remained alienated. One can only know how to deal with one’s oppressor if one knows or enters the worldview of the oppressor. It is common knowledge that colonized Africans were endowed with the ability to improvise whereby the received foreign traditions were mixed with old indigenous traditions in a way that resulted in the creation of a new way of doing things which did not expose the colonized into a situation of conflict with the colonial masters. Ranger (1983: 231) went on to discuss the traditions of kingship in colonial Africa with reference to the role of the British monarchy in the colonies where the British colonialists adopted a supercilious attitude towards African kings and their subjects. This supercilious British attitude towards Africans could be discerned from King George V’s Royal Message of 1910 to the Basotho people, which, according to Ranger, “the officials put into his mouth words of a high patriarchal tone” whereby King George is said to have addressed Basotho people as children, and himself as their father. As children the Basotho people were supposed to “trust and obey” him as their father. The idea of referring to the colonized Africans has children was very common in the colonies. It was for this reason that Africans were regarded as incapable of ruling themselves, and hence they were supposed to be ruled until such a time when they have fully adopted values and traditions of the colonizers. In such condescending utterances, it is evidently clear that African traditional leaders such as kings and chiefs were treated like untutored little children who were supposed to learn from the King of England whom the colonial administrators regarded as the great patriarch of all British colonies. The King of England was represented by the Governors in the colonies and Governors were in turn represented by District Commissioners whose responsibility was to liaise with the chiefs in order to carry out the wishes of the British King. Within her colonies, the British colonial administrators instilled within their African subjects the idea that the British monarchy was the greatest king of the world. Thus one finds that King Moshoeshoe of the kingdom of Lesotho is usually referred to as a Paramount Chief in most of the colonial annals. The same tendency of



degrading African kings occurred in the aftermath of British colonial conquest. The rationale was that Africans cannot have powerful political institutions that should share the same title with the British monarchy. In the then Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, the colonial government gave to Africans on the 1947 royal visit of the Prince of Wales which said that King George was the world’s greatest King, who was different from African chiefs. Because of greatness, he did not appreciate people coming close to him but expects his subjects to display their best behaviour whenever they were around him (Ranger 1983: 233). In other words the African chief was in the same category with his subjects before the British king. Ranger went on to say that the practice of dancing for the king had its origins in the receptions which Africans gave to British monarchs and the royal house. The tradition of dancing for the ruler has been revived in some post-colonial African states that were ruled mostly by dictators. Whenever these dictators came from a foreign state visit, they were always welcomed by a group of women donned in the ruling party’s regalia and dancing profusely to political songs of the ruling party. Some of the African nationalists have behaved like British monarchs by remaining in political power for life. For example, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Arap Moi of Kenya and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe were one way or another forcibly removed from political power. Most of these African politicians detested the Western political culture of having other aspirants for political power competing with them for political power. On various occasions most of these African nationalists defended their tenacious hold on political power for life on the grounds that their relinquishing of political power to a political opponent could easily result in fermenting ethnic conflicts, and that the pre-colonial African traditional political system united all the people under one ruler who was the chief or king. Here the rationale was that a life president would serve as a symbol for national unity in most of the post-colonial African states that were prone to ethnic conflicts as a result of electing political leaders into office along ethnic affiliation.

Ethics and the Politics of Ethnicity Some African nationalists justified their life presidency by resorting to the narrative of the danger of ethnicity to national unity and economic development. As Ake succinctly puts it (1993: 5), “As Africa democratizes, there is concern that the liberties of democracy will unleash ethnic rivalries



whose embers are forever smoldering in Africa and destroy the fragile unity of African countries.” The argument that Africans were ethnic who should be united around a life president served the interests of most of the post-colonial dictators. Related to the above argument was the idea that colonialism did not leave behind nations; rather it left fragmented African states which were divided along ethnic lines. A multiparty political system where different political parties could compete for political power was regarded as a danger to national unity. The former President of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda was known for his slogan—‘One Zambia’ to which his followers responded—‘One nation’. The one Zambia which Kaunda was sloganeering about was to be a Zambia which was to remain under his perennial rule. The attack on democratic political ethos became a common narrative among most of the post-colonial African politicians. Nkrumah of Ghana had a hostile attitude towards democratic political ethos in post-colonial Ghana. As a justification for his hostility towards democracy, he argued that the newly independent Ghana was being undermined and destroyed by the opposition. He wrote, “Our opposition used the press as a forum in a way that it had not been used in Europe, to vilify and attack us as a means of destroying our young state” (Nkrumah 1970: 73). When Nkrumah assumed political power in 1957, in 1958 he swiftly introduced a repressive legislation which was called Prevention and Detention Act which he used to thwart the ambitions of his political opponents by detaining them without trial. Through his political, economic and philosophical writings, Nkrumah portrayed himself as ‘a philosopher king’. The same hostile attitude towards a political democratic ethos was also expressed by Nyerere of Tanzania when he put it emphatically that, “Multipartyism is a luxury that we in Africa cannot afford. We have too little time and there is too much to do to allow ourselves such an idle pastime” (Nyerere 1970: 48). Nyerere is on record for barning other political parties who wanted to compete for political power from without. The only political party which was allowed to rule Tanzania was his own political party, Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). The Cameroonian President Paul Biya was also against democracy and “defended the power monopoly of his Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement by arguing that it ensured ‘a united Cameroon devoid of ethnic, linguistic and religious cleavages’” (Ake 1993: 5). The belief that Africans were inherently ethnic—a belief which ironically was nurtured and cultivated by colonialists became an indispensable tool that was to be used against the forces of democratization in



post-colonial Africa. The word ethnicity can be used interchangeably with other words such as tribe, clan and race. Ethnicity is regarded as a more polite way of referring to tribalism or racism. Ethnicity or tribalism can also be regarded as part and parcel of the colonial project of inventing traditions in colonial Africa. For example, one finds Chinua Achebe in his novel, Things Fall Apart, arguing through his main character Okonkwo that colonial rule affected African society and its culture to its roots. In the above novel, Chinua Achebe advanced that the idea of the disintegration of African traditional society as the main motif of his novel. This disintegration of African traditional society was mediated by Western colonial and Christian religious forces who were whole heartedly determined to destroy African traditional values which they so regarded as oases of primitivism and heathenism. For this reason, Abiola Irele cannot be bettered when he observed that, “the establishment of colonial rule in Africa brought with it a drastic re-ordering of African societies and human relations…[which created]…all over Africa a state of cultural fluctuations” (Irele 1965: 322–225). One of the reason which ideologically helped African nationalists to gain support from the majority of ordinary African people was the argument that colonialism uprooted indigenous African people from their past which the nationalists wanted to reconstruct in the aftermath of colonial political, economic and social ordering. The idea of reconstructing post-­ colonial African societies through a process of doing away with ethnic or tribal cleavages somehow helped African nationalists to consolidate political power for their own personal political ambitions. Consequently, ruthless clamping on political opponents was frivolously justified on the grounds that it was imperative for getting rid of ethnicity for the greater good of national unity. In this regard we can infer that in their frivolous clamouring for national unity against ethnicity and tribalism which was created by colonialism, African politicians became the political beneficiaries of the colonial tradition that invented ethnicity and tribalism. The argument that pre-colonial African societies were not ethnic or tribal and that ethnicity and tribalism was a colonial invention found its adherents among African Marxist scholars. In similar vein with Ranger, Archie Mafeje stated it emphatically that, “European colonialism, like any other epoch, brought with it ways of reconstructing the African reality. It regarded African societies as particularly tribal” (Mafeje 1971: 253). What is implied in Mafeje’s observation is that pre-colonial societies were not tribal or ethnic. Tribalism or ethnicity was something that was



invented by the European colonial interface. Otherwise pre-colonial societies have never been tribalistic or ethnic in their socio-cultural modus operandi. Thus the phenomenon of tribalism was foisted upon the colonized Africans. Mafeje went on to postulate that this colonial political approach “produced certain blinkers or ideological pre-dispositions which make it difficult to those associated with the system to view these societies in any light way. Therefore, if tribalism is thought of as peculiarly African, then the ideology itself is particularly European in origin” (ibid.). In this type of reasoning it is evidently clear that for Mafeje the issue of tribalism or ethnicity should rather be understood as an ideological colonial imposition upon the Africans who otherwise originally did not subscribe to such modes of social existence. Thus to substantiate his argument, Mafeje submitted that in many African languages there is no word which can be regarded as an equivalent for the word tribe; rather there is only a word for nation. Since there was no word for tribe in African languages, he made a deduction to the effect that, “the colonial authorities helped to create the things called tribes in the sense of political communities…This was in harmony with the theories of indirect rule as advocated by Lord Lugard and Sir Donald Cameroon” (Mafeje 1971: 261). In other words, the word tribe was an invention of colonialists for political expedience purposes. Nevertheless, an argument that can be levelled against Mafeje is that the absence of a word for a phenomenon does not necessarily lead us to conclude as evidence for the non-existence of that phenomenon. In the light of the preceding discussion, it can be deduced that Achebe, Irele and Mafeje’s interpretations of the colonial era does concur with Ranger’s thesis that most of the so-called African traditions were a creation of colonial powers. But to attribute everything to that happened to Africa to the colonial epoch is an academic habit that tends to create the impression that Africans were just passive recipients of colonial traditions and ethos. For us to circumvent the problem of portraying Africans as passive recipients of colonial traditions and ethos, we need to assert that the colonized Africans were endowed with the intellectual uncanny ability of relativizing and reinterpreting what was disseminated as the acceptable culture and tradition for a civilized society by the colonial authorities. Because of their inclusive ethical outlook, colonized Africans did not find it morally unconscionable to mix their traditional beliefs and those beliefs which they received from the Christian religion. African Church history is replete with stories whereby Africans creatively adapted some of the Biblical stories to their own traditional belief systems. The biblical story about King



Solomon who was polygamous captivated their imaginations such that they ended up forming their own African independent Churches that encouraged polygamous marriages—a practice that which was integral to African traditional culture prior to the advent colonialism. In Southern Africa, a Church wedding is usually followed by an African traditional wedding where bride and bridegroom are usually donned in their African traditional regalia. The argument which I am making here through these examples is that Africans have never bequeathed their traditions and values to the new colonial establishment. Rather they creatively accommodated the invented colonial traditions in their own traditions according to the then prevailing socio-economic, political and religious context. However, some scholars do regard ethnicity as “a dependent variable”— “something which can be directed towards secular ends—political power, material acquisition, etcetera—as and when the situation requires” (Goldsworthy 1982: 109). Whilst ethnic consciousness is regarded as primordial in people, in the African context as alluded to previously, this type of consciousness has been appealed to by politicians for the furtherance of their own knavish political purposes. For this reason political ethnicity has been regarded as one of the most dangerous vice in post-colonial African politics because political ethnicity is not something natural but a product of political engineering. Masipula Sithole avers that, “A politician who will discourage invoking tribalism if conscious of the fact such reluctance would put him at a decisive disadvantage, is a rare breed. In fact, he does not exist” (Sithole 1985: 188). In other words, the post-colonial political appeal to ethnic consciousness is part of the art of applying a pragmatic political survival strategy amongst other numerous political strategies. If ethnicity can help the politician to ascend to a political office, it would be fool hardy for a politician not to use it to his or her own political advantage. What makes ethnicity unethical is that it vitiates the African ethical tradition which prioritizes our human common belonging in our relations with others. Since ethnicity is based on a divisive social outlook it remains unethical. Moreso, in Africa politically engineered ethnicity or tribalism was based on an exclusivist vision of society where certain ethnic groupings were favoured to the exclusion of those who were deemed to be of an inferior variety or minorities whose votes are deemed insignificant to change the national political landscape and state policies. An ethnic identity is appreciated on the basis of the truism that human societies are characterized by the stubborn fact of diversity. In this regard ethnicity and consciousness should not be problematized on the basis of what people



and their cultures are. For this reason, the observation that was made by Christopher Miller is pertinent when he said, “there is no real ethics without ethnicity…The relation to the other is the relation of ethnicity. …the failure to relativize one’s own beliefs is more dangerous than the failure to stay within them” (Miller 1990: 63–65; also see Ake 1993: 5). In other words ethnicity is pivotal to ethics because it helps people to recognize the existence of others, thus in turn enable one to develop an awareness that one’s own beliefs are not universal or absolute. Also when we take into account the fact that each people has its own culture and mores, it makes academic sense to say that the world is characterized by the reality of a multiplicity of cultural diversity as well as the limitations of one’s own ethnic outlook. As K. N. Nayak observed, “Awareness of cultural limitations maximizes cultural tolerance” because “genuine comparative understanding leads to a peaceful new world full of knowledgeable people” (Nayak 1982: 113). If one cannot relativize one’s own culture and belief system, the tendency is to see other cultures and belief systems as inferior to one’s own. The tendency to eulogize the superiority of one’s particular culture seems to be one of the fatal weaknesses that is common to the majority of humanity. Bertrand Russell recognized this fatal human weakness when he asserted that as human beings we are endowed with a neurotic complex of fear and hate against that which we perceive to be unfamiliar to our ethnic group. As he puts it, “within one herd, all are friends…Other herds are potential or actual enemies…It is this primitive mechanism which still controls our instinctive reaction to foreign nations” (Russell 1992: 168). This type of thinking implies that our moral sensitivities are basically ethnic. Because of our ethnic moral outlook we tend to behave in ways that are amoral towards those whom we regard as not belonging to our own ethnic group. In the African context, in those occasions when ethnicity was politicized, the repercussions of such endeavours have been lethal to human social existence and to the African ethical ideal of our human common belonging. For example, in apartheid South Africa the politicization of ethnicity resulted in a grotesque and heinous type of social existence which was characterized by politically engineered fragmented social fragmentation. The politicization of ethnicity under apartheid laws was worldwide described as inhumane, diabolic and ‘a crime against humanity’. Ethnicity under apartheid was repugnant to any person who had a grain of conscience because those South Africans who did not share the biological characteristics with the Caucasian race were inevitably regarded as



subhuman. Apartheid was a heightened British colonial policy of Divide and Rule which the architect of apartheid, Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd weaved into a political policy of the then Afrikaner dominated government of the National Party. The craving to live an exclusive life from black South Africans had already existed in the nineteenth century during the British colonial rule. What Verwoerd accomplished was to come up with plethora of policies that separated the majority of none white people from the Caucasian race. Thus a series of Acts were promulgated with the indubitable intention of separating black Africans from white people in terms of land settlement, sexual relations between black Africans and whites, facilities for public services, pass laws, self-government for blacks and movement in cities (Wilkins and Strydom 2012: 200). This is a classic example of political engineering of ethnicity whereby people who previously lived together regardless of skin colour or ethnic origins were rigidly classified on the basis of their ethnic origins. Thus Verwoerd would put it pragmatically in response to his international critics that, “South Africa’s policy of race separation is the only right one for South Africa and we are not going to change it in order to come into line with the rest of the world when we know they are wrong” (Allighan 1961: 224). By separating other ethnic groupings in South Africa in a way that economically and politically favoured the Caucasian race, Verwoerd had succeeded in entrenching the political and economic supremacy of the Caucasian race in apartheid South Africa. Consequently, this ensured the political domination of his Afrikaner Nationalist Party in the whole of South Africa for many decades to come. There was nothing new which was accomplished by Verwoerd’s apartheid laws which did not have its aetiology in the British colonial policy of Divide and Rule. Prior to the enactment of apartheid laws, in 1913 the British colonial government in South Africa promulgated what it called Natives Land Act, a piece of legislation that privileged the settler white community in the expropriation of all fertile land from indigenous black South Africans. According to Sol Plaatje, “From and after the commencement of this Act, no person other than a native shall purchase, or hire in any other manner or acquire any land in a scheduled native area” (Plaatje 2007: 54). Obviously such an Act was a genesis of what was later on systematically promulgated into ethnic political engineering by Verwoerd in his political vision for an apartheid state. The idea of ethnicity or tribalism became a tradition that was invented by colonialists for the purpose of political expedience. In order for colonialists to appropriate fertile lands to themselves, Africans were forcibly



removed from their fertile lands and resettled into arid and inhabitable lands that were popularly known as Native Reserves in other parts of British colonial Africa, Tribal Trust Lands and in the case of South Africa, Homelands. Tribes became socio-ethnic units in which Africans were supposed to manage their day-to-day socio-economic and political affairs under the leadership of a chief who was in turn accountable to the District Administrator who was accountable to the governor. A tribe became a very useful political tool that helped to perpetuate the British policy of indirect rule within the colonies. Pre-colonial African societies were not organized around the concept of a tribe. The concept was invented by colonialists for political and economic purposes. Colonialism is usually indicted for the provenance of what Claude Ake called “political ethnicity”. For instance, it is alleged that the infamous British colonial policy of Indirect Rule used indigenous traditional social power structures “among ethnic groups…[thus]… inducing intense political competition among them” (Ake 1993: 2). Instead of piling pressure on the colonial administration, rivalry ethnic groups found themselves in incessant conflict against each other. The provenance of political ethnicity can be found in what colonialists created as customary law, a colonial political strategy that was aimed at curating ethnic customs.

Insertion of Colonial Power Through Tradition and Legality The use of tradition and the law became another technique that was applied by colonialists in their quest for dominating the colonized African societies. Thus one finds one of the colonial administrators of the then Southern Rhodesia, N. H. Wilson reading a paper titled “The Development of Native Reserves”, a paper that was supposed to drum up support for the creation of Native Reserves at a gathering of the Rhodesian Scientific Association on January 1923. In this paper, Wilson had this to say, “We may educate the native with education—literary, industrial, religion, liberal and vocational; we may uplift him until individual natives are on a plane with Booker Washington; but unless we have some field of activity to which he may pass on we shall not only break the machine, but we ourselves shall be buried under the debris” (Wilson 1923: 86). The creation of Native Reserves was part and parcel of the British rigid colonial policy of ethnic engineering, a policy that was aimed at advancing



the interests of the colonizers. Whether educated or not, all Africans were regarded as belonging to the Native Reserves which was a political unit within the colonial state. Within the native reserves, Africans were understood to live under what colonialists called ‘customary law’ which was prescribed by the colonialists as a primordial law for the Africans. The idea of a primordial customary law implied that it was a law that was not subject to change as it was presumed as traditional to African societies. Contrary to customary law, the European law was regarded as based on natural law and morality whilst customary law was deemed not to have any natural basis and moral inspiration. For this reason, one finds that it was a colonial ordinance that stipulated that a particular case that was judged as unlawful in colonial courts was not supposed to be judged lawful in traditional courts. Customary law was thus deemed acceptable when it was not in conflict with what the colonialists regarded as natural justice and morality. Fareda Banda observed that, “In British colonies, Africans were allowed to practise their traditions as long as they were not considered to be ‘repugnant to natural justice and morality’” (Banda 2006: 13), a phrase that was defined by the Chief Justice of Southern Rhodesia as follows, “The words ‘repugnant to natural justice and morality’ should only apply to such customs as inherently impress us with some abhorrence or are obviously immoral in their incidence” (ibid.). The idea of natural justice was derived from the concept of natural law in which it was believed that there are laws that are operative in nature and that these laws have a tendency of concurring with human nature. It was the colonialists on their own understanding of justice who ultimately decided what was ‘repugnant to natural justice and morality’. In this regard Africans were regarded as naturally bereft of justice and morality. It is evidently clear that in as far as colonial administers of justice acted as final adjudicators of what was legally acceptable in customary law, we can as well conclude that the colonialists invented the customary law tradition in the sense that some of the aspects of customary law which the colonialists had regarded as ‘repugnant to natural justice and morality’ were removed from the customary lexicon of law. The legacy of colonialism to the judiciary system in post-colonial Africa is that it promoted a dual legal system characterized by the customary law as opposed to modern law or the so called general law—legal systems that are still prevalent in post-colonial African societies. Whilst customary law adheres to African traditions, the modern law or the general law has been crafted in such a way that it can rule against those African traditions.



However, within the African context where the majority of population stays in rural areas under the leadership of a chief, in their day-to-day recourse to justice, the majority of the population relies on customary law. The rulings of this legal system have been enacted in such a way that it is not binding because a party to the dispute under customary law can easily make recourse to the general law. Thus the existence of customary law in post-colonial Africa can best be described as serving political expedience purposes. For example, the “Zimbabwe Customary and Local Courts Act” states that: (a) customary law shall apply in civil cases where—

(i) the parties have expressly agreed that it should apply; or (ii) regard being had to the nature of the case and the surrounding (b) circumstances, it appears just and proper that it should apply the general law shall apply in all other cases. (Chapter 7: 05, Part II)

In the light of the above Act, it is clear that customary law is not taken seriously when compared to ‘the general law’. This means that the rulings of the custodians of customary law such as chiefs and headmen are not on par with the rulings of the custodians of ‘the general law’ such as judges and magistrates. In the case of Zimbabwe, it is stated that, “Customary law courts are not regarded as courts of record so on appeal to a higher court the matter is head as a new case” (Centre for Conflict Management and Transformation 2014: 5). What is implied in the above assertion is that customary law is not a recognizable legal system because the judgement that is given in a customary court is not legally binding because the ‘higher court’ can easily overturn that judgement. This deduction implies is that customary law and traditional courts are not recognized as legitimate legal institutions. Suffice to say that such a condescending attitude to customary law and traditional courts is somewhat of a perpetuation of the colonial attitude towards customary law and traditional courts echo the colonial administrative outlook which relegated customary legal institutions to the status of inferiority. In Africa the so-called higher courts are not easily accessible to the majority of the African population who rely on customary law for justice. The post-colonial bias against customary law has inflicted a greater damage to the majority of the African population who do not have ease of access to the ‘higher courts’. For example, the Centre for Conflict



Management and Transformation observed that, “About 84% of Zimbabwean marriages are unregistered customary law unions. This means that the majority of married Zimbabweans do not have marriage certificates. …In the absence of a marriage certificate it is difficult to prove the marriage exists” (Centre for Conflict Management and Transformation 2014: 7). To the majority of Zimbabweans and other African people, payment of lobola (bride price) serves a very strong cultural symbolism because it signifies the consummation of a communion between the families of the bride and that of the bridegroom. Marriage and payment of lobola is also understood as consummating the law of the ancestors, thus establishing fellowship between the two families in the realm of immortality as well that mortality (Bujo 2001: 58–59; Mbiti 1970: 136–137). Through the payment of lobola the married couples are regarded as having created a new community in which the genealogies of the two families will regard themselves as Hama (relatives). A marriage certificate reduces marriage into a contract whereby the presumption that the two people who have entered into marriage do not trust each other. Obviously one can easily see that there are two traditions of marriage that have not been reconciled in post-colonial Zimbabwe. The first tradition which the majority of Zimbabweans live under sees the process of the consummation of marriage in the paying of lobola which is recognized in customary law. The second tradition under which the minority of the Zimbabweans live is the one which regards the process of the consummation of marriage in terms of its registration with the ‘higher courts’ and the resultant issuing of a marriage certificate. In the ‘higher court’ system, the paying of lobola does not come into the picture. In 1999 the South African Law Commission produced a discussion Paper 82 titled, “The Harmonization of the Common Law and Indigenous Law: Traditional Courts and the Judicial Function of Traditional Leaders”. The spirit of the recommendations that were proffered by this commission shows an attempt at redressing the imbalances that were created by colonialism between customary law and ‘common law’. Some of the recommendations are as follows: 9. (a) Traditional courts should be regarded as courts of law and given the status and respect of courts of law… 11. The application of customary law should no longer be subject to the ‘repugnancy clause’.



This requirement of customary law should be replaced by one requiring consistency with the Constitution and, in particular, with the values underlying the Bill of Rights. 13. Disputes over customary land rights should be handled by chiefs and headmen and their courts in their adjudicative rather than administrative capacity and appeals should go to other courts in the usual way. (South African Law Commission 1999: viii) Whilst this commission recognizes the authority of customary law, it still reflects a condescending attitude towards customary law and traditional courts, an attitude that is reminiscent of colonial rulers and administrators towards customary law. The African traditional society and its way of administering of justice differ markedly with that of the ‘common courts’. Traditional courts and customary law have the values of traditional society as the foundation for their administration of justice. On the other hand, the ‘common court’ is usually entangled in capitalistic monetary considerations as the basis for its administration of justice. In the ‘common courts’ someone who is rich stands the greater chance of access to the justice as compared to someone who is poor. A rich person in ‘common courts’ has the power to employ the most seasoned legal minds in the land whilst in traditional courts poor and rich people are treated without discrimination on the basis of one’s economic standing in society. However, like the former colonial state, the modern post-colonial African state has adopted a supercilious attitude towards the office of African traditional leadership. This can be discerned from those instances when traditional leaders are requested to mobilize their people in support of the ruling party’s policies. In most cases traditional leaders are not allowed to take leadership initiative of their own besides following the lead of the government in its capacity as the ultimate legislator. The post-­ colonial African government is actually perpetuating the supposedly defunct colonial supercilious political attitude towards traditional leaders. Since the attainment of independence from colonial rule, there has been a plethora of legislations aimed at keeping African traditional leadership in line with the ideological aspirations of the ruling party. Most legislations on traditional leadership is usually aimed at entrenching the political power for the ruling party because without a supporting vote from traditional rural areas where the majority of the African population stays, one can hardly sustain a grip on political power. Comaroff and Comaroff made an incisive observation when they said that, “In South Africa, again, where



powers have been incrementally redefined by statute, notably by the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act (2003), the Communal Land Rights Act (2004), and the Traditional Courts Bill (2012), it has been argued that this has eventuated in a new era of chiefly despotism, resembling and extending the old order of things” (Comaroff and Comaroff 2018: 8). One can easily infer from such observations that because of the continuity of the colonial era with the post-colonial era, the role of African traditional leadership has remained overshadowed by the colonial political inventory typical of the former British colonial indirect rule policy. In the new post-colonial political dispensation, traditional leaders have found themselves confronted by a political situation that posed to them an incremental loss of their traditional powers. Whilst colonialism did not recognize their power over land, the post-colonial state reaffirmed the same colonial stance in its failure to recognize the power of traditional leaders over the land and civil matters. In the case of Zimbabwe, Jocelyn Alexander authenticated the above observation when she said, “The Ministry of local Government, successor to the Native Affairs Department, made it clear that the administrative understanding of traditional authority would remain unchanged. Political loyalty and settler injustices held no sway” (Alexander 2018: 141). This type of attitude towards traditional authorities in a post-colonial African state demonstrates vividly the tendency of wanting to perpetuate colonial injustices. Thus the apotheosis of independence as an era that was supposed to usher in a situation of redress on the wrongs that were committed by colonialism ends up turning into an illusion to the majority of the indigenous African people who experienced unprecedented ruthlessness under colonial rule. A contentious issue that has beset many post-colonial African states had to do with kingship and chieftaincy traditional authorities which some African communities have lost as a result of forced removals and resettlement in foreign lands which were not of their ancestral origins. Within the context of post-­ colonial African states, as Alexander states it, “Chiefly aspirants did not take all this with equanimity: some launched court cases contesting their exclusion from titles” (ibid.). Without the restoration of their traditional authority, many of the African traditional leaders feel that the post-colonial African state does not recognize them nor does it restore their identity that was robbed from them by colonialism. In this regard the post-­colonial African state does not provide a redress of the injustice of colonialism. Rather, in the eyes of these aspirants to traditional leadership, the



post-colonial state continues with the colonial condescending attitude towards the institution of traditional leadership. The post-colonial African government did not address the traditional authorities’ colonial grievances; rather it became business as usual. Apart from grievance of against the unrecognized traditional authority within the post-colonial dispensation, the other grievance from traditional authorities has been about the issue of the ancestral land that was expropriated from them by colonial settlers. The issue of land among African traditional leaders has remained perennial since the times of colonialism up to the present post-colonial political dispensation. As discussed in the previous chapter, land ownership in African ethics carries with it two cardinal functions which were which I described as mystical and the idea of land as a predicate of a people’s identity. For African traditional leaders, land restoration of ancestral land implies restoring communion with their ancestors who are the founders of the land that was expropriated from them. On the other hand, restoration of land would be an act of authenticating their true identity. A chief or king without a land which he presided over could hardly be considered as a chief or a king. Thus it can be said unequivocally that the power of African traditional leadership was relative to land ownership on behalf of the people under his or her leadership.

Traditional Power and the Land Question The colonial expropriation of land from the colonized African people has remained a thorny issue in most of the African countries, especially those in the Southern African religion. The land question has politically polarized these post-colonial African states for an array of reason. Among those reasons that have dominated national debates there are two which are of great significance. First, the agricultural system which post-colonial African governments has inherited has been modernized and commercialized in a way that meets the food demands of the ever growing post-colonial African populations. Also, the agricultural sector plays a critical role in the overall functioning of national economies. Most of the national exports which are indispensable for a favourable national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are predominantly from a vibrant commercialized agricultural sector which is mainly responsible for the national accumulation of forex reserves. Thus one cannot trivialize with impunity the role of commercial agriculture in the national development of post-colonial African economies and national food security. But then the problem that arises has to do with



how to redress the national issue of landlessness among the majority of indigenous African populations whose land was unjustly expropriated and the economic needs for a modernized post-colonial African economy. The traditional African mode of agricultural practice which the majority of indigenous African people rely on is mainly based on subsistence—that is, land is used for the sustenance of one’s family. In traditional African societies the economic order “is mainly a subsistence economy with a rudimentary differentiation of productive labour and with no machinery for the accumulation of wealth in the form of commercial or industrial capital” (Fortes and Evans-Pritchard 1961: 8). The utilization of land for subsistence purposes was partly based on the traditional African ethos of ensuring continuous existence of harmony between human material needs for survival and the conservation of nature and its ecological systems. For this reason, ownership of land was a communal good which every person was entitled to. This ownership of land enabled the individual to be self-­ reliant in terms of food security instead of relying on food parcels from government and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). The current COVID-19 pandemic has once again exposed the problem of landlessness, which is currently faced by post-colonial states in Southern Africa. Most of the African people whose ancestral land has been expropriated from them because of colonial racist policies have found themselves destitute without food because of the lockdown of national economic activities. As a result, the majority of the landless indigenous African peoples in Southern Africa are relying on government and NGO food parcels. But those in rural areas who have some small pieces of land are able to feed themselves from the crops they grew on their own. In the light of such a pandemic global crisis, the dignity of the landless indigenous people has been eroded beyond imagination. On the outset of the outbreak of COVID-19 in South Africa, there have been some people who questioned the practicality of the government advice of staying at home and social distancing as a national health strategy in the combat against COVID-19 when the majority of the African people are staying in shacks and small houses with many members of the family in densely populated townships. Such observations bring into focus some of the healthcare ethical issues with regard to the vulnerability of the landless African people to pandemics such as COVID-19. Second, another contentious political issue has to do with the role of traditional authorities in redressing injustices of colonialism in the light of historical expropriation of land from indigenous black Africans. For



example, in addressing this issue of land, the post-colonial southern African governments have always encountered resistance from traditional authorities who have seen the whole exercise as reminiscent of the yester colonial government which expropriated land from indigenous Africans without any formal consultation with local traditional authorities. Sometimes political party chairmen have encountered stiff resistance from traditional authorities whenever they bring the ruling party’s new land policy for discussion in the territories that are under traditional authorities. In such instances the conflict is inevitably exacerbated by the fact that the post-colonial African government tends to work through its political party structures instead of working with traditional authorities who are the legitimate traditional custodians of the land and the values of the people. As we have seen in the previous chapter, a role that was understood as sacrosanct to the office of a traditional leader in pre-colonial African societies is that chiefs and kings were understood as invested with divine custodianship of the land and all its natural resources. With the advent of colonialism, this sacred role was unscrupulously usurped by the colonial administrators. By expropriating land from traditional authorities, the colonial administrators took away the identity of African people. African traditional leaders have an understanding of land which is remarkably different from that which is held by politicians. For African traditional leaders, land carried with it some spiritual and moral connotations. Spiritually, land is understood as a heritage from the ancestors to be passed on to posterity. And morally, land conferred a character unto the community. It is mainly on the basis of the above presumptions about land that the African traditional leader is understood as the custodian of land on behalf of the community and the ancestors. However, one also finds that traditional African thought attributed the power of communion with ancestors and healing to the land. Ancestors are believed to communion and communicate with their descendants within the land where they once lived, died and were buried. Hence, it is a fervent hope of the living to also enter into communion with their ancestors when they die and get buried in the same land. It is on the basis of this traditional belief system about the land that Africans had an understanding of the land as a sacred possession which cannot be bought or sold. Land was sacred because it was the abode for the ancestors and a source of communal identity because the land is affectionately analogous to the history of the community or kingdom. A chief or a king was regarded as the leader of the community or kingdom because of the land. A person without land was thus regarded as



someone who has been stripped of his or her identity and status. The chief or king’s ownership of the land was on behalf of the people. As Bourdillon puts it, “People often say that the real ‘owners’ of the land are the spirit guardians of the chiefdom, the spirits of founders or early rulers of the chiefdom and their immediate kin. In most chiefdoms, the ancestral spirit guardians of the chiefly dynasty have joint dominion over the chiefdom, and sometimes the spirits of a previous, ousted dynasty are believed to exercise some control over the country” (Bourdillon 1987: 69). The primary leadership responsibility for the chief or king is to safeguard the land on behalf of the people and the ancestors. African politicians who are in most cases wholly committed to the modernization of African societies do not share the same outlook with traditional leaders towards the land. For example, when Zimbabwe got its independence the new nationalist government of Zimbabwe under the leadership of ZANU PF embarked on what they called a Land Resettlement Programme. In line with this programme, the government of Zimbabwe undertook to resettle people into fertile commercial farm lands that were bought from white farmers. These farms for resettlement were popularly known as minda mirefu—which literally means long fields (spacious fields). However, within a short space period of time most of the newly resettled indigenous Africans decided to relocate back to their traditional communal lands. Some of the reasons that were given for their wanting to return to traditional communal lands was that resettling in minda mirefu was not a good idea because it severed them from the graves of their ancestors. Such sentiments showed some traditional emotional attachment to land which was not shared with their politicians who were mostly modernized or westernized. However, African politicians have sometimes argued that the traditional ownership of land deprived Africans from participating in modern modes of ownership of land where land is owned on individual basis. This individual ownership of land adds economic value to land for the individual because when land is owned by the individual, the government is legally required to issue the individual with title deeds as a formal designation of legal ownership. When the individual has title deeds to a particular piece of land, it also implies that she or he can sell it or use it as collateral in times of financial need. A piece of land that is owned as the private property of an individual can be used as collateral by money-lending institutions like banks. In modern capitalism land which is owned in common or communally is regarded as dead capital. Another argument that is proffered by



African politicians against the traditional communal ownership of land is that such a land ownership system is a remnant of a colonial oppressive invention aimed at entrenching policies of divide and rule and ethnicity. In contemporary post-apartheid South Africa traditional leaders were reported to be against the idea of the policy of land expropriation without compensation which the current post-apartheid African National Congress Government is intending to legislate. Traditional leaders in The National House of Traditional Leaders (NHTL) argued that whilst they supported a policy of expropriation of land without compensation, they argued that the land which is under traditional leaders should not be taken away from them. Kind Goodwill Zwelithini is reported to have argued that the land which fell under him as enshrined in the Ingonyama Trust Act (ITA) should be protected against the government’s intention of expropriating land without compensation. Land ownership is not only about equity, it also involves a reclaiming of power which goes hand in hand with land. For this reason, a sense of dignity and prestige for traditional leaders is inseparable from the tradition of communal ownership of land. However, the argument that is also rallied upon by most of the traditional leaders is that expropriation of land without compensation will result in making rural communities landless or powerless. According to the current South African ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), the policy of expropriation of land without compensation was mainly aimed at addressing the injustices of the past which were committed by the British colonial administrators and later on by the apartheid government where through legislatively South Africans who were not of Caucasian descent were excluded from ownership of land. The ANC’s Freedom Charter document which was adopted in 1955 has this to say about the land, “The land shall be shared among those who work on it! Restrictions on land ownership on a racial basis shall be ended, and all the land re-divided among those who work it, to banish famine and land hunger.” In other words the struggle against apartheid was about the quest to reclaim the land which was expropriated from indigenous African people. When land was expropriated from indigenous African people, they were left without any other means for survival besides working as farm labourers on the same land which they previously owned. This injustice was to be rectified by ensuring that those who were working on those expropriated lands should be given ownership of that land. As such it is declared, “The state shall help the peasants with implements, seed, tractors and dams to save the soil and assist the tillers; Freedom of movement



shall be guaranteed to all who work on the land; All shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose.” The above quotation shows that the Freedom Charter’s vision of the land was based on the ethic of egalitarianism—that everybody must have access to land and own a living out of the land. The anticipated role of the state in the envisaged post-apartheid South African society was that of ensuring that people were assisted in the redistribution of land and its productivity for the betterment of the livelihoods of the majority of the rural people who were previously deprived of land ownership. Access to land was deemed a solution towards the eradication of poverty among the landless people who were living mostly in rural areas. It is important to note that the Freedom Charter envisaged the mandate of the democratic government of post-apartheid South Africa in terms of governmental intervention in the redistribution of land. In the spirit of the Freedom Charter, one can say that the architects of this charter did not foresee the role of traditional leaders in terms of redistribution of land. From the onset of its foundation as a liberation movement up to the drafting of the Freedom Charter, the ANC had what it called ‘the land question’. In December 2017, the ANC took up the land question and formulated the plan of action which entailed (i) redress of the colonial land dispossession through land redistribution which might also entail expropriation of land by the State, (ii) satisfying land hunger with the specific aim of poverty alleviation and (iii) because of the significance of land on wealth creation and employment creation, the issue of land redistribution had to be addressed with the aim of minimizing the current racial and gender inequalities in the country in terms of wealth and income distribution (Thabo Mbeki Foundation 2018). In the light of the above future policy towards land, the ANC’s main concerns are that redistribution of land will address the injustices of colonialism, and that redistribution of land will be part and parcel of the solution to economic development and poverty alleviation among the majority of the previously oppressed and dispossessed indigenous Africans. Needless to say, traditional leaders have been resistant to the idea of redistribution of land. It seems they preferred the continuity of the current inherited colonial eschewed land ownership system, which favours those who were beneficiaries of land during eras of colonialism and apartheid. The main argument from the traditional leaders is that the 13 per cent land which they own in the form of communal land was a heritage which came from their ancestors. Here it is important to take note that for some of the



traditional leaders, the current land which is under their jurisdiction was given to them by their ancestors and not by the colonialists! One finds this sentiment being in isiZulu, by King Zwelithini saying that the land which the Zulu people currently occupied was an ancestral inheritance. For this reason he argued that any attempt to redistribute that land would be regarded as “an insult to the ancestors” (African News Agency, 5 July 2018). In the same vein, the chairperson of the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders, Nkosi Mwelo Nonkonyana did not mince his words when he critiqued the current democratically elected South African government’s intentions of redistributing land as he compared those redistributive intentions to the attitudes of yester colonialists. As he puts it, “It’s unfortunate our government has the following system of governance. You are successors to colonialists. Perhaps, we didn’t make it crystal clear. We must make it very clear. …If you say that we must take the 13% of our land to you, you are saying we must take it back to the successors of colonialists—yourselves” (Mail and Guardian September 2018: 2). Traditional leaders seem to be happy with the status quo of the current colonially created land ownership disparities. For these traditional leaders, any attempt by the post-apartheid South African democratic government to address the land issue was thus seen as repeat of the colonial era where land was expropriated from indigenous Africans. Nonkonyana would put it blatantly that the post-apartheid government was behaving in a way that was an echo of what colonialists did with regard to African land. He avers, “By extension, you are undermining what our ancestors did. …There have been wars here of resistance. The 13% was a legacy left by our forebears. How can we then give it back to you?” (ibid.). In the light of the above quotations, African traditional leaders are more interested in maintaining the colonial land ownership status quo. However, it is not true that the communal land under their traditional authority was given to them by their ancestors. The 13 per cent which they are currently owning as communal land was given to them by the colonial administrators as part and parcel of the Bantustan policies. The opposition from traditional leaders against the redistribution of land shows that these traditional leaders are very happy with the colonial status quo as far as the land issue is concerned. For these traditional leaders, traditional communal land gives them the power to rule over communities; hence at the heart of their grievance against the proposed government policy of expropriation of land without compensation is the fear that government is undermining the foundation of their powers in traditional communities.



For these traditional leaders, it is no longer a question of whether people should have access to land, but that as traditional leaders they should remain in control of the 13 per cent of the land that was allocated to them by colonialism and apartheid. In a similar vein, one finds the chairman of South African National House of Traditional Leaders, chief Sipho Mahlangu arguing that, “The issue that it must be government that is a trustee of all land are the complaints that traditional leaders have been having because that is what the apartheid government was. So if government continues to be the trustee, at what stage are we going to, as traditional leaders, have responsibility to govern our own communities” (Mvumvu 2018). In other words, the whole issue about redistribution of land is about governing people instead of addressing people’s need for land. The arguments of traditional leaders against the policy of land expropriation without compensation seem to be based entirely on a self-serving attitude that is equally propelled by an appetite for power over people. For these traditional leaders the land issue has not only been about preserving the ancestral heritage, but it has also been understood as a symbolic representation of personal power and national recognition. To maintain the traditional ownership of land, African traditional leaders have been thus prepared to enter into alliance with anyone who opposes the policy of the redistribution of land. The Mail & Guardian had the following as its headline, “[King Goodwill] Zwelithini asks Afriforum for help to fight land expropriation”. At the annual commemoration of King Shaka called Umkhosi Welembe the king said that, “The Zulu nation I’m talking will not exist if we don’t have food. That’s why I say farmers must come closer so that we discuss what we can do when we talk about agriculture and the availability of enough food in the land” (Mail & Guardian 2018). The Zulu King actually requested the assistance of an Afrikaner civil rights group for Afrikaner people. In his resistance to the post-apartheid attempt to introduce the policy of expropriation of land without compensation, King Zwelithini made declared his appeal as follows, “That’s why I’m asking Afriforum of the boers to come and help us, as they’ve introduced themselves to me that they are willing to work with me and my father’s people. …Because when government started talking about the expropriation of land without compensation, boers downed tools” (ibid.). As an exclusively white civil rights group in post-apartheid democratic South Africa, Afriforum is well known for representing the interests of white farmers in post-apartheid South Africa as far as the land question is concerned. White farmers or Boers are the ones who benefited from the



colonial and apartheid policies of expropriation of land without compensation from black people. A policy of expropriation of land without compensation would affect white farmers who have hoarded vast tracts of land as a result of colonial and apartheid policies of the expropriation of land without compensation from the majority of indigenous South Africans. The king’s attitude in this regard is not about protecting ancestral land, but as we have said before, the land has become a symbol of power over others. In this instance we have a situation where African traditional leaders appeal to tradition as a strategy for conserving their power against the encroachment of the democratically elected government of post-apartheid South Africa. Traditional leaders would support the colonial political status quo in so far as it helps them to maintain their grip on power. Sometimes it is partly for this reason that post-colonial African governments have paid a lip service to the support of the institution of traditional leadership because in the eyes of African politicians, traditional leaders are salient opponents who are more interested in political power within the domain of their rural traditional constituencies. During the struggle against colonialism, most of the traditional leaders were regarded by the nationalists as colonial puppets who were there to perpetuate the colonial policy of indirect rule. This is not a political mud-­ slinging against chiefs as custodians of traditional leadership in African societies. African history is replete with stories which show that chiefs and kings in pre-colonial Africa actively facilitated the colonial infiltration of African societies as they were co-opted into the colonial political and economic intentions for Africa. Even during the struggle against colonialism in Africa, chiefs were coopted by the oppressive colonial regimes as strategic partners in a covert attempt to pacify the African nationalist armed struggle against colonialism. For example, in the early beginnings of the armed struggle against the then government of Rhodesia, the white minority settler government of Ian Smith came up with a policy which was to give chiefs more power such that they could have their own police and their own armed aide de camps as well as a militia. Such a policy was obviously aimed at diverting the attention of the militant nationalists from the colonial settler government to the chief as the primary antagonist in the struggle against the illegitimate colonial settler government. This political policy strategy was known as the ‘policy of co-optation of chiefs’. According to this policy, power to control their own chiefdoms was to be transferred into the hands of chiefs such that the chief would be in the position to suppress any political grievances against settler colonialism from militant



nationalists in his chiefdom. The implication of such a policy was that black people would end up fighting among themselves instead of fighting the illegitimate oppressive colonial government. Giving chiefs power to control their own chiefdoms was a strategy that was supposedly to serve as an incentive for the chiefs (Frederikse 1984: 75). In other words, transferring power into the hands of chiefs was aimed at turning them into allies with the oppressive colonial government. Colonial rule hinged on the tradition of what was called ‘consulting with chiefs’ as a way of getting what they regarded as the African black political point of view instead of allowing African black people to express their political opinions through an open democratic electoral process. In apartheid South Africa, chiefs were leaders of homelands. For the majority of the oppressed black people, those chiefs were regarded as puppets through which the apartheid regime indirectly ruled African people. For this reason, African traditional leadership lost its moral and political credibility since it was regarded as conniving with the oppressive and illegitimate apartheid government against the majority of the black people who were oppressed.

Modern Traditional Leadership and the Creeping of Authoritarianism Another problem that arises from the institution of traditional leadership is that it is a type of leadership that has not been voted for. In most of the constitutions of post-colonial Africa, governments are expected to be accountable to the people who voted them into political office. It is for this reason that traditional leaders are regarded as a perfect example of the remnants of the colonial rule among Africans par excellence. Colonial governments did not believe that Africans were supposed to elect their own political leaders. On the basis of this belief it was also presumed that any leader who was to rule over Africans in their communities should be a leader whose authority derived from the ancient old customs. Up to now, those in towns elect their leaders whilst those in rural areas are ruled by customary leaders. The ideal is that traditional leaders and customary law should take into account the changing times which people are finding themselves. Sometimes traditional leaders are known to have resorted to ruling their communities autocratically and coming up with decisions without seeking the consent of the community. In this instance the position of most of the traditional leaders on the issue of the redistribution of



land is an example that shows the authoritarian tendency of traditional leaders. Whilst the community was portrayed as the real owner of the land, traditional leaders have behaved in a way that shows that they were the real owners of the land. According to Mahmood Mamdani: In grounding the powers of chiefs in the right to allocate customary land for use, customary law tended to fortify the position of Native Authorities. This much became clear in time. And inasmuch as it stood the passage of time, customary land tenure must be understood as not simply the result of a set of conceptual confusions, but as a policy that was reproduced because it was politically warranted. (Mamdani 1996: 140–141)

The idea that traditional leaders were custodians of land should be understood as part and parcel of the colonial political engineering which was a practice that was none existent in pre-colonial African societies. A communal land system was introduced by colonialists with the aim of excluding Africans from competing in the modern capitalistic system of private ownership of land. In the social context of pre-colonial Africa which was characterized by nomadic movement of people, the idea of communal land helped in restricting such movements. Customary land served some colonial curative purposes whereby land was divided according to tribal groupings. However, Mamdani went on to assert that the idea of a tribe as some form of a rigid social unit was also a creation of colonialism. As he puts it, Yet in most precolonial African societies where status and wealth accrued to those who could attract dependents or followers, ‘strangers’ were welcomed—as wives, clients, ‘blood brothers’, settlers or disciples—because they enhanced the prestige and often the labor force of the head of a household…As a result, communities were more often than not multiethnic. In such a context, to identify community with tribe was to sow the seeds of much tension. (Mamdani 1996: 140)

It is in such observations that one has to be very cautious when talking about communal land or customary land because a land that was typically communal cannot be substantiated historically. In the history of settler colonialism in Africa, there were lots of land policies that were promulgated by the colonial governments. Through these acts the idea of customary land or communal land was being brought into the lives of the colonized Africans. Such observations lead one to question the authenticity of discourses on ‘African traditions’. But African nationalists did not abandon or scorn African traditions completely in



their discourses about African post-colonial socio-economic transformation. The concept of ‘African tradition’ has been integral to ethical discourses in African politics and transformation. As we shall see in following chapter, the concept of ‘African tradition’ served two purposes. First, this concept was appealed to as a way of affirming the authenticity of an original African identity. Second, African tradition provided the foundation for socio-economic and political ethical discourses.

Bibliography Ake, C. 1993. What Is the Problem of Ethnicity in Africa? Transformation 22: 1–14. Alexander, J. 2018. The Politics of States and Chiefs in Zimbabwe. In The Politics of Custom: Chiefship, Capital, and the State in Contemporary Africa, ed. J.L. Comaroff and J. Comaroff, 134–161. Johannesburg: Wits University Press. Allighan, G. 1961. Verwoerd—The End: A Look-back from the Future. London: T. V. Boardm. Banda, F. 2006. Women, Law and Human Rights in Southern Africa. Journal of Southern African Studies 32 (1): 13–27. Bourdillon, M. 1987. The Shona Peoples: An Ethnology of the Contemporary Shona, with Special Reference to their Religion. Gweru: Mambo Press. Bujo, B. 2001. Foundations of an African Ethic: Beyond the Universal Claims of Western Morality. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company. Centre for Conflict Management and Transformation. 2014. Cultures in Conflict: Challenges of Marriage and Divorce under Zimbabwe’s Dual Legal System. Accessed December 15, 2019. Comaroff, J.L., and J.  Comaroff. 2018. Chiefs, Capital, and the State in Contemporary Africa: An Introduction. In The Politics of Custom: Chiefs, Capital, and the State in Contemporary Africa, ed. J.L.  Comaroff and J. Comaroff, 1–48. Johannesburg: Wits University Press. Fanon, F. 2001. The Wretched of the Earth. London: Penguin Books. Fortes, M., and E.E.  Evans-Pritchard. 1961. Introduction. In African Political Systems, ed. M.  Fortes and E.E.  Evans-Pritchard, 1–23. London: Oxford University Press. Frederikse, J. 1984. None But Ourselves: Masses vs. Media in the Making of Zimbabwe. London: Penguin Publishing Books. Freedom Charter. Adopted at the Congress of the People at Kliptown, Johannesburg, on June 25 and 26, 1955. Accessed January 5, 2019. https://



Goldsworthy, D. 1982. Ethnicity and Leadership in Africa: the ‘Untypical’ Case of Tom Mboya. The Journal of Modern African Studies 20 (1): 107–126. Irele, A. 1965. Negritude or Black Cultural Nationalism. Journal of Modern African Studies 3 (3): 320–355. Mafeje, A. 1971. The Ideology of Tribalism. The Journal of Modern African Studies 9 (2): 253–261. Mahajan, H. 1978. Anatomy of Imperialism in Angola. Africa Quarterly XVII (4, Apr.): 46–66. Mamdani, M. 1996. Citizenship and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Mbiti, J.S. 1970. African Religions and Philosophy. New  York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. Miller, C. 1990. Theories of Africans: Francophone Literature and Anthropology in Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Mvumvu, Z. 2018. Traditional Leaders Clash Over State’s Decision to Exclude Land Under Chiefs’ Control from Expropriation. Timeslive. Accessed January 18, 2020. Nayak, K.N. 1982. Cultural Relativity: A Unified Theory of Knowledge. Vol. 1. New Haven: Saddharma Prakashana. Nkrumah, K. 1970. Africa Must Unite. London: Heineman. Nyerere, J.K. 1970. Freedom and Socialism/Uhuru na Ujamaa: A Selection from Writings and Speeches 1965–1967. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Plaatje, S. 2007. Native Life in South Africa. Northlands: Picador Africa. Ranger, T.O. 1983. The Invention of Tradition in Colonial Africa. In The Invention of Tradition, ed. E.  Hobsbawm and E.O.  Ranger, 211–262. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Russell, B. 1992. Human Society in Ethics and Politics. London: Routledge. Sithole, M. 1985. The Salience of Ethncity in African Politics: The Case of Zimbabwe. Journal of Asian and African Studies XX, 3–4, 181–192. South African Law Commission. 1999. The Harmonizatiion of the Common Law and Indigenous Law: Traditional Courts and the Judicial Function of Tradition Leaders. Thabo Mbeki Foundation. 2018. Accessed December 20, 2018. https://www. Wilkins, I., and H.  Strydom. 2012. The Super Afrikaners: Inside the Afrikaner Broederbond. Johannesburg and Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers. Wilson, N.H. 1923. The Development of Native Reserves. Southern Rhodesia Native Affairs Department Annual (NADA), Vol. II: 86–96.


Politics of Tradition and African Identity

In most of the discourses that are proffered by African politicians, be they in leadership, politics, economics, religion or education there has been a persistent recourse to the values of African traditional society. It is with reference to African traditional society that one can discern their ethical point of view on various social, economic and political issues. Even though the attitude of African politicians has been imbued in an aura of ambivalence where traditional Africa was sometimes condemned and in other instances appreciated, the recourse to African traditional society socio-­ economic and political model to emulate has remained a perennial theme. The African traditional society has been presented as the ideal society upon which to reconstruct the post-colonial African society. What it means to be an African was to be found in African traditional society prior to the advent of settler colonialism. Thus the motif of reconstructing African post-colonial society on the foundations of precolonial African society is a byproduct of the dehumanization to which the African has been subjected at the hands of colonial administrators, Christian missionaries, Western anthropologists, colonial historians, social evolutionists and ethnographers. In most of the academic disciplines that were taught during colonialism, the humanity of an African was bastardized to such an extent that she or he was regarded as a lesser human being in comparative to the humanity of the so-called civilized societies. Among the majority of colonial scholarship, it was the humanity

© The Author(s) 2020 M. F. Murove, African Politics and Ethics,




of an African which inevitably remained an existential perennial question to them. From a religious perspective, it was asked whether Africans were endowed with a soul, and whether they were created in the image of God. Anthropological and ethnological studies created a grand narrative of Africans as primordially barbaric and primitive—an element that can be objectively observed from their tendency to live in communities of tribes and ethnic groups or clans. The existence of Africans prior to colonialism and Christianity was imagined as not different from the existence of other wild animals. In this pre-colonial mode of existence, there were neither civilization nor scientific discoveries. On those occasions when such colonial narratives of pre-colonial African societies were spiced with the theory of social Darwinism, Africans were portrayed as a laboratory case study of the state of humanity prior to civilization—pre-colonial Africans represented the past of civilized Western societies. The narrative of ethics in African politics can be seen as an ethical narrative that was aimed at protesting against the colonial and apartheid experiences of dehumanization through the politicization of ethnicity. Thus the concept of African tradition was abused by colonialists for expedient colonial political purposes. As we have seen previously, the idea of organizing the colonial African society into reserves and homelands found its justification on what the colonialists saw as the imperative of enabling the colonized African to preserve his or her traditions and identity. In other words, tradition referred to socio-economic, religious and political practices that were embedded in African culture prior to the advent of colonialism. Tradition played two roles—as a source of for the primitivizing of the African from a colonial perspective, and from a post-colonial perspective, tradition became a source for the reconstruction of the African post-­ colonial society. It is in the later role of tradition from which we can discern the motif of ethics in African politics. The African political ethical discourses that are discussed in this book which are connected to African traditional society are; African traditional humanistic values such as African communalism, African Collectivism and African Leadership. All these themes are intertwined in most of the ethical discourses in African politics.



African Communalism and Politics Few scholars would dispute the fact that the idea of community or a discourse about African traditional community is a common thread that runs throughout in the writings of African politicians as well as in the works of other scholars who have written about African ethics. In most of the writings of African politicians one finds that the traditional African community is presented as an organismic entity to the extent that the individual’s ultimate wellbeing is presented as inseparable from the wellbeing of the community. Political activities are thus seen in terms of their positive contributions to the wellbeing of the community. As an organismic whole, community implies a social existence that is conceptualized and actualized in terms of unity of purpose where individual actions are deliberately aimed at promoting and perpetuating communal harmony. Through observation of how African people relate to each other within their traditional settings, many politicians came to a unanimous conclusion that Africans were communal by nature and that everything in their existence has a communal base because human beings are born and raised in human society. Human social mores have the promotion of harmony as their telos. It is as if the community is the second nature of the person because the community is postulated as the primary source of the individual’s identity. Here the implication is that to be a real person is to belong to a particular community that exists in space and time. The individual is wholly immersed in the community such that his or her wellbeing cannot be disentangled from the wellbeing of the community. Belonging to a particular community does not sever the individual from the reality of belonging to the macro community that constitutes the totality of human society. African nationalists have been critical of the relevance of the 1948 United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Human Rights and the Community The argument that has been proffered by African scholars and nationalists alike was that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a document which expressed the Western understanding of a person where the individual is presumed to be a “separate, isolated, autonomous and self-­ determining individual, who, apart from any social context, is a bearer of human rights” (Zvobgo 1979: 93). Such observations imply that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was unintelligible within a society



that was communitarian in its life outlook. In African societies, the individual’s wellbeing was subsumed under the community. Thus community was the natural bearer of rights instead of the individual. Article 18 of the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) states that: 1. The family shall be the natural unity and basis of society. It shall be protected by the State which shall take care of its physical health and morals. 2. The State shall have the duty to assist the family which is the custodian of morals and traditional values recognized by the community. It was the family which represented the community in the life of the individual which is supposed to be protected by the State. The family was ultimately responsible for the upholding of the values of the community. On the place where the Universal Declaration for Human Rights declares that, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration…” (Article 02), the OAU substituted ‘everyone’ with the phrase ‘the family’. This gives the impression that the individual was not recognized in African society because as we can see from section 2 of Article 18 of the OAU Charter on Human Rights and People’s Rights, the duty of the State was to promote these human rights at the family level. The Universal Declaration for Human Rights was critiqued for premising its articles on the Western philosophical doctrine of atomic individualism. This philosophical doctrine of atomic individualism was well articulated by Ayn Rand when she said that, “[t]he principle of man’s individual rights [was] the extension of morality into the society system—a limitation on the power of the state, and man’s protection against the brutal force of the collective…A right is the property of an individual, society as such has no rights…the only purpose of government is the protection of individual rights” (1963: 93). This is a typical example of atomic individualistic conceptualization of human rights which the OAU Charter found incommensurate with the traditional African understanding of an individual as a socially relational being whose recognition is relative to the community. The impression that has been created by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is that individuals are owed inviolable perennial rights by the State, and hence the State has to recognize this debt in its treatment of the individual. The OAU Charter on Human Rights and People’s Rights attempted to correct this impression by emphasizing the responsibilities of



the individual to the community in Article 29 which expect the individual to fulfil the following responsibilities. The following are some of excerpts on the envisaged individual responsibilities: 3. To preserve his national community by placing his physical and intellectual abilities at its service… 7. To preserve and strengthen positive African cultural values in his relations with other members of the society, in the spirit of tolerance, dialogue and consultation and, in general, to contribute to the promotion of the moral wellbeing of society (OAU Charter: 1981). The presumption inherent in these envisaged individual responsibilities is that individuals in African societies are understood as ontologically belonging to society and subsist within society. The question that arises has to do with the place of the individual in African societies. What the OAU Charter succeeded in doing was to do away with the dichotomy of the individual versus community or society which has been integral to the AU Charter. By emphasizing the primacy of the community above the individual, an impression has been created that individuals in African societies have no other individual aspirations besides working for the wellbeing of the society. For this reason many African scholars have insisted that Africans understand society as an organic whole. This organismic understanding of society was thus regarded as at odds with the contractarian understanding of society which is the conceptual philosophical and political foundation of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ifeanyi Menkiti asserted that the African understanding of community presupposes that the individual is subsumed in the “collective we” (Menkiti 1984: 179). Obviously such claims give the impression that there are no individuals in African societies or that individuals are not recognized in African societies. In the same vein, Obinna echoed Menkiti when he said that, “Living in Africa means abandoning the right to be an individual, particular, selfish, aggressive…in order to be with others” (Okere 1985: 149). Whilst the observations from Menkiti and Okere create the impression that individuals in the African societies do not perceive themselves as autonomous beings, the point which was being made was that in African societies individuals are conceptualized as persons by virtue of their common belonging to society. This observation should be seen as a refutation of the doctrine of atomic individualism as it is enshrined in the language



of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The language of rights is thus regarded as overlooking the fact that human beings are human through an existential process of mutual recognition within a social context of common belonging. This is the observation that was made by Mogobe Ramose when he said: The aphorism [Ubuntu] rests upon two organically interrelated philosophical principles. The first is that the individual human being is an object of intrinsic value. Were this not so, it would be senseless to base the affirmation of one’s humanness on the recognition of the same quality in the other and respect thereof. To denigrate and disrespect another human being is to denigrate and disrespect oneself, only if it is accepted that oneself is an object worthy of dignity and respect. The second principle is that motho (a human being) is truly human only in the context of actual relations with other human beings. (Ramose 2009: 420)

The above observation implies that the intrinsic worthiness of a person is relationally constituted in such a way that to be human is ontologically inseparable from the humanity of others. A human being, according to the above aphorism does not exist autonomously from social relationships. He or she is recognized on the basis of reciprocal action or on the basis of his or her ability to recognize and respect the humanity of others. As human beings we are “mutually immanent in each other qua genuine individuals” (Tanaka 2010: 23). The individual’s identity or what makes the individual to be recognized as a human being cannot be abstracted from the ontologically reality of his or her common belonging because the individual’s subjectivity is ontologically immanent in the subjectivity of others. Other Western ethicists such as Charles Taylor (1996: 191–197) who are popularly known as communitarians has supported the African ethical view of a person when as he asserted that, human beings “develop their characteristically human capacities in society”. Thus for this reason, “Living in society is a necessary condition of the development of rationality, or of becoming a moral agent…outside society, or in some variants outside certain kinds of society, distinctively human capacities could not develop.” What makes us fully human is our inherent ability to belong. Our potentials and capacities are only realizable within a social context in which are interlocked with each other. As we have seen in Chap. 2, the ethic of Ubuntu is based on the premise that human beings are dependent and interdependent on each other in a way that we can postulate an



indubitable existential reality of their common belonging as integral to their primordial nature.

African Politics and the Ethics of Common Belonging The idea that an individual is naturally a social being has remained a well-­ entrenched pattern of thought among African politicians and academics alike. This idea is articulated in the concept of common belonging which has been has been identified by African politicians as the basis for African traditional humanism. This concept became a premise for a socio-political exploration on the substantiveness of an African identity. For the Senegalese President Leopold Sédar Sénghor, typical traditional African humanism can be deciphered if we make a comparative analysis of how the Negro-­ African differs from the European on the issue of knowledge. In this regard, the Negro-African’s approach towards the acquiring of knowledge says a lot about his or her identity. According to Senghor, Negro-African knowledge is acquired by intuition instead of confrontation as it is the case in Western modes of acquiring knowledge which has been more obsessed with reconciling the opposites or contradictions. In contradistinction to the European modes of acquiring knowledge, Senghor had this to say about African modes of knowing, “Let us then consider the Negro African as he faces the object to be known, as he faces the Other: God, man, animal, tree or pebble, natural or social phenomenon. In contrast to the classic European, the Negro African does not draw a line between himself and the object” (Senghor 1964: 72). For Senghor, the African modes of knowing do not draw a distinction between that what is inquired and the inquirer. The phenomenon to be known and the inquirer constitute a totality such that the outcome is mutual identification between the inquirer and the phenomenon which was originally the subject of inquiry. Thus the inquirer is not pitted against the phenomenon as opposites because both the inquirer and the phenomenon are embedded in the same reality of common belonging. That which might be abstracted as remote is not necessarily remote in the being of the inquirer. For this reason Sénghor went on to assert that when an African is investigating a particular phenomenon, she or he “does not hold it at a distance, nor does he merely look at it and analyse it. After holding it at a distance, after scanning it



without analyzing it, he takes it vibrant in his hands, careful not to kill or fix it” (ibid.). According to Senghor, in the process of acquiring knowledge about a particular phenomenon, Africans do not come to the knowledge of that phenomenon through a process of disentanglement and compartmentalization of the phenomenon; rather, their knowledge of the phenomenon is gained in unity with the phenomenon. This obviously implies that African patterns of thought do not bifurcate nature on the basis of nature that is observed as opposed to nature being experienced. For this reason, one can easily deduce that the African modes of knowing are holistic in such a way that the material and spiritual are conceptualized as an integrated whole. A holistic mental outlook towards reality in general presupposes a holistic understanding of social existence which usually gives rise to the idea that a meaningful social existence is that which is solidaristic. What Senghor found to be scientifically analogous to African modes of knowing is quantum physics, especially the wave-particle duality inherent in the quantum assertion of the nature of matter (Senghor 1964: 72). In quantum theory it is asserted that, “each way of describing being, as a wave or as a particle, complements the other and that a whole picture emerges only from the ‘package deal’” (Zohar 1991: 9). Other quantum theorists such as Niels Bohr have asserted that, “fundamental reality itself is essentially indeterminate, that there is no clear, fixed, underlying something to our daily existence that can ever be known. Everything about reality is and remains a matter of probabilities. An electron might be a waave, it might be in this orbit, it might be in that—indeed, anything might happen” (Zohar 1991: 11). Similarly, Senghor maintained that the African personality is a personality that is local and yet pervasive simultaneously. As he puts it, “Thus the Negro African sympathizes, abandons his personality to become identified with the Other, dies to be reborn in the Other. He does not assimilate; he is assimilated. He lives a common life with the Other; he lives in a symbiosis. …Subject and object are dialectically face to face in the very act of knowledge” (Senghor 1964: 72). To put it in another way, the individual’s personality is an amalgamation of the personalities of other members of the community. In the process of social intercourse with others in the community, the individual becomes ontologically one with others in the process of the general social identification. It is for this reason that it becomes befitting to postulate that the individual exists in a state of perennial symbiosis. In such a symbiotic relationship, the dialectical process of subject vying in opposite with object



get overcome by an affectionate realization stark reality of human mutual endearment of social existence. This mutual endearment leads to the realization that social existence is about spontaneous affection towards the other whereby individuals say, “‘I want you to feel me,’ says a voter who wants you to know him well. ‘I think, therefore I am,’ Descartes writes. …The Negro African would say, ‘I feel, I dance the Other; I am’” (Senghor 1964: 73). On the basis of the premise that human social existence in the African context and modes of knowing are based on the principle of ontological relationality, Sénghor went on to postulate the idea that African politics can thus be regarded as the politics of affection whereby voters want to be endeared instead of being subjected to intellectual speculation as beings as if they exist far away from the life of the politician. Sénghor used the word ‘sympathize’ in its French origins, which implies the ability ‘to feel with’. Whilst individual thought has been described as something inaccessible from without, Sénghor says that African mode of thought is something that is accessible by virtue of it being shared in common with others. This accessibility of thought to others is possible because the individual’s life is not necessarily private; rather, it is a life that is shared in common with others. A social life that is shared with others is actually analogous to a romantic life in which two bodies share each other intimately. One is thus politically recognized when she or he is felt as to who she or he is. This type of knowledge, according to Sénghor, differs radically from the Cartesian mechanistic knowledge which presupposes the individual’s knowledge as originally inaccessible to others. The African knowledge is rather aesthetic because it is felt and experienced by others. Contrary to Negro reason which thrived on intimacy with that which is observed, European reason was a reason through “reasoning eye”, African reason was “the reason of the touch, better still, the reasoning embrace” (Senghor 1964: 73–74). In other words, African reason that is a reason that does not discriminate reality into different categories as articulated by Levi-Strauss when he said, “What appears to us as greater social ease and greater intellectual mobility is thus due to the fact that we prefer to operate with detached pieces, if not indeed with small change, while the native is a logical hoarder: he is forever tying threads, unceasingly turning over all the aspects of reality, whether physical or mental. We traffic in our ideas; he hoards them up” (Levi-Strauss 1976: 276). Sometimes the Western epistemological obsession with differences in the study of reality has been taken into extremes such that it becomes



difficult to account for the ontological relationality of things. When reality is primarily seen in terms of disparate entities, the social implication for such an epistemological outlook is most likely to be based on an exclusive outlook towards human social existence. Whilst Sénghor had highlighted the inherent differences between African reason and European reason, he also maintained that these two modes of reason can still be used together. In other words, there is a need to be inclusive in the way the African applies his or her reason. The value of inclusiveness can also be seen as an inevitable outcome of the African reason which Sénghor had previously characterized as ‘reason embrace’. He went on to postulate the value of inclusiveness as something that has been integral to human civilization; hence African modes of knowing were supposed to be integrated to European ones. African ‘reason embrace’ was not supposed to be pursued in isolation from other modes of knowing; rather, “we must maintain the Negro-African method of knowledge, but integrate into it the methods Europe has used throughout her history—classical logic, Marxian dialectics, and that of the twentieth century. Negro-African reason is traditionally dialectical, transcending the principles of identity, noncontradiction, and the ‘excluded middle’” (Senghor 1964: 75). This observation should rather be seen as an admission that African knowledge cannot be understood as exclusively African; rather it has to be integrated into other knowledge systems because European knowledge system is part of African knowledge system. The legacy of colonialism in relationship to the dissemination of knowledge is that Europeans presented their knowledge systems as the only authentic knowledge systems which should be emulated by everybody. At the end of the day what was passed on as authentic knowledge had nothing to do with African modes of knowing. Our understanding of knowledge has some strong bearing to our relationships with others. An exclusivist approach to knowledge is most likely lead to a discriminatory practice in social existence.

The Primacy of Relationality and Inclusivity The discourse about the distinctiveness of Negro-African reason as propounded by Sénghor was basically aimed at bringing attention on the contribution of African knowledge to the world stream of knowledge systems. This endeavour was politically related to the quest for recognition amidst a situation of systematic oppression and national socio-political and economic exclusion. The quest for an African identity was to be achieved



through the celebration of those values which were previously considered by colonialists as oases of primitivism. A discourse on African reason became a recognition of those African traditional humanistic values that were deemed by African nationalists to be indispensable to African identity within the post-colonial political dispensation. For nationalists such as Kaunda, the identity of an African within the post-colonial political dispensation was supposed to be reconstructed around African traditional humanistic values. The ethical values which were highly cherished in the traditional community were premised on the foundation of inclusivity whereby society fostered social practices of human mutual responsibility towards each other. In contrast to the modern industrial society, Kaunda had this to say: I would describe industrial society as an exclusive society because its members’ responsibilities are often confined to the immediate family, and I have noted that the family circle may be a self-entire little universe, preventing the acceptance of wider commitments. Let me give you an example of the inclusiveness of traditional society. I do not restrict the title father to my male parent; I also address my father’s brothers as father. My bothers would include not only the male children of my father but also certain cousins and even members of the same clan who have no blood relationship to me at all. (Kaunda 1966: 27)

The principle of inclusivity implies that the individual sees his or her relations in a way that is all-embracive instead of restricting one’s relations to the immediate family. African traditional humanistic values were based on the presumption that one’s social relations should be ever expansive and the ultimate aim of social existence is to create a network of infinite interdependence of human beings on each other. Within such an all-­ inclusive social existence, what it meant to be human is premised mainly on one’s ability to foster an ethos of common belonging regardless of blood consanguinity. One can even go to the extent of asserting that inclusiveness does not imply uniformity in terms of modes of thought; rather, it is based on the acceptance that the other person is a person whose presence should be accepted in such a way that she or he should feel a sense of belonging to the community and society at large. As an inclusive society, African traditional society has nurtured the necessary social conditions which made it possible for each person to feel that they belong to a wider caring society because, as human beings, “we are



all wrapped up together in this bundle of life and therefore a bond already exists between myself and a stranger before we open our mouths to speak” (Kaunda 1966: 32). That which fosters a consciousness of common belonging within a person is the reality of life which we commonly share as human beings. The commonality of life presupposes a common human existence or a life lived in togetherness. Obviously this presupposes that the community is an organic whole which could not be summed up in terms of constituencies or parts as is the case with the Western individualistic conceptualization of community. A comparative philosophical analysis between the Western and African conceptualization of community was well articulated by Ifeanyi Menkiti after which he deduced that whilst in Western society community is understood as a random collection of individuals or a “bringing together of atomic individuals into a unit more akin to an association than to community”, in the African understanding of community, the individual is simply fused in the “collective we” (Menkiti 1984: 197–180). The implication is that the individual is understood in relationship to the community. In traditional African societies, a person was understood as a person because of the existence of other persons. In other words, we can only be human on the precondition that one recognizes the humanity of others. Through the recognition of the humanity of others, our own humanity is recognized reciprocally. As we have seen previously in Chap. 2, this understanding of persons is articulated in the popular Zulu/Xhosa aphorism—Umuntu ngomuntu ngabantu—a person is a person because of other persons. The aphorism of Ubuntu is a summation of traditional African humanism par excellence. Being a person is not just about biological physical appearances, the way one relates to other people is the basis for the recognition of one’s personhood (Kamwangamalu 1999; Dandala 2009; Murove 2016). In African political discourses, Ubuntu can be seen as the foundation for a relational ontology which inherent in African humanism.

African Humanism and Relationality African people south of the Sahara are radical humanists in the sense that what it means to be a human being cannot be disentangled purely into existential categories of the holy versus the profane. What it means to be human envelopes the totality of existence. If human beings exist in a web of relations with all that exists, it also implies that human beings are intrinsically related to each other. The concept of ubuntu from which the above



aphorism derives its origin is based on the presumption that as human beings we experience a sense of dignity and worthiness from the way we are treated by others. In turn, we affirm the humanness of others by saying ‘la bantu bano buntu’ (Zulu/Ndebele)—these people have humanness or that they are a true embodiment of what it really means to be human (Murove 2016: 173; Ramose 2009: 37). Morally condoned behaviour is that type of behaviour that affirms our common humanity. The innuendo here is that virtuous acts that we do to each other affirm the existence of our common or shared humanity. It was through Ubuntu that Africans were able to critique the colonial society as bereft of humanness. For this reason, colonialists were not regarded as endowed with humanness because of their tendency of treating the colonized as sub-humans (Murove 2016: 180). Stanlake Samkange and Tomie Samkange observed that during colonialism and apartheid in sub-Saharan Africa, the concept of Ubuntu adopted some connotations whereby a white person was not considered to be a person because of the experiences of dehumanization which African people went through. As they put it, “We know also, it [Ubuntu] means more than just a person, human being or humanness because when one sees two people, one white and the other black, coming along, we say, Hona munhu uyo ari kufamba nomurungu [Shona] or in isiNdebele, Nanguyana Umuntu ohamba lo mlungu (There is a muntu/ munhu walking with a white man)” (Samkange and Samkange 1980: 38). The implication here is that there was something in the way how white people related to African people which led Africans to conclude that white were not endowed with Ubuntu. The behaviour of white folks towards Africans during the heydays of colonialism and the era of slavery was devoid of humanness or ubuntu. To the majority of the oppressed and dehumanized African people, colonialism and slavery were thus construed as systems that were devoid of ubuntu. For this reason, in the eyes of the oppressed or enslaved Africans, a colonialist or a slave trader was not a real person or umuntu because he had traversed the boundaries of ubuntu by subjecting the colonized or the enslaved to inhumane treatment—thus depriving the colonized or the enslaved the status of humanness. However, it needs to be said that the ethic of ubuntu was not understood as an ethical system that was exclusively African; rather, it was possible to have an African person without any sense of ubuntu in his or her relationships with other people. In traditional African societies a person who is selfish, cruel and disrespectful is referred to in Shona language of



the people of Zimbabwe as munhu asina hunhu (a person who is bereft of humanness). Such a person is described as such because of the lack of concern for the emotional or sometimes material needs of others. An individualistic person usually fits the category of munhu asina hunhu. An individualist is thus described as munhu asina hunhu because of his or her lack of concern for our shared humanity. The legacy of individualism in traditional Africa lied in its being ontologically the antithesis of the social reality of harmony and human common belonging. In this vein, George Kahari made a pertinent observation when he said, “The missionaries approach to the concept of individualism was systematic as they thought that the only way of changing the values of a group of people was through the individual” (Kahari 1982: 87). The missionaries’ way of evangelization was focused on the individual as recipient of the Christian message and its promise for the salvation of individual souls. This missionary approach was very significant in the sense that it facilitated the disintegration of the pre-­ colonial closely knit African communities in which God was perceived as the God of the community who was to be approached with others in the community. The missionaries’ evangelical method of separating the individual from the community as well as making the individual the bearer of unique religious experiences metamorphosed into “a process which also resulted in the person being alienated from his group” and as a result, Christianity was more appealing to “the more adventurous individuals, and for the first time in history parents and their children did not believe in the same God” (ibid.). In the history of Christianity in Africa, the doctrine of salvation for individuals culminated in the missionary construction of Christian villages as opposed to the traditional village where one lived with everybody else and shared in the common religious practices of the community. In Christianity individuals were supposed to have their own subjective consciousness as a prerequisite for their salvation. Thus the idea that the individual was supposed to accept Christ as his or her personal saviour implies that salvation was not for communities. In the ethic of ubuntu and also its implied ontology is that to be a person is to belong to the community and to participate in the life processes of the community. In ubuntu the individual’s identity is an ontological reality that is shared with others in the community because it is in the community that human relations are plausibly sustainable through a process of mutual reciprocity. In this regard, the individual’s humanity derives from the humanity of others in as much as the individual contributes to the humanity of the whole community. It is on the basis of the reality of



the communal nature of the individual’s identity that ubuntu is averse to the ethic of individualism. But here it also needs to be stated unequivocally that ubuntu does recognize and appreciate the existence of individuals who are endowed with different talents and capacities to fend for themselves, what ubuntu is averse to is individualism—a life outlook that is primarily based on selfishness or self-centeredness. For this reason, most significant characteristics of ubuntu as an ethic or philosophy of African traditional humanism are common belonging and communal harmony. In the ethic of ubuntu, relationality is indispensable to what it means to be human. It is on the basis of the primacy that is given to relationality that the individual’s identity is conceptualized as basically derivative from a web of ontological and cosmological relationships. As Michael Gelfand puts it, unhu/ubuntu “is derived from parents, from tribal practices from the distant past. …Ultimately a person owes everything to his mudzimu [ancestors]; there is no doubt that a person owes his unhu (his personality) to his vadzimu (ancestors). His behavior, his consideration for others and his honesty are derived from his mudzimu” (Gelfand 1973: 121). A human being does not only belong to those who are existing in the present, rather she or he belongs to the past to the extent that she or he shares in the present all that which transpired in the past. Also, the present existence has a tendency of overlapping with the future. Whilst the individual belongs in the present, she or he is understood as belonging equally into the future because of his or her positive contributions to the wellbeing of those who will exist in the future. However, the African traditional understanding of belonging is not simply restricted to human society. The human past is a past that was shared with the natural world. The Shona people of Zimbabwe express human common belongingness with the natural environment in the concept of ukama—a concept that implies relationality. Through the totemic system, a human being is understood as belonging partly to the natural world. A totemic species represents the founding ancestor of the lineage. When the concepts of Ukama and ubuntu are compounded in their togetherness, they provide us with an ethical outlook that suggests that human well-being is indispensable from our dependence on and interdependence with all that exists, and particularly with the immediate environment on which all of humanity depends (Murove 2004: 196). In ukama a sense of belonging permeates all spheres of existence. However, this common belonging is also concretized in Ubuntu because the main presumption in ubuntu is that the individual cannot be existentially disentangled



from the community, and that she or he can only flourish in ukama within the community. For this reason, ubuntu implies the inherent African traditional appreciation of relationality or ukama (Murove 2009: 318–325). Ubuntu concretizes ukama as it implies a social existence that fosters inclusive wellbeing (Prozesky 2003: 204). The concept of inclusive wellbeing entails that our attitudes to others should enable them to feel and experience a sense of belonging. In this regard, no one should be discriminated on the basis of colour, religion, economic or cultural background. Mvume Dandala succinctly summed the implied inclusive life outlook inherent in Ubuntu when he said, “The saying umuntu ngomuntu ngabantu (a person is a person because of others) becomes a statement that levels all people. It essentially states that no one can be self-sufficient, and that interdependence is a reality of all” (Dandala 2009: 260). The idea of interdependence which is pivotal to ubuntu and also implies that an authentic human existence cannot be understood in isolation from the larger social reality. As human beings we are thus in perennial need for each other. What it means to be human is found in belonging. Gabriel Setiloane puts it well when he said that in ubuntu, “Belonging is the root and essence of being. Therefore the whole system of African society and the ordering thereof (law) is based on this” (Setiloane 1986: 10). In other words, persons are persons by virtue of belonging to society. It is the availability of others to our needs, emotionally, spiritually, economically and politically which makes independent existence as to mean complete freedom from others an illusory. The second characteristic implied in ubuntu which I deem to follow from the above characteristic is based on the presumption that human beings are by nature communal beings.

Communal Harmony In the light of the above discussion it should be clear that Ubuntu presupposes the idea that the ideal form of existence is that which is based on promoting communal harmony. In other words, we can deduce from Ubuntu that the individual’s identity and ultimate wellbeing cannot be understood intelligibly outside the existential domain of communion with others. Communal harmony is possible because communicability is ontologically and cosmologically implied in the concept of Ubuntu. The communion between the individual and community can be stated logically as follows, Let (A) be the individual and (C) be the community. (A) is part of (C) in such a way that we can also say that (A) and (C) exist in each



other. The existence of (A) overlaps with the existence of (C) to the extent that what happens in the life of (A) should thus be understood as simultaneously happening to the life of (C). The relationship between (A) and (C) is ontological and transitive in the sense that the individual’s being is communicative in such a way that it enters into communion with the lives of others in as much as the lives of others enter into the individual’s life. What happens in the life of (A) is in continuity with what happens in the life of (C). In this regard Ubuntu presupposes that an ethical community is that which prioritizes harmonious existence. In this relational ontology, it can be inferred that communicability is an element which is indispensable to what it means to be a person. A person is regarded as a person partly because of his or her openness to other persons. Persons were originally intended to be open systems or entities who communicate life or energy to other members of the community or those they encounter. The individual is not a self-enclosed entity as it is usually presumed in the philosophy of individualism. A person is always an entity in relationships rather than simply being in a relationship with the self. The self being conceived as an autonomous entity is rather an abstraction from the web of relationships because what is usually taken as a simple relationship is in ipso facto a manifestation of a multiplicity of relationships. The individual’s existence might manifest itself as particular but a detailed analysis of such an existence will reveal a multiplicity of relations that are too complicated to disentangle analytically into meaningful parts. For example, the Shona people of Zimbabwe have an adage about relationships, which says, Ukama makore hunopfekana—literally meaning relationships are like clouds, they interpenetrate each other. Thus the metaphor of clouds implies that one cannot disentangle oneself from the reality of relationality. Gabriel Setiloane expressed the primacy of communicability in Ubuntu by coining the concept seriti, a seSotho word which means vitality. As he puts it, “Physically perceived the human person is like a live electric wire which is forever exuding force or energy in all directions. The force that is thus exuded is called ‘seriti’—‘Isuthunzi’” (Setiloane 1986: 13). In other words, to be a person is to exude vitality to other people in the community. A real person is thus characterized by virtue of his or her ability to impart life and to be influenced by the lives of others in the community. The same concept of seriti was articulated by the then president of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda as follows, “Our whole life is togetherness and to be cut off from our fellow human beings is to die of the soul. …We are known



for our laughter, music and dancing. Rhythm is the very expression of the life force within us; it is symbolic both for our relationship with other people and with all created things” (Kaunda 1966: 36). A celebratory outlook towards life implies that whatever event that occurred in the life of the individual is shared with the whole community as an occasion for celebration. The individual’s celebration is regarded as a communal affair because the individual cannot be separated from the community. It is partly for this reason that in African traditional settings people do not go to celebrations after receiving invitation cards; rather they join in the celebrations spontaneously without any formal invitation. Celebration of life is an ethical requirement that actualizes the solidarity that exists in the present community which exists in the realm of mortality and the community of the past (ancestors) which has attained immortality. It is through celebration that communication between these two modes of existence is established. This communication is well articulated by Kaunda when he said, “it is at such times that the barrier between the natural and the supernatural crashes down. We are conscious of only one world—the living generations sway in rhythm with gods and ancestral spirits” (Kaunda 1966: 36). Through celebrations people actualize the symbiotic relationship that exists between the world of mortality and that of immortality. These two realms of existence are brought into vivid communication during the occasion of celebration. For many African people, song remained the common feature in their celebration of life—be it in times of joy or sorrow, African people will always celebrate their communal togetherness. Early post-colonial African political discourse has appealed to African traditional humanistic values as the springboard for the construction of an egalitarian society which they referred to as African socialism, collectivism or communalism. Individualism in modern African societies was regarded as pathological to traditional African societies. Thus the genealogy of individualism lied in the advent of colonialism and Christianity in African societies.

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Kahari, G.P. 1982. Kahari and the Contemporary Shona Novel. Zambezia X 11: 85–110. Kamwangamalu, N. 1999. Ubuntu in South Africa: A Sociolinguistic Perspective to a Pan-African Concept. Critical Arts 13 (2): 24–21. Kaunda, K. 1966. A Humanist in Africa. The Camelot Press Ltd. Levi-Strauss, C. 1976. The Savage Mind. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Menkiti, I.A. 1984. Person and Community in African Traditional Thought. In African Philosophy: An Introduction, ed. R.A.  Wright. Lanham: University Press of America. Murove, M.F. 2004, Winter. An African Commitment to Ecological Conservation: The African Concepts of Ukama and Ubuntu. Mankind Quarterly LXV (2): 195–215. ———. 2009. An African Environmental Ethic Based on the Concepts of Ukama and Ubuntu. In African Ethics: An Anthology of Comparative and Applied Ethics, ed. M.F.  Murove, 315–332. Scottsville: University of KwaZulu-­ Natal Press. ———. 2016. African Moral Consciousness: An Inquiry into the Evolution of Perspectives and Prospects. London: Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd. OAU (Organization of African Unity). 1981. African Charter on Human Rights and People’s Rights. Adopted June 1981, United Nations. Okere, B.O. 1985. The Protection of Human Rights in Africa and the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights: A Comparative Analysis with the European and American Systems. Human Rights Quarterly 6: 141–159. Prozesky, M.H. 2003. Frontiers of Conscience: Exploring Ethics in a New Millenium. Cascades: Equinym Publishing. Ramose, M.B. 2009. Towards Emancipative Politics in Modern Africa. In African Ethics: An Anthology of Comparative and Applied Ethics, ed. M.F.  Murove, 412–426. Scottsville: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press. Rand, A. 1963. Man’s Rights. In The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism, ed. A. Rand, 92–106. New York: The New American Library. Samkange, S., and T.M. Samkange. 1980. Hunhuism or Ubuntuism: A Zimbabwean Indigenous Political Philosophy. Harare: The Graham Publishing Company. Senghor, L.S. 1964. On African Socialism. London: Macmillan. Setiloane, G.M. 1986. African Theology: An Introduction. Johannesburg: Skotaville Publishers. Tanaka, Y. 2010. Philosophy of Nothingness and Process Theology. Diogenes 57 (20): 20–34. Dol:10.1177/0392192111415766. Taylor, C. 1996. Source of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Zohar, D. 1991. The Quantum Self. London: Harper-Collins Publishers. Zvobgo, E.J.M. 1979. A Third World View. In Human Rights and American Foreign Policy, ed. D.P. Kommers and G. Loescher, 90–105. London: Polity.


African Traditional Humanism and the Ethic of Collectivism

Many of the founders of African nationalism were of the view that modern capitalism was an amoral economic system that was incompatible with traditional African humanistic values. Whilst capitalism was based on values of atomic individualism, African traditional values emphasized solidarity, relatedness and interdependence, communalism and sharing of wealth. Capitalism was thus morally repugnant and was not compatible with African traditional moral values that determined people’s egalitarian attitude towards material things. On the basis of the inspiration which they got from African traditional values, early post-colonial African nationalists coined the term African socialism—a term which they saw as capturing the essence of African traditional economic ethics. There are two main reasons which have been proffered by scholars as the main reason why African nationalists coined the term African socialism to describe African traditional humanistic values in relationship to material things. First, since Africa’s struggle against colonialism was morally and materially supported by the previous socialist block, it was only politically convenient for African nationalists to see socialism as a revolutionary force for the renewal of the continent. Velentin Mudimbe stated the rationale behind this reasoning when he said that, Marxism was appealed to because it “appeared to be the inspiration for the renewal of the continent. A remarkable apotheosis, to the extent that the promises implied were, from the onset, given as concrete expressions of the life of real people and as a negation of the exile which had held them captive. Marxism seemed to be © The Author(s) 2020 M. F. Murove, African Politics and Ethics,




the exemplary weapon and idea with which to go beyond what colonialism incarnated and ordained in the name of capital” (Mudimbe 1994: 42). Since capitalism was understood as the handmaid of colonialism, any political and economic ideology that presented itself as the antithesis of capitalism deemed by African militant nationalists as a potential ally in their struggle against the colonial political system. The terms socialism and capitalism represented interminable ideological conflict in post-colonial Africa from the very moment when independence was attained. Second, the other trend of thought was based on the idea that capitalism was dehumanizing when seen through the lens of traditional African humanistic values. It is for this reason that socialism and African traditional humanistic values have been seen as congenial. As such, it was on the basis of the congeniality of African traditional humanistic values and socialism that African nationalists hoped for the socio-economic transformation of post-colonial African states. As Richard Bell aptly puts it, “Both African humanism and socialism were used to underscore the values of common African heritage and the inherent struggle left to a people who were exploited by colonial powers. It became to many African leaders after World War II that sustaining Western colonialism was seriously undermining, if not destroying, the African social infrastructure based on traditional humanistic values” (Bell 2002: 37). Since African traditional humanistic values and socialism were deemed to be congenial, it became a fervent conviction in the policy discourses of African politicians that the values inherent in these two systems were emancipatory to the majority of the African populations who were systematically impoverished by capitalism and colonialism.

African Humanism as the Foundation for Socialism In the writings of most of the African politicians, African humanism and socialism undoubtedly provided the much needed moral support in pursuit of post-colonial socio-economic transformation emancipatory agenda. However, among these African politicians there was no agreement on the foundation in post-colonial society upon which a post-colonial African socialist society should be built on. Kwame Nkrumah adopted a Marxist– Leninist approach to socialism instead of appealing to congeniality between African traditional humanistic values and socialistic values of social egalitarianism. For Nkrumah the moral base of socialism lay in its ideological purposeful orientation aimed at abolishing socio-economic inequalities



that were entrenched by colonialism and its capitalistic economic system. He wrote, In Ghana, we have embarked on the socialist path to progress. We want to see full employment, good housing and equal opportunity for education and cultural advancement for all the people up to the highest level possible. This means that:—prices of goods must not exceed wages; house rentals must be within the means of all groups; social welfare services must be open to all; educational and cultural amenities must be available to everyone. (Nkrumah 1971: 119)

The post-colonial Ghananian society which Nkrumah had in mind was an egalitarian one built on the foundation of the values of socialism. The thrust of his egalitarian vision is undoubtedly built on the ideals of socioeconomic equality. Whilst it remains unclear as to where Nkrumah was going to get the wealth for the socialistic reconstruction of the post-colonial Ghananian society, it seems for Nkrumah it was the government which was “to play the role of main entrepreneur in laying the basis of the national economic and social advancement” (ibid.). Individual private interests were not supposed to be trusted in the construction of a socialist society. As he puts it, “If, therefore, we are to fulfil our pledge to the people and achieve the program set out above, socialism is our only alternative. For socialism assumes the public ownership of the means of production, the land and its resources, and the use of those means in fulfilment of the people’s needs” (ibid.). For Nkrumah socialism was about the construction of an egalitarian society because socialism was a matter of economic reconfiguration of the Ghananian society. For that reason socialism had nothing to do with the application of traditional African humanistic values. He repudiated those who coined the term African socialism as an economic derivative from traditional African humanistic values on the basis that such sentiments were rather nostalgic about traditional African society. His argument was that African socialism was being used in a way that conflates with the idea that “[T]raditional African society was a classless society imbued with the spirit of humanism and to express a nostalgia for that spirit. Such a conception of socialism makes a fetish of the communal African society” (Nkrumah 1971: 440). For Nkrumah this political portrayal of African traditional society as aboriginally classless with the humanistic ethical principles whereby everybody cared for everybody else was nostalgic because there was “no historical anthropological evidence” that such a society existed. The evidence that is available about Africa’s pre-colonial history points to the fact that “African society was neither



classless nor devoid of a social hierarchy” because feudalism existed in some parts of Africa…and feudalism involves a deep and exploitative social stratification” (ibid.). It is evidently clear that Nkrumah was against the idea of subsuming socialism under the rubric of African traditional communitarianism whose historical existence he doubted so much. His rebuttal of the existence of African humanism was mainly aimed at adopting a socialism brand of Marxist–Leninism as it was practised in the Eastern block of Europe. For Nkrumah, this type of socialism could not be enjoined with African humanistic values which he ardently believed entirely based on some unrealistic and nostalgic view of pre-colonial African traditional society. Nkrumah believed that to talk of African socialism as an economic system that characterized the African pre-colonial past was idealistic because pre-colonial African societies were exploitative like Western feudal societies. However, Nkrumah’s position on African traditional humanistic values and socialism is ambivalent. For example, he argued against the idea of subsuming socialism under traditional African humanistic values and at the same time agreeing on the relevance of traditional African humanistic values to socialism. This ambivalence was more nuanced when he said that, “African societies in different periods of history manifested a certain communalism and that the philosophy and humanist purposes behind that organization are worthy of recapture. A community in which each saw his well-being in the welfare of the group certainly was praiseworthy, even if the manner in which the well-being of the group was pursued makes no contribution to our purposes” (Nkrumah 1971: 441). As we have seen previously, Nkrumah refuted the existence of pre-colonial African humanistic values on the grounds that there was simply no historical and anthropological evidence that such African societies ever existed. But then goes on to say that history shows that there was some communalism and the philosophy of humanism which can be captured for the purposes of the present post-colonial African society. He went on to admonish that “what socialist thought in Africa must recapture is not the structure of the ‘traditional African society’ but its spirit, for the spirit of communalism is crystallized in its humanism and in its reconciliation of individual advancement with group welfare” (ibid.). What Nkrumah abhorred was the whole idea of traditional leadership which he regarded as a representation of feudalism in African societies. It is an historical truism that when Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party came into power it embarked on destroying the institution of traditional leadership and customary courts (Berry 2018: 80). It is partly for this reason that he detested the recapturing of the structure of African traditional society but rather it was the spirit of



communalism embedded in the philosophy of traditional African humanism. Since African traditional society cannot be reconstructed with precision, the post-colonial African state “can still recapture the rich human values” of that precolonial African society for socialistic socio-­economic transformational purposes (ibid.). But the curious thing about Nkrumah is that he was actually advocating what the proponents of African socialism whom he rebuked have been saying—that African traditional humanistic values were commensurate with the egalitarian ethos of socialism. Proponents of African socialism argued that the adoption of socialism should be premised on African humanistic values of communalism. Unlike Nkrumah who was not that enthusiastic about subsuming socialism from African traditional culture, Leopold Senghor (1964: 49) emphasized the primacy of culture in politics and economics. He wrote, “African politicians have a tendency to neglect culture, to make it an appendage of politics. This is a mistake. These two areas, like the others, are certainly closely connected, each reacting on the other”. However, Senghor went on to say that from ethnologists, “We would learn that Negro-African society is collectivist or, more exactly, communal, because it is rather a communion of souls than an aggregate of individuals. We would learn that we had already achieved socialism before the coming of the European.” Such a deduction implies that African traditional humanistic values were indispensable for the implementation of the post-colonial socialistic economic policies. Most of the African nationalists used the concept of African socialism with the intention of showing that there was a difference between socialism of the west which was too materialistic as opposed to African socialism which was encapsulated in the spiritual dimension of a human person. In other words, there was something more to a person than simply the acquisition of material things. Proponents of African socialism were rather more interested in spicing socialism with African humanistic values than adopting socialism as a purely materialistic ideological economic system as Nkrumah had done. Hence, the insistence of African nationalists such as Julius Nyerere was in articulating and implementing African humanistic values as they existed in traditional African societies. As for Nyerere, African traditional humanistic values were mainly about communalism which were the moral foundation characterized by collectivism, a sense of care for material wellbeing of each other in a way that fosters human equality (Nyerere 1968: 258). Values of socialism were also based on economic justice and, respect for human beings. Nyerere’s economic ethic as propounded in his Ujamaa was based



on a people centred—vision of socialism because for him a socialist economic system offered the best opportunity for a society that cared for its people without any form of discrimination based on economic or social status. Traditional African humanistic values offered a wonderful opportunity for the creation of a people centred socialistic economic system. Thus his main thesis that Africans were socialistic by nature was based on the observation that socialism was only possible within a caring society where “people care for each other’s welfare” (Nyerere 1968: 175). The creation and accumulation of wealth was not about personal self-aggrandizement, but rather the primary goal was to serve human beings. A human person and his or her wellbeing took the centre stage in the creation and distribution of wealth. He averred, “The creation of wealth is a good thing and something which we shall have to increase. But it will cease to be good the moment wealth ceases to serve human beings and begins to be served by human beings” (Nyerere 1968: 319). African humanistic values required that the economy should care for the wellbeing of people before profits. A caring society is that type of society which values solidarity for the wellbeing of the whole community. Post-colonial African socialism was to embedded on the principle of social common interest as engendered in pre-colonial Africa’s traditional past whereby individual was relativized to the common interest of society where everybody had their basic material needs meet within the collective (Sklar 1988: 5). Nyerere’s main political and economic orientation was about giving primacy to human wellbeing, an ideal that could only be realized through a deliberate intentional adoption of pre-colonial humanistic values. This was the lesson which he deduced from African traditional humanistic values. African pre-colonial humanistic values were to be evoked as an ally in the reconstruction of African socialism. Thomas Mboya (1963: 6–7) who was Kenya’s minister of Economic Planning and Development in Jomo Kenyata’s government agreed with Nyerere as he said that socialism existed in traditional African societies in the form of “those proved codes of conduct in the African societies which have, over the ages, conferred dignity on our people”. He went on to infer the prior existence of socialism in African traditional societies as follows, “I refer to a universal charity which characterizes our societies…thought processes and cosmological ideas which regard all humankind, not as a social means but an end and entity in society”. The implication of Mboya’s observation is that traditional African societies were caring societies where human economic relations were infused with communitarian moral ideals where people cared for the material wellbeing



of each other. It was this ethos which advocates of African socialism found to be equivalent to revolutionary socialism as an economic policy in the Eastern bloc. African socialism has been described by scholars such as Sklar as ethical socialism which differs from revolutionary socialism. As he puts it, “Unlike ethical socialists, who believe that it would be possible to build modern socialist societies on traditionalist moral foundations, revolutionaries contended that class struggles will be unavoidable” (Sklar 1988: 5). Because of the academic tension that existed between ethical socialists and revolutionary socialists African politicians such as Sékou Touré of the Republic of Guinea suggested that the term socialism should be dropped and replaced by the term communocracy—a term aimed at recapturing African experiences under communal rule. He wrote, “Africa is essentially ‘communocratic’. Collective life and solidarity give Africa a humanistic foundation which many people may envy. It is also because these qualities that an African cannot imagine organizing his life outside of his social group— family, village or clan—are indispensable to commuaucracy. The voice of African people is not individualistic” [his italics] (Toure 1979: 108). As for Touré, Africa was a communocratic society because of its humanistic values which put emphasis on the idea of an individual as ontologically a being by virtue of belonging to the community. The community took precedence over the individual. As he put it, “Our solidarity, better known under its aspect of social fraternity, the pre-eminence of group interests over personal interests, the sense of common responsibilities, the practice of a formal democracy which rules and governs our village—all of which constitute the basis of our society—this is what forms what we call communaucratic realities” (Toure 1979: 141–151). It is important here to observe that Touré did not infer socialism from African humanistic values because doing so would create a problem of what he called ‘equivocation and false analogies’. This implies that African humanistic values should provide the moral foundation for an economic system that differs from revolutionary socialism and modern capitalism. What enthused many African politicians about socialism was mainly based mainly on the observation that modern capitalism was amoral in the sense that its view of a human being as a nave, a ragged egoistic individual was at variance with African traditional humanistic values which were mostly based on the idea that wealth should be enjoyed with others in community. The main focus for many African politicians was not on how modern capitalism worked and how to forge a continuity between



colonial capitalism and post-colonial African capitalism; rather they were more mesmerized by the inherent political culture of monopolization of power in revolutionary socialism. The quest for absolute monopolization of political power became integral to the African socialism rhetoric for some of the post-colonial African militant nationalists. For instance, the first President of Zimbabwe, Canaan Banana deplored the idea of multiparty democratic system and its political culture of encouraging aspirants to the political throne to compete for political power. Thus in abhorrence to the multiparty democratic system he had this to say, “If people should be united to defeat a common enemy that is united in its continued ploys of destroying the poor, how can the poor be so naïve as to play into the hands of the enemy by continuous quarrelling among themselves? The multi-party system has one obvious consequence: weakening the people and eventually to snatch from them their power” (Banana 1989: 45). In utterances such these, one can easily see that the rhetoric of African socialism was rather a political strategy aimed mainly at achieving a permanent grip on political power of which revolutionary socialism had proved to be an indispensable ideological ally. Whilst modern capitalism was resented by African politicians on the grounds that it was a handmaid of colonialism, the dominant fear against modern capitalism lay in its inherent tendency to encourage competition for political power instead of promoting political unity and the ultimate monopolization of political power by the rulers. Nyerere blatantly expressed his abhorrence against capitalism and individual freedom when he said, “We have got rid of the foreign government, but we have not yet rid ourselves of the individualistic social attitudes which they represented and taught” (Nyerere 1968: 341). After getting rid of individualistic culture which he deemed to be the legacy of colonialism, Nyerere was poised to wrest control of his country’s capitalist economy. As such, he described the government control of the economy as “Economic Nationalism”. In motivating the ideal of “Economic Nationalism”, he had this to say, “At independence we achieved political control, but all important industries remained in foreign hands. Some-­ indeed many-have been developing well; but it is not we who have been making the decisions—they have been made for us. We have tried to encourage foreign investors, and we could have prevented any we did not wish to receive. But we were inevitably kept out of positive decisions” (Nyerere 1968: 262–263). What Nyerere desired was to achieve total control of the political and economic spheres of society. Politically, Nyerere had already enunciated a political vision of one party state which he



described as “one party democracy” under the leadership of his ruling party Tanganyika African Union (TANU). In unison with other militant African nationalists, his argument for one-party state was based on what he saw as the imperative for “preservation of national unity” (Nyerere 1968: 39). In most of the post-colonial African states the idea of multi-party democracy characterized by a five-year periodical competition for political power among different political parties selling different socio-economic and political visions to the electorate was never accepted. Even within the same one party system, a culture of entertaining diverse political views was anathematized such that what became a common political culture within a one-party state was a practice of political purges and rehabilitations. Critical voices against the one-party system were jailed and sometimes pardoned by the party leader after some formal renunciation of their criticisms of the party. As Robert Jackson and Carl Rosberg (1984: 279) put it, “Political Purges and Rehabilitations” are used as mechanisms for entrenching a culture of monopoly of political power by the founding nationalist leader who is usually identified as the owner of the party. Thus these “purges and rehabilitations are entangled with political monopoly”. Through purges, members of the political party are unceremoniously expelled from the party usually on the grounds of being disloyal, disobedient and sometimes on suspicion that the party member has demonstrated to be too independent by refusing to tow the party line. Kamuzu Hastings Banda of Malawi was notoriously known for dismissing his ministers over the radio without any formal discussion on the reasons for their dismissal! The fear of being expelled from the party is used as a method of controlling party members whilst the possibility of rehabilitation wards of the possibility of the would-be errant members to consort some schemes for rebellion against the party. Another technique which the one-party regimes used was to deliberately allow party members to loot national resources in a way which is impossible for those who are outside the party to do. In this regard, being in the party becomes a lifetime privilege which one cannot fathom letting go. In such a political environment it was to the political advantage of the ruling political dictator to surround himself with members of the party inner circle with criminal records than those without. Party inner circle members with criminal records are most likely to support the leader’s monopoly of political power of the party and the nation. Sometimes those who live the party do usually find their economic fortunes rapidly dwindling as their proximity to political power become something of yester year so is their economic fortunes. One usually hears



utterances from African political leaders warning those who are feeling a sense of discontent within the ruling party that ‘it’s cold out there,’ and that the ruling party is ‘your only home’. Such political epithets are meant to serve as a warning to the would-be rebels that life outside the ruling-­ party will be unmanageable. The one who is suspended from the political party is usually faced with ghastly economic consequences as a result of the loss of monthly income and during these days one might end up losing access to lucrative tenders which one enjoyed previously as a member of the ruling party. Sometimes these punitive measures are meant to send a deterrent message to those party members who might be brooding of rebelling against the monopolistic political power of the party that such actions can only lead to ruining one’s economic fortunes. In a one-party political system, it is the leader who actually monopolizes the power of the party and that of the state. There is nothing which the inner circle party members can discuss about the party or the state without the approval of the party leader. Sometimes where leaders of a one-party state are charismatic they tend to subdue their political party followers and the nation at large into unpalatable submissiveness. For example, Julius Nyerere was accorded the title of Mwalimu (Swahili) word for ‘teacher’ because of intellectual ability to indulge in each and every subject of his intellectual interest under the sun. Martin Meredith cannot be bettered when he said, “Nyerere took on the drive for socialism virtually single-handedly. There was no inner group around him committed to socialism; no body of thinking within the ruling party; no working-class agitation; no militant peasantry; no popular expectation of radical change. It was Nyerere’s own aspirations, his own ideology that determined government policy” (Meredith 2005: 250). In the aftermath of the Arusha Declaration, Nyerere embarked on a socialist project for the nationalization of all the sectors of the Tanzanian economy and went on to forcibly resettling all Tanzanians into villages called Ujamaa villages or villages that were to live according to pre-colonial communal ethos of familyhood as a practical implementation of the ethos of African socialism. This experimentation actually ruined the modern capitalistic Tanzanian capitalistic economy which Nyerere had inherited from colonialism. After ruining the economy through Ujamaa, Nyerere so sincerely admitted in a national broadcast of 1981 that was to mark Tanzania’s Independence that the country had become poorer when compared to what it was when inherited from colonialism. In a one-party state system there is usually no room for debating on the plausibility of the



policy within parliament or any other forum. Government ministers and civil servants are usually expected to implement the suggested policy without questioning. Critics of the ruler’s policies are usually regarded as enemies of the state and their fate has always been imprisonment and sometimes assassination. Rulers of one-party state regimes are in most cases not evil men who intentionally inflict misery upon their citizens. Some of them, such as Nyerere and Nkrumah, were men of integrity who were overzealously sensitized to the ethical ideal of the common good. But with good intentions they ended up crafting policies that ruined the democratic ethos of competing for political power with their opponents. The monopoly of political power has also led to the ruining of the economies because of the inherent tendency to stifle economically innovative ideas because the economy is usually managed on the basis of the ruling party’s entrenched culture of patronage. Those who are trusted with the national economic planning are usually chosen on the basis of their patriotism in the ruling party. Most of the early post-colonial nationalists who saw a symbiotic relationship between African humanistic values and socialism became enticed by the Marxist–Leninist theory of the vanguard party or a one party state. Whilst post-colonial Africa has been plagued by the problem of political volatility which manifested itself in the phenomenon of military coups which appeared to have been indiscriminate in regardless of whether it was civilian or military authority which was in power (Jackson and Rosberg 1982: 8). The most stable states in post-colonial Africa were ironically those that were under one party state type of governance. For example, Tanzania under Julius Nyerere, Ivory Coast under Felix Houphouet-­ Boigny, Zambia under Kenneth Kaunda, Malawi under Hastings Banda and Kenya under Jomo Kenyata (Mazrui 1983: 390). All the citizens of these states had only known one ruler since the demise of colonialism. The idea of a vanguard party was regarded as indispensable to a durable political strategy against the machinations of neo-colonialism. Both Nyerere and Nkrumah believed that post-colonial Africa can only wad off neo-­ colonialism if its people were united. National unity under the leadership of one party was thus understood as an indispensable step stone towards the realization of regional, and, later on, continental integration. If Africans were originally endowed with humanistic values, was it not possible to federate the whole continent into a union? In most of the discussions that were proffered by African politicians on the issue of the federation of African states the dominant reason that was given is about



the need to alleviate poverty in the whole continent. The discourse of African socialism was also related to the desire to address the problem of poverty which continued to worsen even after the demise of colonialism. Another attempt at addressing the problem of poverty came in the form of regional integration which was believed ultimately to lead to continental union.

Bibliography Banana, C.S. 1989. The Theology of Promise: The Dynamics of Self-Reliance. Harare: The College Press (Pvt.) Ltd. Bell, R.H. 2002. Understanding African Philosophy: A Cross-Cultural Approach to Classical and Contemporary Issues. London: Routledge. Berry, S. 2018. Chieftaincy, Land, and the State in Ghana and South Africa. In The Politics of Custom: Chiefship, Capital, and the State in Contemporary Africa, ed. J.L. Comaroff and J. Comaroff, 79–109. Johannesburg: Wits University Press. Jackson, R.H., and C.C.  Rosberg. 1982. Why Africa’s Weak States Persist: The Empirical and the Judicial in Statehood. World Politics 35 (1): 1–24. Jackson, R.H., and C.G. Rosberg. 1984. Personal Rule: Theory and Practice in Africa. Comparative Politics 16 (4): 421–442. Mazrui, A.A. 1983. Political Engineering in Africa. The International Journal Social Science Journal XXV (2): 279–294. UNESCO. Mboya, T. 1963, March. African Socialism. Transition VIII 3 (11): 3–12. Meredith, 2005. The State of Africa: A History of the Continent since Independence. London: Simon & Schuster. Mudimbe, V.-Y. 1994. The Idea of Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Nkrumah, K. 1971. Africa Must Unite. London: Heineman. Nyerere, J.K. 1968. Freedom and Socialism: Uhuru na Ujamaa. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Senghor, L.S. 1964. On African Socialism. London: Macmillan. Sklar, R.L. 1988. Beyond Capitalism and Socialism in Africa. The Journal of Modern African Studies 26 (1): 1–21. Toure, A.S. 1979. Africa on the Move. London: Panaf.


Regional Integration and the Ethic of Co-operation in Post-colonial Africa

Poverty remains Africa’s biggest challenge socially, economically and politically. The effects of poverty tend to overlap in all spheres of Africa’s existence. Most of Africa’s post-colonial economic and political policies such as African socialism and one-party states were usually justified on the grounds of the need to overcome poverty. Instead of competing for political power within a multiparty democratic framework, it has been argued by other African nationalists that economic development and the eradication of poverty can best be achieved under the national leadership of a one party system. The idea that everybody is entitled to a descent livelihood implies that government(s) as custodians of the common good are there to actively vouchsafe for the welfare of all citizens. This becomes a moral requirement for the legitimacy of any government. The question of why some people should be poor whilst others are rich is a moral question which should be at the heart of any person with a grain of conscience. It is a moral question because poverty dehumanizes one’s fellow human beings to such an extent that even their physical appearance becomes completely degraded. By accepting poverty as the natural state of human existence, we are indirectly accepting that premature deaths from disease and starvation as a result of poverty are a morally acceptable state of human existence. Most of our African politicians have used the poor to get votes by promising them that they will address their existential condition of poverty once they voted them into office. When most of these African politicians get into office, they hardly identify themselves with © The Author(s) 2020 M. F. Murove, African Politics and Ethics,




those who are poor—the majority of the African electorate, rather, identify themselves with those who are rich. With the dawn of independence, this political abuse of the poor has happened in one country after another. The African political behaviour towards the poor does not show a sense of concern for the wellbeing of the poor, rather it abuses the poor for personal political gains. As such, this behaviour of African politicians towards the poor can best be described as a betrayal of traditional African humanistic values. In African traditional society, the existence of the poor was not noticeable because the main ethical social outlook was based on the idea that the wellbeing of an individual was everybody’s wellbeing. It was everyone’s concern that there was enough food for everybody, and hence nobody was to go hungry and naked. The modern post-colonial African society has remained an uncaring society on the face of the insurmountable problems of poverty that are being experienced by the majority of the African poor. Whilst the whole of Africa has been liberated from the yoke of colonialism, the continent still needs to be liberated from the yoke of poverty. Internal and external interventions towards the alleviation of poverty have failed spectacularly to achieve their intended results. Poverty alleviation has been the main concern of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) instead of African governments themselves. Internal regional efforts to eradicate poverty have been problematic because more emphasis has been placed on political engineering for personalization of political power to the detriment of the common good. The idea that the situation of poverty can be dealt with more effectively when African regions are integrated is based partly on the empirical observation that the current economic regions are endowed with vast natural and human resources which, if well harnessed and utilized through proper planning and political good will, undoubtedly could ensue in the alleviation of poverty on the whole continent. The emphasis that is currently placed on national sovereignty as the main guiding political policy for co-­ operation among African states only serves the purpose of immortalizing the power of politicians at the expense of the majority of poor African citizens. Within post-colonial regional organizations such as the East African Community (EAC), the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), one finds that the doctrine of state sovereignty is so spectacularly fallacious because most of all these member states are



economically, politically, culturally and historically inextricably linked to each other in ways that defy reason. The vision for these co-operations has been mainly economic because the thrust is on eliminating trade barriers among member states. In this regard there is some recognition that there are some economic benefits that can be accrued through regional co-­ operation. Even though regional co-operation is acknowledged as vital for economic development, nothing much has improved in the lives of the majority of the poor. For this reason, some scholars have observed that failure in attaining genuine regional integration can be attributed to lack of political will among African politicians “to yield sovereignty, missing sense of regional identity, trust and common interests.” Most of the African politicians have seen the whole project of regional integration in terms of political power play—hence the whole effort has been confined to regional deliberations among political elites without any meaningful input from the ordinary citizens of the regions. Poverty in these African economic regions needs to be seen as an internal regional problem that requires a regional ethical solution. Whilst the external environment or regional international relations might have contributed to poverty in these regions, ultimately the responsibility for the eradication of poverty lies in the effectiveness of the socio-economic and political relations that exist in these economic regions. The political and economic union of African states based on regional integration should take cognizance of the ethical truism that it is through unity that nations are able to achieve their goals more effectively than the pursuit of individual state national-interests or nation-state sovereignty. I shall use this insight as my springboard for the argument that African traditional humanistic values should be used as a moral foundation for a regional solidaristic co-operation that should result it effective policies for the eradication of poverty. Here I shall demonstrate the empirical truism of this claim by arguing that the contemporary world economic and political superpowers have achieved their economic and political world dominance through co-operations and sometimes integrations. A problem which confronts post-colonial Africa in the realization of the vision of regional integration lies in what I perceive to be the Hobbesian question: Who will be the Leviathan in all these post-colonial economic religions? Co-operation among states is not a natural instinct.



The Evolution of the SADC Dream and Regional Integration The Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference (SADCC), the forerunner of SADC was founded in April 1980 by African countries of Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference was formed based mainly on the objective of promoting economic independence among frontline states. The Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference (SADCC) was formed mainly on the objective of promoting economic independence among frontline states through economic and political cooperation of independent southern African states. The main objective behind this type of co-operation was to reduce economic dependence on the then apartheid South African regime. Thus the idea of regional co-operation had its origins in the human political instinct for security against the real or imagined aggressor. During the days of colonialism in Southern Africa, another form of regional integration known as the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland “was formed to defend the settler interests against African nationalism” (SADC Regional Human Development Report 2000: 42). However, in 1992 the SADCC was transformed from being a conference to a community of thirteen member countries. These member countries are Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The SADC vision was based on the idea of “a common future within a regional community that will ensure economic well-being, improvement of the standards of living and equality of life, freedom and social justice; peace and security for the peoples of Southern Africa” (http://www.sadc.itn/ accessed on 23 September 2009). It is evidently clear that the need to eradicate poverty was partly a major contributory factor to the evolution of the SADCC region from SADCC to SADC. This evolution of SADCC to SADC also originated from a strong belief that when nations are united they are capable of defeating the most powerful force on earth. The primacy of unity was a lesson that was also learned by many nations after the Second World War. The then Nazi Germany that was technologically more advanced had almost conquered the whole world if the United States of America had not joined the war. However, it was only through the unity that was forged by allied nations against Nazi Germany forces that helped to turn the war tide



against the Nazis. Another historical lesson we can learn about the importance of unity can be found in the current world superpower, the United States of America. Here we learn that the ascendency of the United States of America to military and economic world superpower is strongly related to the federation of the previously autonomous states. It is an empirical fact that the United States of America would not have attained its current economic and military superiority over the world if the states that form its current federation had remained autonomous and sovereign. Within a democratic federation of states it is an impossibility for an individual politician to personalize state power or to practise the rule of dictatorship without facing serious political repercussions that can ultimately lead to the demise of his or her political career. Small semi- culturally homogenous states are most likely to fall prey to political dictatorship and poor governance. In most cases such states depend on the political moral generosity of the ruler. In the case of post-colonial Africa examples of morally generous political rulers are too minute. Those countries that put emphasis on the culture of ethnic solidarity (if there is any) can easily be overcome by those that are multi-ethnic. Africa did realize this truism during the hay days of the African militant nationalistic quest for independence. The call for African unity was inspired by the idea that a united Africa or a United States of Africa would have more political and economic advantages than when these African states existed as small sovereign nations, each enjoying its own national sovereignty as per geographical boundaries that were created by their respective colonial masters. The early political call for African unity was made by Kwame Nkrumah, who envisaged a unity of Africa as mechanism for safeguarding African freedom and defeating what he saw as the perennial threat of neo-­ colonialism in the economic and political spheres in post-independent Africa. The idea of African freedom was thus premised on the belief that independent African states needed to exist in solidarity with other African independent states. This solidarity was perceived as the main guarantor for everlasting freedom. Thus in this vein, Nkrumah had this to say: My party, the Convention People’s Party, fervently upholds, as an unquestionable right, the burning aspirations of the still subjected peoples of our continent for freedom. Since our inception, we have raised as a cardinal policy, the total emancipation of Africa from colonialism in all its forms. To this we have added the objective of the political union of African states as the securest safeguard of our hard-won freedom and the soundest foundation of



our individual, no less than our common, economic, social and cultural advancement. (Nkrumah 1970: xi)

As for Nkrumah, all the peoples of Africa had a common experiential factor which was supposed to be the rallying point for unity. This common factor was the colonial experience. Liberation movements were supported whole heartedly by liberated African countries with the sole aim of getting rid of colonialism on the continent or within a particular region. Liberation movements got their credibility after gaining some recognition from the Organization of African Unity (OAU) (Martin and Johnson 1981: 268). It’s a well-known fact that one of the major reason behind the formation of OAU was to get rid of colonialism in Africa by giving material and moral support to the liberation movements who were fighting colonial regimes. This rationale is well articulated by Kwame Nkrumah when he said, “[As an African] and a political being [I have been] drawn into the vortex of African affairs out of my dedication to the cause of Africa’s freedom and unity. [I have] sustained an indelible impression from the experience of my continental brothers and under other colonial rulers. Their history of colonialist subjection differs from ours only in detail and degree, not in kind” (Nkrumah 1970: xii). Nkrumah’s political vision was based on the freedom from colonialism for the whole continent after which the whole of the African continent was supposed to be united. The common factor which was shared by Africans across the continent was based on a common thread of colonial subjugation. This colonial subjugation was a common experience for all black Africans regardless of the ethnic origins of the colonizer. This implied that there was no distinction on the basis of the type of colonialism which black Africans endured. Regardless of the nationality of the colonialists, the end result was always in the form of misery, humiliation, oppression and exploitation of the colonized. Whilst colonialists might have differed in kind, the negative results of colonialism were felt in the same way across the continent. It was an avid conviction of Nkrumah that the African experience of colonialism was supposed to be the motivating factor for unity because colonialism and the experience of inhumane oppression that went hand in-glove with it did provide a common factor for all the Africans—a perennial experience of systematic inhumane treatment of the indigenous African peoples. But Nkrumah’s advocacy for African unity was not a farfetched one; rather, it is common knowledge that it is an intrinsic animal instinct to express a sense of solidarity against a common enemy or



someone perceived to be an enemy. The struggle against colonialism and apartheid saw African liberated countries and their citizens expressing unprecedented solidarity with their oppressed black African brothers and sisters against the common enemy—colonialism and apartheid. The attainment of independence by African states was enabled by the fact that African people saw themselves as brothers and sisters beyond what they mostly regarded as the artificial colonial geographical borders. In the context of colonial oppression, citizens of the newly independent African states would emotionally sympathize with their oppressed African brothers and sisters. Was this a natural African predisposition to solidarity or was it a solidarity that was externally induced by colonialism and apartheid? This question is very difficult and mysterious to answer comprehensively. In the light of the African post-colonial experience of regional solidarity, one is tempted mostly to simplistically say that the African solidarity that was forged during the struggle against colonialism and apartheid was an artificial solidarity that was necessitated by the common experience of oppression and the natural human existential desire not to experience oppression again. As such, the idea of African unity was also based on the need to safeguard African independence from neo-colonialism and imperialism. The newly independent African nationalists never believed that colonialism ended with the dawn of independence in their states. There was a nascent feeling that the yesteryear colonial masters would come back and recolonize them politically or economically. It was on the basis of this suspicion that Nkrumah interpreted the independence of Ghana with strong emphasis on unity against economic imperialism. As he puts it, “We have to free ourselves from the grip of economic imperialism, and protect our freedom. We have at the same time to work ceaselessly for the complete liberation and unity of Africa. There is, in fact, an interacting relation in these objectives. Imperialism is still a most powerful force to be reckoned with in Africa” (Nkrumah 1970: xvi). Africa achieved political independence, but then this political independence was not enough with economic independence. Without economic independence, political independence would not survive in the long-run. As we have seen in the previous chapter, the post-colonial discourse of African socialism was partly related to the idea of wresting economic control from the predominantly inherited modern capitalistic economic system. It was Vladimir Lenin who had argued that there was a symbiotic relationship between imperialism and capitalism. Thus he observed, “Capitalism has grown into a world system



of colonial oppression and of the financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the population of the world by a handful of advanced countries” (Lenin 1947: 13). According to Lenin, colonial adventures were mainly motived by the capitalist motive of looting resources from the colonized. For Nkrumah Lenin’s observations about colonialism and capitalism became a source of his political vision for a united Africa as a bastion against the incessant encroachment of imperialism through the capitalistic “economic associations which colonialism has forced between erstwhile European masters and African subjects” by “creating client states which it manipulates from the distance” (Nkrumah 1970: xvi). Economic imperialism promote “sectional interests, of personal greed and ambition among leader’s aspirants of power” (ibid.). This gloomy analysis of post-colonial independence mainly hinged on his fear that Africa’s political independence would only mean nothing when this independence remains without complementation from the African continental economic control of the means of production. Nkrumah’s quest for continental integration was obviously based on the realization that the independence of various African states from colonial oppression was not enough to shield these divided states from the encroachment of imperialism. These imperial forces had the capability of controlling the political, economic, cultural and military facets of independent African states. Without unity among independent African states, Nkrumah feared that imperial forces would take advantage of African disunity and perpetuate their own imperial selfish interests. On the basis of this presumption his call for African unity was mainly based on his fear of imperialism and its corrosive effects to economic development. His main passion for unity was basically based on a simple realization that a lot of economic development can easily be attained through a united African continent. He writes, “Just as our strength lies in a unified policy and action for progress and development, so the strength of the imperialists lies in our disunity. We in Africa can only meet them effectively by presenting a unified front and a continental purpose” (Nkrumah 1970: xvii). For Nkrumah the unity of the African continent was indeed an imperative for the realization of continental economic development. A situation characterized by disunity in Africa was to the advantage of imperialists. For this reason, an effective resistance against the machinations of imperial powers could only be countered by purposeful African continental unity. But the unity of Africa was a political good that will safeguard freedom from colonialism. This also required that there were no post-colonial African puppet



governments that were controlled by foreign powers. The independence of African states from colonial rule was a continental political project to be pursued collectively. For this reason he would put it succinctly that “we shall never relax our efforts to bring total independence and unity to this African continent, for the greater good of all Africa and each of us as component members of African union” (ibid.). Nkrumah was indeed a politician with a vision or foresight that might not have been shared with his African political peers. Usually visionary people are not readily understood by their contemporaries because what a visionary person foresees is not something that agreed to by others. By equating African independence to unity, Nkrumah was driving home the idea that African independent states would not attain anything significant politically and economically without unity. Here I would imagine that if someone was to ask Nkrumah on why he thinks it important that Africa must unite, his answer would have been as follows: African unity was crucial for the sustenance of African independence against imperialism and neo-colonialism. Such a unity would enable African states to attain their own economic development by effectively exploiting their abundant natural resources without being manipulated by external forces to serve the economic interests of yester colonial powers. Without unity, the independence of African states will come to naught; within these imagined answers from Nkrumah, we can deduce that the vision of African unity was aimed at ensuring enduring independence amidst the threats of neo-colonialism. On the other hand, Julius Nyerere’s understanding of African unity was very different from that which was championed by Nkrumah. The gist of his argument was that unity of African independent states was not possible because there was no common authority for all these states. As he puts it, “In colonial times our countries were as separate as now, but they had a common master. A decision on any matter could always be obtained, and always had to be accepted even by the country which disagreed with the decision” (Nyerere 1968: 62). According to Nyerere, the absence of a colonial master who enforced the same decisions among sovereign colonial states rendered the dream of regional integration a mere fantasy. Political and economic decisions can only be adhered to when there is a common authority that can enforce them. Nyerere authenticated this claim by saying that in the East African region (Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya), before independence, decisions originated from the common colonial power. By the end of colonialism, each country made decisions



for itself, according to the dictates of its needs and interests. Nyerere went on to argue that as leaders of democratic governments there was a need for leaders to strike a balance between those needs which are regarded as long-term needs for unity and those needs of short term which ultimately require immediate action. As he puts it, “Ultimately we are not in fact ‘East Africa’ leaders, but leaders of states in East Africa; and regional loyalty has sometimes to come second to our national responsibilities” (ibid.). For Nyerere it was a matter of logic which can be captured as follows: As leaders who were elected by their respective nations, we were not elected as leaders for East Africa as a region, but for particular states within the region of East Africa. In this type of reasoning it can be concluded that one who sees his or her leadership primarily in terms of promoting regional co-operation would be over extending his authority because she or he was elected to lead the nation and not the region. It is with the nation state where the leader’s responsibility is primarily embedded. What was implied by Nyerere is that national interest or national selfishness takes precedence over regional interest. If national interest constitutes the guiding principle for political action, it also follows that all commitments to African unity or regionalism can only be justified in so far as such commitments can lead to the promotion of national interest. This type of reasoning derives its inspiration from liberal economic and political thinking. In neo-liberal capitalistic thinking it is held as a dogma that people can only co-operate with each other on the basis of advancing their personal interests. The pursuit of national interest is regarded as the guiding principle for cooperation in international relations. Each country is presumed to have its own national interest that differs from other countries. In case that there is conflict of national interests, then the relationship between the two countries cannot be regarded beneficial to either of the two countries’ national interest. This mode of thinking has been described by scholars as a theory of political realism in international relations.

National Interest as an Impediment to Regional Integration In political theory, Thomas Hobbes successfully crafted a political philosophy that was to translate the ideal capitalistic individual into a philosophical theory of international relations. Hobbes’ popular argument was that there cannot be economic and political solidarity among states in the



absence of a common power. This lack of a common power led Hobbes to the idea that it is in the self-interest of each nation always to be on guard against its neighbour(s). For this reason he warned that where there was no common authority, “The notions of Right and Wrong, Justice and Injustice, have no place. Where there is no common Power, there is no Law: where no Law, no injustice. Force and Fraud, are in War, the two Cardinal virtues” (Hobbes 1958: 139). In Hobbesian terms, the absence of a ‘common Power’ makes it difficult for us to have unity or regional integration among different states. Here we can also infer that when Nyerere argued that regional loyalty should take a second place after national loyalty, he was in a way arguing that loyalty to national self-­ interest must be the determining factor in regional loyalty. The problem with national self-interest is that it is usually based on the salient presumption that within the region or at international level, states do not share anything in common. Probably what they are presumed to share is the competitive pursuit of their national self-interest. However, Nyerere saw poverty as a factor which the East African region had in common. He writes, “It is true that the common poverty, and the historical links of East Africa, mean that there is broad agreement about the road ahead, and a large area of agreement on practical co-operation” (Nyerere 1968: 63). Even though poverty was the common factor within the Eastern Africa region, he still maintained that the structures of the common poverty differ remarkably because in one state the problem manifests itself in terms of urban unemployment whilst in another it’s about the absence of a vibrant industrial sector in the economy. These problems are also compounded by the reality of differences in “quantity and quality of educational facilities” (ibid.). These differences among states can easily lead to conflict of national interests, a political scenario that cannot be resolved easily without compromise. But in case that compromise is not achieved, these regional countries inevitably end up without any agreement by all the parties to the problem. According to Nyerere, even that shared regional poverty within the East African region was not a sufficient motivating factor for unity because, though this poverty was shared within the same region, it was not uniformly experienced. It is logically the absence of uniformity that leads to a competitive pursuit for national self-interests and the lack of mutual agreements. But when it came to regional integration and African unity, Nyerere was not a Hobbesian as one might easily misinterpret him. He strongly supported unity in East Africa as a precondition to the unity of the



post-colonial African continent. Nyerere differed with Nkrumah on the grounds that he saw regional integration as a stepping stone towards African unity. And for this reason it was impractical to have an African union without firstly achieving regional integration. A commitment to an African union before regional integration was thus analogous to wanting to run before one could even walk. Regional integration provided an indispensable foundation for an African union. As he put it, It is for this reason that we remain so anxious for the establishment of a sovereign federal East African state. Only by such a transfer of sovereignty can one authority be established with overall powers in matters of East African concern. …In a Federation short-term clashes of economic interest could be settled by a body which was responsible to the people of the whole area. And this same sovereign body could ensure that each of our particular poverty problems was tackled in co-operation, while at the same time our joint resources were used to tackle the basic underlying problems which are common to us all. (Nyerere 1968: 68)

It is clearly evident that Nyerere was of the conviction that regional integration could only be effective when there was a federal regional authority on which the powers of various states within the region could be dealt with. It was also within such a system that Nyerere hoped that the problems of poverty within the region can be addressed effectively. This implies that a regional integration without a federal authority could hardly achieve anything. The main purpose for regional integration was mainly for the sake of tackling poverty. Nyerere’s conviction was also that the tackling of poverty should be an ongoing process within each and every African state, and hence one should not wait for regional or continental unity to tackle it. In this vein, he observed, “But the people of this continent have been suffering the effects of poverty for too long. They need to see some immediate attack being made on that poverty. They could not, and would not, agree to stagnation or regression while we pursue the goal of unity” (Nyerere 1968: 211). Whilst the case for regional integration remained critical, Nyerere seemed to argue that the quest for regional integration should not lead us to ignoring the pressing need for the alleviation of poverty within the domain of a nation-state. Whilst Nyerere was sincerely committed to alleviating poverty in Tanzania through his socio-­ economic policy of Ujamaa, it is on record that the socio-economic policy of Ujamaa resulted in a preternatural exacerbation of poverty in Tanzania.



Whilst regional integration has been seen by many scholars as one the best economic developmental alternatives for post-colonial Africa, it appears that the political will towards the attainment of such a supposedly noble goal has been spectacularly lackadaisical. In this regard, African politicians and their bureaucrats have been identified as responsible for post-colonial African poverty. Moeletsi Mbeki has been sceptical about the ability of regional integration in Africa to alleviate poverty. He sees the whole idea of regional integration as based entirely on post-colonial sub-Saharan African states’ attempt at reacting to the historical epoch of colonialism which resulted in the fragmentation of African states that were previously united. After gaining their independence in 1950s and 1960s, the idea of regional integration was postulated as a panacea towards Africa’s underdevelopment. As a result, many organizations were formed with the presumption that they would serve as stepping stones for post-colonial African common market. These post-colonial economic community organizations are: “the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), the African Union (AU), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad), the East African Community (EAC)” (Mbeki 2009: 133). Whilst these organizations were formed with the specific purpose of promoting regional integration, they have spectacularly failed to come up with tangible results of what they were formed for—regional economic integration. For Moeletsi Mbeki, there is nothing that has achieved by these post-colonial organizations that were formed with the specific mission of realizing the goal of regional economic integration. Mbeki’s main argument is that the idea of regional integration has not resulted in economic development. There has not been any economic vision as a driving force behind regional integration among African states. It was rather simply a political instinct of forming regional blocks within post-colonial Africa. However, Mbeki found the possible explanation for this failure from a theoretical perspective from what Nkrumah had advanced as the primary aim African unity. He wrote, The theory behind the creation of these regional integration organizations is that European colonists fragmented Africa into many states, most of which were not economically viable. If there was to be capitalist economic development in these states, and therefore in Africa as a whole, several countries must be grouped together to create large markets without restrictions such as trade tariffs or customs duty. (Mbeki 2009: 133)



In the light of the above quotation, Mbeki is arguing that the formation of regional economic organizations was based on the desire to correct the legacy of colonialism which created economically unviable African states which became a stumbling block to capitalistic development in Africa. For this reason, the solution was deemed to lie in economic integration of states within a particular region of the continent. These regions were expected to foster an economic practice of free trade. Such a scenario was thus presumed to eventually lead to “the creation of a continent-wide common market along the lines of the multi-member European Union, and one government along the lines of the United States. All this is wishful thinking…because Africa does not have the material and political conditions that led to the emergence of the European Union” (Mbeki 2009: 134). The fact that European colonialism fragmented African societies by creating artificial boundaries is an historical truism which one cannot trivialize with impunity. It’s a truism that certain sovereign states in Southern Africa are not economically viable outside the South African union. Mbeki’s interpretation of African regional integration was based on the idea that it was an idea that was copied from Europe and the United States. The salient presumption in this Afro-pessimistic mode of thought is that nothing can have its origins in Africa. Europe and the United States cannot copy anything from Africa because it is only Africa which is originally endowed with the propensity to imitativeness. Needless to say, Mbeki’s views against African regional integration have been integral to European colonial imperialism, especially during the creation of Native Reserves and Homelands in Southern Africa. As it was observed previously, the creation of Native Reserves and Homelands was done in way that was not aimed at creating nations in the sense of how nations were created in Europe. These Native Reserves and Homelands were intended to promote the policy of divide and rule. For this reason one finds a particular ethnic group residing in three countries within the same region. The ideal in the creation of Homelands and Native Reserves was rather based on the colonial paternalistic attitude in which it was believed that Africans should be politically organized such that in the long run, they evolve their own form of economic development that should not be in competition with the economic development of the colonizers. The colonial reconfiguration of African societies sowed the seeds for the origins of the ideology separate development among economically unviable human settlements areas, and the aim was also turn Africans into reservoirs of migrant labour as they would be forced by hunger to look for work into



the newly established industries of the colonial masters. Thus the colonial idea behind the promotion of segregated economic development was aimed at ensuring that Africans will remain in need of their colonial masters for their economic wellbeing. In the aftermath of colonial conquest, David Welsh observed that, “The reserves themselves were made up of the worst farming lands in the Colony. …[Colonialists] resented African farming, not because it competed with their own struggling efforts but because it enabled Africans, for the most part, to subsist without having to take paid employment as labourers.” It is common historical knowledge that colonialism disenfranchised Africans economically. On the basis of this historical antecedent the quest for regional integration is aimed partly at redressing the injustices of colonialism instead of imitating the European Union and the United States of America as erroneously averred by Mbeki. Failure of effective regional integration in post-­colonial Africa is related partly to Africa’s colonial heritage in which political independence did not translate easily in economic independence from the claws of the yester colonial masters. Post-colonial African economies have remained dependent on the metropolitan economies of their previous colonizers. Most of the African post-colonial states export their raw products to the markets of their previous colonizers instead of selling them within the region. It is in the light of such observations that African regional integration is an intelligible idea for the realization of post-­ colonial African economic independence.

Regional Integration and the Ethic of Mutual Aid Whilst the idea of regional integration in Europe was originally based on the need to avert the usual occurrence of European interstate wars, Ali Mazrui argued that the fear of violence among states contributed to post-­ colonial Africa’s quest for regional integration. In the Organization of African Unity there was an emphasis on the fact that post-colonial African states were supposed to respect the sovereignty and the boarders of each other (Mazrui 1976: 221). This political outlook towards regional integration had nothing to do with the spirit of fostering regional economic co-operation; rather, the interest was on maintaining a grip on political power from a territorial perspective. Sometimes the spirit of competiveness against regional neighbours tends to undermine the idea of regional integration. This point was well observed by Mazrui with reference to the East African community when he said, “The East African community itself



encourages territorial competition for a share of the economic cake of the region as a whole. The awareness of conflicting interests has been deepened. Each country has not only grown more protective of its own interests as opposed to the interests of the others—it has sometimes developed a more enduring psychological complex and suspicion of the motives of others” (Mazrui 1976: 222). Where the spirit of national interest reigns supreme, the whole idea of regional integration is seen as an opportunity for the mundane pursuit of national interests. When national interests dominate the mind-set of the members within a particular region, it follows logically that the whole idea of regional integration vision falls apart. Once national interest dominates member states within the region, the ideal of regional integration turns “into a breeding ground for economic nationalism within each member state in certain circumstances” (ibid.). Economic nationalism implies a situation whereby member states compete among themselves for the best national economic recognition within the region. Sometimes nationalism is relative to the benefits that are to be accrued from such co-operation. Those countries that are not too proactive and militant are most likely to benefit from regional cooperation. However, Mazrui went to observe that, “The degree of nationalism varies with each nation-state, usually in relation to the benefits which each derives from the cooperation. Sometimes the greatest beneficiary is the least defensive and the least militant in her economic nationalism. Within the East African Community Kenya has therefore tended to be less defensively nationalistic in economic matters than either Uganda or Tanzania” (Mazrui 1976: 222). In the light of the above observation, economic nationalism tends to undermine the spirit of regional integration. Those states that are motivated by economic nationalism do end up being losers as compared to those that are less nationalistic. When a state is more nationalistic it is most like to spend its resources on military weapons as well as putting in place protective policies that might render the country economically more vulnerable. What comes to mind in the here is that there is greater strength in regional co-operation than in nationalistic pursuit of national economic interests. Peter Kropotkin argued that the evolution of human society was rather characterized by co-operation or mutual aid instead of the famous Darwinian phrase known as ‘the survival of the fittest’ in competition for scarce resources among species. For Kropotkin, “among humans too mutual aid has been the rule rather than the exception”. For this reason, he postulated that morality “evolved from the instinct of human



sociability, the unconscious recognition of the close dependency of everyone’s happiness upon the happiness of all” (Kropotkin 1972: 8). The propensity to competitiveness among human beings can be discerned in all human societies, but the survival of these human societies depended on mutual aid. Kropotkin refuted the Hobbesian theory that the primordial human society was characterized by ruthless competition for individual interests. He thus argued that early anthropology shows that original peoples lived in communities instead of as rugged individuals. In these close knit communities, original people lived one finds that, for instance, “the Bushmen lived in small tribes (clans), sometimes federated together; that they used to hunt in common, and divided the spoil without quarrelling; that they never abandoned their wounded, and displayed strong affection to their comrades” (Kropotkin 1972: 92). Through mutual aid, communities or societies are able to achieve greater things than when they exist in a state of competitive pursuit of individual or national interests. The instinct to mutual is thus portrayed by Kropotkin as primeval in the evolution of human societies. But this instinct to mutual aid cannot be relegated to the bygone history of human evolution, even in modern society the instinct to mutual aid can be discerned. Mutual aid in human beings is deeply engrained in our psyche because it evolved with us from time immemorial up to the present. For Kropotkin, the desire to help other human beings who are in need can be found even among the poor of the poorest in towns as well as in traditional areas. As human beings were not primarily motivated by self-interest or national interest. We are also naturally inclined to relativize our interests to the interests of others. This is possible because human beings are social beings by nature, and hence tendency to practise mutual aid was engrained within our nature. This tendency to mutual aid could be discerned in times of calamities and prosperity. Among the Shona people of Zimbabwe the word mutual aid finds its equivalent in the word Kubatana—which means social or communal purposive unity which is usually expressed in communal solidarity during times of happiness and sorrow. The vicissitudes of life become bearable when individuals feel the predicaments of others as their own. Another Shona word that is closely related to Kubatana found its expression in the term, Kunzwira mumwe—to feel for the other or putting oneself in the other person’s shoes. The above term from the Shona language finds its equivalent in the Zulu word—Ukuzwela—to feel for the other. In a nutshell, the above terms give us the impression that an ethical being is someone who feels for the others or lives a life that is sensitized to the



reality of mutual aid. African ethical and philosophical wisdom is sensitized to the fact that people usually achieve greater things when they are united or when they work on the basis of mutual aid instead of working as solitary individuals. The emphasis that is usually put on the pursuit of national interests as that which primarily characterize international relations is rather pathological because states have achieved their international objectives when they cooperate with each other when compared to those instances when they take unilateral decisions on international or regional issues. When a decision is taken collectively, there is a greater possibility that everybody will benefit from such a decision. From an economic point view, other scholars such as Elly Twineyo-­ Kamugisha (2012: 124) have argued that “markets in sub-Saharan Africa are small in terms of purchasing power parity,” and hence “there is a need for these economies to form a regional bloc to enhance economic cooperation and trade.” According to Twineyo-Kamugisha, regional integration has many economic benefits such as the creation of a big single market for states which have small markets when they are on their own. Another benefit that is derived from regional integration according to Twineyo-­ Kamugisha is the potentiality of the evolution of “a single currency and standardized monetary policy” (ibid.). Once we have a standardized regional monetary policy, “Traders from other countries find it easier to trade with an economic block”. Apart from economic benefits, Twineyo-­ Kamugisha observed that regional integration curtails conflicts among states. Another issue which is taken into consideration for regional integration is that some communities at the borders “share a similar culture”, for example, the East African Community. Within the framework of regional integration, “the Banyarwanda people of Uganda, Tanzania and those of Rwanda can freely interact without visas. The Samia of Kenya and those of Uganda can also visit and work in either country without the restrictions of visas and permits” (ibid.). As observed previously, the issue of borders is very important because the borders that were created by colonial administrators did not take into account pre-colonial human settlement formations. Thus one finds the same community that speaks the same language and the same cultural mores staying in two or three different neighbouring countries. The ethical imperative of regional integration should be seen in terms of fostering or a political culture that promotes a vision of our common humanity that is wholly dedicated to the promoting the common good for the whole religion. In this regard, the common good has to be seen in



terms of the pressing need to overcome poverty within the respective African regions. To realize such an ethical vision requires that individual politicians should sacrifice their selfish individual interests in such a way that such interests should find their articulation in the promotion of that which is good for the region. The preoccupation of most of the African politicians lies in the pursuit of narrow individual political interests within the confines of the colonially created borders of the current nation states. Nationalism as some form of national egoism erodes a vision of our natural urge to belong to the moral ideal of our common humanity. However, needless to say that the vision of regional integration aimed at promoting the common good across the colonial boundaries is not shared by ordinary citizens within the African continent. But here I should make haste to say that even among those African politicians and elites, there are some who are too nationalistic such that their political vision does not go beyond the confines of these colonially created borders. There has been a tendency among Africans of different nationalities within the region to portray disparaging attitudes towards each other in a way that is typically reminiscent of racism. Here what comes to mind is what is popularly known as xenophobia in contemporary post-apartheid South Africa whereby black South Africans have from time to time unleashed ferocious lethal violence and looting of businesses that belong migrants black Africans. This behaviour seems to go against the whole idea that Africans are natural endowed with humanistic values that promote a social ethic of common belonging. Because this mob violence is always targeted at African migrants or refugees, some scholars have deemed it appropriate to describe such type of violence against African migrants in South Africa as Afro-phobia—meaning a type of fear that is mainly directed towards fellow black Africans. Whilst other social, political and academic analysts have described black South African violence against African immigrants as part and parcel of the phenomenon of xenophobia which is a general occurrence in human existence all over the world whereby citizens within a particular nation-state have a tendency of displaying a hostile attitude towards foreigners, the peculiarity of this type of this type of xenophobic violence in post-apartheid South Africa is that it is a type of violence that is usually targeted at African immigrants. These African immigrants are usually described in popular national media and other political platforms are ‘foreigners’. What makes it typically ‘Afro-phobic’ instead of ‘xenophobic’ is that other immigrants from Europe and Asia are usually not affected by this type of Afro-phobic violence and neither are they described



as ‘foreigners’. In this regard one can deduce that there is a salient presumption that South Africa does not belong to the African continent. This raises the question of whether the vision of regional integration is shared with equal passion among all the members of regional groupings on the African continent. In many parts of post-colonial sub-Saharan Africa, the idea of describing immigrants in derogatory terms has been common. Those derogatory terms are usually aimed at suggesting that the other person is a sub-human or does not share the same humanity with those who are nationals of the nation-state. The phenomenon of ‘Afro-phobic’ has been occurring in many post-colonial African states despite of some shared general ethical outlook as we have seen in Chap. 2. Is ‘Afro-phobic’ engrained in African socio-political mental outlook or could it be the legacy of apartheid and colonialism? Analysis of this phenomenon has oscillated the above two possible of origins.

Afro-phobia and Regional Integration The continuous occurrence of Afro-phobia especially in post-apartheid South Africa has raised a lot of ethical questions on whether Africans see themselves as a people who share a sense of common belonging with fellow Africans who are not South Africans by origins. At the zenith of Afro-­ phobic attacks in South Africa 2008, a renowned South African cartoonist, Zapiro, had a cartoon that showed a group of black South Africans Afro-­ phobics looking on at an African immigrant whose body was set on fire whilst the perpetrators of this ghastly heinous act looked on and saying the following words, “I could tell he was a @#* Foreigner! He didn’t know the meaning of Ubuntu” (Sunday Times, 25 May 2008). These words from a cartoonist are succinctly ironic in a way that conveys a message of moral bankruptcy in African humanistic values amidst the gruesome reality of Afro-phobic violence directed towards African immigrants of whom black South Africans are expected to share the same humanistic values with. But one can also interpret the cartoonist’s ironic words to mean that Afro-phobic attacks bear an unequivocal testimony that black Africans do not share the same moral values with other fellow black Africans within the sub-Saharan Africa. Such an interpretation can easily arise because of the Afro-phobic violence that is committed by black South Africans. This Afro-phobic violence gives the impression that lives of black African immigrants are not valuable or intrinsically worthy as compared to the lives of none African immigrants. The problem of Afro-phobic has not been



exclusively a post-apartheid South African problem. When the era of Rhodesia or Southern Rhodesia which is now known as Zimbabwe, migrant workers from Malawi used to be called by derogatory names such as Mabwidi (plural)—meaning a people who did not who did not have a culture. As such, it was therefore considered a great insult for an indigenous Zimbabweans to be called a Mubwidi (singular). Intermarriage between indigenous Zimbabweans and Malawians attracted a lot of social ridicule, especially from indigenous Zimbabweans. This was another example that demonstrates the existence of Afro-phobic attitudes in African societies. However, phenomenon of Afro-phobic violence in post-apartheid South Africa tends to undermine the thesis that regional integration is an effective deterrence to interstate violence. Afro-phobic violence undermines the very existence of a common morality or the African ethical ideals of a humanity among different African nationalities. At the dawn of post-­ apartheid democratic South Africa, President Thabo Mbeki was famously known for his political zeal for his political vision of an African Renaissance in which he expressed a fervent hope for the coming together of all African nation-states into some union where post-colonial African problems could to be dealt with collectively, and that the world as a whole should recognize Africa’s efforts towards political and economic transformation. On the basis of the vision of the African Renaissance, Afro-phobia is regarded as the ultimate betrayal of this superanational African vision of the Union of African states. Critics of the African Renaissance found themselves vindicated by the upsurge of Afro-phobic violence because such a type of behaviour tends to support their long held racist opinions that Africans are too ethnic, racialist or tribalist in their outlook such that they cannot co-exist as a diverse multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-tribal society. The vision of the African Renaissance was as articulated by Thabo Mbeki was aimed at repositioning Africa’s economic development capabilities in the light of the contemporary capitalistic global economic and political reconfiguration processes. Colin Legum observed that, “Alongside this growing consensus on key areas of policy reform, African countries have acted to make regional integration the centerpiece of their development strategy. Major free trade areas or regional integration initiatives including the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa (UEMOA) emerged or were revitalized during the



1990s” (Legum 2000: 85). Legum’s concern was that these efforts towards regional integration are hardly complemented through long term planning. Of great concern among African politicians is the issue of the preservation of political power within their nation-states instead of the amelioration of poverty. Sometimes African politicians have been in the forefront of fanning Afro-phobic sentiments. Savo Heleta observed that in the case of post-apartheid South Africa, especially during election campaigning, “all kinds of xenophobic statements are uttered by most political parties who see anti-immigrant, xenophobic and Afrophobic rhetoric as a way to attract votes. Through blatant lies, othering and scaremongering, foreigners are blamed for many of South Africa’s woes and social ills” (Heleta 2019). However, besides citing examples of xenophobia or Afro-phobia, there is also a school of thought which says that the issue of regional integration remains unrealistic because nations behave immorally whenever they come into contact with those who are regarded as not belonging to the nation or are regarded as not citizens of a particular nation. In this mode of thought, patriotism is based on an inherent element of amoralism because it “transmutes individual selfishness into national egoism” (Maxwell 1990: 24). Here the dominant presumption is that all the citizens of a particular country are selfish. Donald Trump won the race for the US Presidency with the slogan of ‘America First’, implying that he was going to lead America only as a nation of egoists. Trump’s idea of building a great iron wall that was to serve as an indestructible barrier against the immigration of the poor Mexicans into America was an expression of extreme selfishness and utter lack of concern for the sufferings of others. But Trump’s egoistic slogan has been adopted by other South African political parties which in a way contributed to the spread of Afro-phobic violence in the aftermath of the 2019 national elections. The apparent persistence of amoral attitude towards African immigrants was well observed by Heleta when he said: While speaking about their plans to run a coalition government on the national level if they get enough votes in 2019, the DA (Democratic Alliance), Congress of the People and the right-wing Freedom Front Plus promised to place foreigners [African immigrants] in camps rather than letting them roam free in South African cities. The African Basic Movement, a newly registered political party, has called for all foreigners to leave South



Africa by the end of 2018. …They also want to make it illegal for foreigners to marry South African citizens. (Heleta 2019)

In such political utterances there is ample evidence that Afro-phobia feeds on the salient presumption that African immigrants in post-­apartheid South Africa are not human beings and hence it becomes permissible to traverse moral inhibitions when dealing with them. Afro-phobia is used by politicians to build a type of nationalism that promotes an understanding of a particular people’s nationality as special and exceptional to the humanity of others. In African politics, and, as is the case in other politics in other parts of the world, the feeling of nationalism is usually exploited by political leaders for selfish purposes. It is for this reason that the issue of ethical leadership becomes very relevant to the realm of politics in post-­ colonial Africa.

Bibliography Heleta, S. 2019. Xenophobia and Party Politics in South Africa. Accessed September 12, 2019. Hobbes, T. 1958. Leviathan: Or the Matter, Forme and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiastical and Civil. Edited by M. Oakeshott. London: Collier-Macmillan. Kropotkin, P. 1972. Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. London: The Penguin Books. Legum, C. 2000. Renaissance—Romantic Realism. In Problamatizing the African Renaissance, ed. E. Maloka and E. le Roux, 81–92. Pretoria: Africa Institute of South Africa. Lenin, V.I. 1947. Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House. Martin, D., and P.  Johnson. 1981. The Struggle for Zimbabwe. Johannesburg: Raven Press. Maxwell, M. 1990. Morality among Nations: An Evolutionary View. New York: State University of New York. Mazrui, A.A. 1976. A World Federation of Cultures: An African Perspective. New York: The Free Press. Mbeki, M. 2009. Architects of Poverty: Why African Capitalism Needs Changing. Johannesburg: Picador Africa. Nkrumah, K. 1970. Africa Must Unite. London: Heinemann. Nyerere, J.K. 1968. Uhuru Na Ujamaa—Freedom and Socialism: A Selection from Writings and Speeches, 1965–1967. London: Oxford University Press.



SADC Regional Human Development Report. 2000: 42. Accessed November 20, 2018. http://www.sadc.itn/. Twineyo-Kamugisha, E. 2012. Why Africa Fails: The Case for Growth Before Democracy. Cape Town: Tafelberg. Zapiro, J. 2008. I Could Tell He Was a @#* Foreigner! He Didn’t Know the Meaning of Ubuntu. Sunday Times, May 25. Accessed January 10, 2018.


Traditional African Resources for Ethical Leadership

It is without doubt that the issue of ethical leadership has become pertinent to politics in post-colonial Africa. A perpetual story in African politics is that of the symbiosis between leadership and economic underdevelopment. In many instances all over the continent, African politicians inherited most vibrant economies, only to ruin those economies beyond recognition. Public institutions inherited from colonialists are all in a shambolic state. Services which were once of high standards are no longer available, and sometimes when they are available they are offered in a way that is extreme substandard. As if that is not enough, corruption and the erosion of the rule of law have become common place all over the continent. The problems of leadership that have beset post-colonial Africa are regarded as ethical problems. Critics of African leadership have argued that African problems are the result of poor leadership—those who are elected into political offices do not have leadership qualities that can help in solving Africa’s problems. The idea of poor leadership does not necessarily tell us the type of leadership which should be regarded as good leadership. Of late some scholars have argued that good leadership should be that type of leadership that is sensitized to ethics. A leadership that is sensitized to ethics is described as ethical leadership. Ethical leadership is that type of leadership that has the wellbeing of the people at heart before the leader’s personal interests. In this regard scholars have come up with what they have seen as vital qualities that can be extracted from traditional © The Author(s) 2020 M. F. Murove, African Politics and Ethics,




African humanistic values for ethical leadership. In this chapter I intend to discuss some of those African humanistic values that are regarded as indispensable for the making of ethical leadership in post-colonial Africa. There is a lot which modern African leadership can learn from traditional humanistic values for ethical leadership. Traditional African society was endowed with a type of leadership that was rich in ethical values. In traditional African society the king or chief exercised his leadership with the aim of promoting the wellbeing of his people at heart. The king or chief’s leadership epitomized the values that were cherished by his people and he thus saw his leadership role in terms of doing the will of the people. What can be inferred from African traditional leadership is that it is a type of leadership that was wholly committed in upholding the values that were cherished and deemed sources for the communal identity. As we have seen in Chap. 2, the king or the chief personified the whole community in his leadership. Whilst some scholars have argued in their various ways that African traditional leadership was an outdated form of leadership that cannot be applied to our modern African societies of today, the arguments that are raised by those who believe that contemporary African leadership should learn from African traditional resources for ethical leadership are very persuasive.

Traditional Leadership as a Panacea for Ethical Leadership in Africa The rampant crisis of ethical leadership in post-colonial Africa can find its solution if there can be some learning from traditional leadership. Mike Boon was more nuanced on this point when he said, “If we pursue a synergy between our own leadership in Africa and African people, it is crucial that the general features of traditional African leadership are recognized and incorporated in our thinking” (Boon 2007: 43). Post-colonial African leadership can learn from traditional African leadership. Sometimes failure to learn from the past has been a stumbling block for an effective ethical leadership within the post-colonial African context. In African traditional leadership, it was the king who was the symbol of unity of the people and his office was understood as representing the law. For this reason, the king was expected to always behave in a way that was beyond reproach. The African traditional king or chief did not make decisions on his own; rather his decisions were always taken in consultation with the elders of the



community through a consensual process. Even though this African traditional leadership practice of decision making through consensus was time consuming, the main advantage of such an approach was that it gives room to a sense of a shared responsibility on the decision that has been made on a particular social issue. Traditionally the king or chief understood himself and his office as there purely to further the general wellbeing of the people instead of his own personal vision. It is on the basis of ethical leadership that existed in traditional which made many scholars to come to the conclusion that contemporary leadership in Africa should learn from traditional African leadership by extracting those features that typified traditional leadership in Africa. A leader was a representative of the unity of the people she or he led as well as the law that governed them. Through the councillors, the chief or king ruled through consensus. In consensus, a decision or a ruling was made on the basis of the agreement reached the deliberations of councillors about a case at hand. In other words, the chief or king implemented the decision arrived at by the councillors. The decision made at such deliberations was owned by everybody, and it ceased to be seen as the ruling of the king or chief deriving from his authority. Common ownership of a ruling that was made through consensus implies that the king or chief was ultimately accountable to the people as he personified them in his office. As such, it can be deduced that leadership was understood as dispensing those decisions that have been arrived at collectively by the community. In a nutshell, it is communal leadership.

Leadership with and for the Community Many scholars have insisted that African traditional leadership was typical of an ethical leadership because of the premier value that was placed on the wellbeing of the community in the execution of one’s responsibilities. It is mainly for this reason that African traditional leadership was based on decision making through consensus. By thriving for consensus, the aim was to ensure the continuity of communal harmony and belonging. As Kwasi Wiredu puts it, “A communalistic society is one in which extended kinship linkages play a dominant role in social relations. …The ethos of a communalistic society bears an important relation to the ethics of human community as such. The fundamental imperative of ethics is: adjust your interests to the interests of others even at the possible cost of some



self-denial” (Menkiti 2001: 172). Coming to some decision within a communalistic framework implies the ability to compromise one’s own personal convictions for the good of the community. Compromising also implies sacrificing one’s interests for the wellbeing of the community, that is, one’s interests are relative to those of the community. Decision-making through consensus is regarded as applicable to communalistic societies which in most cases share common values. In a society characterized by plurality of ethnic groupings what can be regarded by one ethnic group as ethical can be seen as unethical by another. Thus the possibility of coming arriving at some consensus can be daunting.

Ethical Leadership Through Constructive Engagement A community that shares common values is most likely to agree on fundamental political issues compared to a community with diverse values. It is partly for this reason that Ruel Khoza (2005: 84) saw African traditional leadership that arises from a communalistic outlook as commensurate with the idea of decision-making through consensus. He arrived at this deduction after making a distinction between consensus and consent. Such distinction was plausible on the grounds that consent was intelligible on the basis of the “social contract theory as the founding agreement whereby the ruled consent to be ruled”. Such a social existence “implies that a covenant has been forged between the members of the social order to set up government”. Khoza went on to say that, “Consensus is ‘build’, while consent is ‘given’. Consensus suggests that participants proactively shape the direction to be taken by the leadership. Consent conveys a more passive acceptance of the rule by those whom authority has been ceded.” Consensus implies active participation by the members of the community in the making of a decision. Consent does not involve active participation; rather it implies surrendering one’s views to the other person. Leadership through consensus is also related to the traditional African understanding of ethical leadership as based primarily on the quest for constructive engagement in the discussion of a particular political issue at hand. The social foundation for the African traditional political practice of constructive engagement was derived from the relational ontology of human common belongingness—everybody belonged to same religious and political social outlook that was shared by everybody else. For



example, as shown previously, African traditional religion did not entertain a divide between religion and politics. As such, the individual’s political goodness was not premised on his or her religious affiliation because there simply never was any distinction between the sacred and the secular as these realms of being could not be disentangled from each other. As we have seen in the history of apartheid South Africa where the Christian religion was deemed the spiritual organizing principle for the apartheid draconian rules, such a practice inevitably became amoral because it excluded and in a way dehumanized those South African citizens who did subscribe to the Christian religion, more so, the Christian religion of apartheid such as Calvinistic fundamentalism of the Dutch Reformed Church. Having said this, it needs to be noted that not all Afrikaner Christians supported the fundamentalist Calvinistic teachings that supported the ideology of apartheid in South Africa. There were many Afrikaner intellectuals and clergymen who refuted the idea of a consciousness that was based of the claim of an exclusive Afrikaner identity. Theologians such as Christiaan Frederick Beyers Naudé who was a Dutch Reformed Church cleric became one of the ardent critics of apartheid’s ideology of a divine exclusive political identity as integral to God’s plan for the National Party apartheid government. When he succeeded Desmond Tutu as Secretary General of South African Council of Churches during the critical times of apartheid in South African history he prophetically said, “Something new is groaning to emerge which will challenge the whole Church in South Africa to the depths of its being” (SACC 1986: 123). It is common knowledge that Naudé was among those who supported the struggle against apartheid. It was not only Naudé who was an Afrikaner who was opposed to apartheid. There were also many other Afrikaner theologians and historians such André du Toit, who refuted the whole idea of fundamentalist Calvanism that was espoused by the Dutch Reformed Church in support of the apartheid system. Most of these Afrikaner critics of apartheid were mostly committed to a political ethos that prioritized constructive engagement among all the South African political antagonists and protagonists. Constructive engagement implies a genuine attempt at creating an inclusive society in which everybody feels a sense of belonging and can contribute to the political debate at hand with the aim of ultimately promoting social cohesion. An ethical outlook that promotes cohesion does not imply the creation of a polity based on unanimity; rather it implies the ability to live and enjoy the existence of the diversity of political, religious,



cultural and ethical views. Constructive engagement is usually related to the inert ability of the individual to speak and act in ways that constructive to the general wellbeing of everybody without any discrimination. In African traditional leadership, a leader was considered as a leader on the basis of his or her ability to vouchsafe for a social and political vision which gives those who are led a sense of belonging because of the vision of a society which the leader had was a vision which they could identify with. Among the Shona people of Zimbabwe, a leader who can accommodate diverse views and modes of existence was considered to be someone who is endowed with kuvaka (to build) and was thus recognized as munhu anovaka—a constructive person. Such a leader does not rely on fanning conflicts among the people she or he leads as a political survival strategy which unfortunately has become a common political practice among modern politicians all over the world. From the perspective of a relational ontology and cosmology that we find in African ethics, adversarial politics becomes undesirable for the construction of an inclusive society in which all citizens are made to feel a sense of belonging. However, the communalistic leadership through consensus in post-­ colonial Africa is undermined by what Mazrui (2001: 102–103) called ‘the elder tradition’. According to this tradition, an elderly person is regarded as the most effective leader because old men of the community are regarded as natural leaders by virtue of the presumed wisdom that is regarded as a feature that goes hand-in-glove with special powers. In this elder tradition, respect is usually attributed to age. Jomo Kenyata of Kenya was usually referred to as Mzee (Old gentleman) Kenyatta, Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi was called Ngwazi (Conqueror). Nelson Mandela of South Africa was affectionately referred to as Tata (Father) and Mugabe of Zimbabwe was popularly known as mudhara (Old man). Whenever business people raised their prizes conspicuously or a prominent government figure misbehaved during the absence of Mugabe people used to say, Mudhara achauya (the old man is going to come back)—meaning Mudhara was going to deal with such a misdemeanour decisively. Old men in positions of leadership are sometimes envied and hated at the same time. Sometimes these grey-haired and wrinkled men are regarded as endowed with natural wisdom indispensable for leadership. Yet on other instances they are accused of ruining their countries because of their outdated leadership styles. However, Mazrui went on to allege that, “The elder tradition in places like Kenyatta’s Kenya or Banda’s Malawi does have characteristics that could make it difficult for a



legislature to survive with vigor. The tradition puts a high premium on deference and reverence to the father guru. Politically, this often can translate itself into affirmations of loyalty. The elder tradition also puts a high premium on at least the appearance of consensus, ‘family unity’, or ‘national solidarity’” (Mazrui 2001: 103). Here it can be said that the elder tradition emphasizes consensus as a political technical too for national unity or solidarity. In the case of South Africa, Tata Mandela became more of a symbol of national unity and all the virtues that are related to ethical leadership. Mandela is mostly revered for a type of leadership that united the previously racially divided South Africa into a nation. In some instances the elder tradition can be said to be an offshoot of pre-colonial African belief in the sacredness of leadership as it was the case with kingship and chieftaincy in pre-colonial African societies. In traditional Africa, kingly leadership was regarded as sacrosanct as it was a common belief that the king’s powers and authority were derived from the ancestors. This sacredness imparted on the king a peculiar spiritual character that set him apart from the rest of the community. The leadership of the king was thus an extension of the leadership of the ancestors. According to Basil Davidson (Davidson 1969: 195–196), kings “were political and therefore earthly persons as well as ritual and therefore spiritual ones”. He went on to say that, “For what they [kings] did was to subsume in their persons the many ancestral powers formerly invested in a more or less large number of lineage leaders, and so enable a people’s unity to survive.” For this reason these kings were regarded as “the guardians of a social charter which contained a network of otherwise separate charters. Willingly accepted only when legitimate, they could not become so except when organized as standing at the ritual apex of their people’s socio-moral order.” In other words, the sacredness of kingly leadership lay in its ability to unite the previously disparate communities into a one community. His leadership was to uphold the community’s moral order as well as to guard against threats to this moral order. As the guardian of society’s moral order, it was a critical requirement for the king that he should be morally beyond reproach. Besides some of these functions, the king was expected to ensure that there was harmony between human society and the natural environment. In this regard, the king’s leadership was not only restricted to human society, but rather he had to ensure that harmonious relations existed between human beings and the natural environment. In our contemporary times, political leadership has been divorced from the idea of ensuring harmony between society and the natural environment. The



legitimacy of leadership has been restricted to promoting human welfare at the expense of the natural environment. The promotion of human welfare is through what is economically regarded as national economic growth is regarded as the true measure of one’s leadership competency. In modern days a political leader is praised if he leads in a way that maximizes the general wellbeing of the people he leads even at the expense of the general wellbeing of the natural environment. But this lack of concern for the natural environment has resulted in our contemporary environmental depredation because the natural environment is presumed to have its own life which is separate from the life of human beings which the politician leads.

Life and Ethical Leadership A critical element to ethical leadership that we can get from traditional African resources for ethical leadership which has received scant treatment from scholars is the premier value that is given to life and ethical leadership. The African traditional understanding of ethical leadership was based on life such that the king or chief became the guardian of life in all its manifestations. Among the Shona people of Zimbabwe, as Bourdillon puts it, “The chief is traditionally guardian of the fundamental values of rupenyu (life) and simba (Strength, vitality, well-being). …Both life and strength are necessary for the prosperity of the people. The chief is responsible for the prosperity of his people and particularly for the land and its produce” (Bourdillon 1987: 111). Among the Basotho people, Upenyu is Seriti, a word which means strength, vitality or wellbeing. Martin Prozesky observed that the concept of Seriti implies “that a leader with great vitality will be able to affect many more people than one who is less vigorous, and if his or her attitude towards them is supportive they will benefit, which in turn helps energize them in similarly beneficial ways of dealing with others” (Prozesky 2016: 9). In this traditional understanding of leadership, the general wellbeing of people existed essentially in life. A human person could thus be characterized as a manifestation of life in its totality. His or her relationship with others in society has its importance on the basis of imparting life or upenyu to others. The chief or leader was the epitome of life because of simba or vitality, which has been entrusted to him or her. As the epitome of life, the chief or king saw his or her upenyu and simba as inexplicably linked to the natural world. As a representative of the community by virtue of his or her office or leadership, the chief or king related



harmoniously with the natural world. It is no wonder that fertility of the land is regarded as one of the primary responsibilities of the chief or king. For the continuation of fecundity in the land, it was imperative that moral values of society as well as the taboos that guided human relationships with the environment were not violated. It was integral to the leadership responsibilities of the chief or king to ensure that certain forests and rivers were not polluted and that they were regarded as sacred abodes for the ancestors. In this regard, African traditional leadership saw Upenyu of the people under its rule as entangled with the wellbeing of the natural environment. Harmonious existence between humanity and the environment was the basis of African cosmology and the implied individual ontology. Since life constitutes the primary form of reality, everything that exists is understood in terms of solidarity with each other. It is this holistic conceptualization of life which made it mandatory for ethical leadership to demonstrate a holistic outlook towards all life within the generality of existence. Benezet Bujo expounded the traditional African holistic outlook towards life as follows, “All beings—organic and inorganic, living and inanimate, personal and impersonal, visible and invisible—act together to manifest the universal solidarity of creation” (Bujo 2009: 282). A ruler or a traditional leader was not only conscious of the human society; rather he was expected to be someone who was conscious of the relationality that existed between human society and the natural environment. The African traditional chief or king was not only a guardian of our human relationality with the natural environment, but he was also a nodal person between the worlds of mortality and immortality. Through his ethical leadership he perpetuated a symbiotic relationship between these two realms of existence. The chief or king ruled on behalf of the founding ancestors of the community. This implies that the king or chief is someone who is of impeccable moral standing. Someone who is of impeccable moral standing is regarded as such because of his ability to vouchsafe harmony between society, the natural environment and the ancestors because the chief or king’s political power has its origins in the power of the ancestors (Bourdillon 1987: 116; Parrinder 1954: 67–70).



Ethical Leadership That Reconciles the Present and the Past Some scholars have also argued in their various ways that the contemporary crisis in African leadership lies in “the dissolution of ancestral values” which rather typifies “a tragic shift away from a space of original dignities to a confused space of piddling activity, where role occupiers now enact roles without understanding their true meaning” (Menkiti 2001: 133). It is in such observations of the post-colonial African political terrain that one gets a strong impression that the contemporary crisis in political leadership cannot be severed from Africa’s neglect of ancestral values. The post-colonial African leadership crisis is partly the consequence of the failure to learning from its ancestral values of the past. Sometimes a belief that has become congenital within our modern existence is that of shunning all those values that are regarded as germane with the past. The salient presumption in this way of thinking is that social change and progress cannot be realized when one is nostalgic about ancestral values. But is it true that the past does have some influence on the present? The idea that the past is bygone or that it does not influence the present is fallacious to the extreme. Our yearning for ethical leadership is undoubtedly based on what we learnt in the past about unethical leadership. We condemn racism, slavery, colonialism, the holocaust and Nazism because of what transpired in the past as a result of these social evils. If we discount past experiences or if we cannot learn from the past we are most likely to repeat the mistakes that were made by others in the past. We should be in the position to avoid the atrocities that happened in the past if we are able to learn from that past. Michael Gelfand was more enlightening on the relationship between the present and the past when he said: The present is the whole of the past looking into the future. As time accumulates each new moment means something new and therefore we change endlessly, acting in the best way because of past experience. Thus thought is an accumulation of past experience. Each new event or new idea, coloured by previous remembrances, becomes a new memory to add to the stress of memories, running into the future. The original memory changes as time goes on, influenced by subsequent experiences. (Gelfand 1981: 73)

Sometimes we behave as if we are only dealing with the present and that we are only responsible for what is going on in the present. In this way of



thinking, the present and the past are presumed to be disconnected to the extent that we even imagine them as not having any causal influence. A relationship between the present and the past is an inescapable reality of existence which mediates values which can serve as guide posts for the future existence. The future is an extension of the present in as much as the present is an extension of the past. Whilst the future is unpredictable, it is the element of unpredictability of the future that requires us to live in a way that will mediate values that ultimately will enable the flourishing of the future generations. That which will happen in the future is already contained in the present in as much as the present was contained in the past (Murove 2016: 149–150). Here the implication is that ethical leadership learns from the past with the aim of harmonizing present experiences with the past for the good of the future. In post-colonial Africa there are some scholars who have incorporated African traditional resources for ethical leadership under the assumption that these traditional resources can be a panacea to our current leadership crisis. In this mode of thought one finds Prozesky arguing that the current leadership problem in South Africa and Africa in general needs to be addressed “[f]or the sake of a better future”. To achieve this objective, Prozesky applied “ethical resources embedded in the traditional culture and history of the Sesotho-speaking Basotho people” and the kingship career of Moshoeshoe and his mentor Mohlomi. From these two sources, Prozesky made the following deduction: The main conclusion is that the most successful leaders will be men and women not only of firm moral principle who understand what genuinely inclusive moral principle and practice mean and require in practice and act consistently on that understanding, but who also have sound ethical support structures and resources available to them analogous to those available to King Moshoeshoe. (Prozesky 2016: 6–7)

The implication of Prozesky’s insight is that the present generation can learn from the past about the principles of ethical leadership. We should learn from the past if ever we are going to contribute positively towards those who will exist in the future. A leadership that has a sense of concern for the future will be regarded as visionary leadership.



Visionary Ethical Leadership Visionary leadership is a type of leadership which is far-sighted in the sense that this leadership makes decisions and implements these decisions with the future in mind. It’s a type of leadership that is usually endowed with a sense of concern for the wellbeing of the future. Visionary leadership is the opposite of short-sighted leadership in the sense that the latter is most likely to see leadership in terms of pursuing its narrow self-interests. Short-­ sighted leadership is most likely to implement policies that will most probably impoverish the nation in the long-run in the future. The phenomenon of corruption that has become synonymous with African leadership is related mainly to the lack of vision for the common good and the wellbeing of the future generations. Mobuto Sese Seko of the former Zaire and President Siaka Stevens of Sierra Leone looted wealth and externalized it until their countries were completely bankrupt. Sani Abacha of Nigeria is said to have looted $4 billion from the national sources of government revenue (Meredith 2011: 562–581). This corrupt leadership is bereft of any vision for the common good of those who will exist in the future. It is mainly for this reason that such type of leadership is intrinsically unethical. In most cases such leaders do not have any vision for the future of the country. Visionary leadership has been demonstrated by leaders such as Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah and Nelson Mandela. These leaders had a vision or a dream of a type of African society they wanted to be realized in their leadership. For Nyerere and Nkrumah, their vision of ethical leadership came strongly in their yearning for an egalitarian society and a type of leadership that was accountable to the people. Nkrumah had a vision of a united Africa, and Nyerere was more interested in creating a society where justice could be realized through the traditional humanistic philosophy of Ujamaa or familyhood. On the other hand, Nelson Mandela had a vision of a racially inclusive post-apartheid South Africa. I have chosen Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere as towering figures in leadership in African politics, not because they were the only ethical leaders in African politics, but I have chosen them on the basis of how their political careers were moulded by African traditional values. There has been many figures who have provided African with ethical leadership from their own professional backgrounds in a way that has contributed enormously to political transformation in many parts of Africa as clergymen, teachers, medical doctors, lawyers, just to mention a few.



Nkrumah’s Vision of Magnanimous Nationalism As an intellectual and political leader, Nkrumah is known for writing on various themes on economics, politics and philosophy. But what he is popularly known for is his grand vision of a united Africa. In this regard one can easily see in him a leader whose political vision traversed territorialism and ethnicity that was part and parcel of the legacy of colonialism on Africa in such a way that he saw Africa as populated by a people who can be easily united into one family. His vision was often referred to by other scholars as supranationalism because of his ability to go beyond the ­superficial political confines of national sovereignty. For Nkrumah (1970: 148), the whole of the African continent which was populated by sovereign states projected an entirely unrealistic state of political affairs. The tenacious commitment by post-colonial African states to jealously protecting national sovereignty was rather a too exaggerated “separatism in a historical period that demands Africa’s unity in order that their independence may be safeguarded” (Nkrumah). Africa’s real sovereignty was to be found in unity of the independent states. This implies that the newly independent African states were supposed to surrender the sovereignty for the sake of building a united Africa which will be more effective in protecting their independence as sovereigns. Within an African union, Nkrumah believed that all member states, large or small, heavily or thinly populated, will “enjoy legal equality under a constitution to which all have laid their hand”. Within Nkrumah’s envisaged African union, all states were to be treated as equals. This implies that African states were supposed to surrender their sovereignty to a political authority which was supposed to be “a unifying political authority”. Nkrumah saw the concept of nation-state sovereignty as a stumbling block in the realization of African unity. The concept of nation-state sovereignty is believed to be a mechanism that gives autonomy and political independence to nation-states such that they are treated as equals before international law. For Nkrumah all these fears that are presumed to be related to the demise of nation-state sovereignty as a result of the African continental unity were simply unrealistic fears because such fears could still be addressed within the African union. Nkrumah’s vision of a united Africa was also based on the need to safeguard Africa’s independence from the political and economic machinations of neo-colonialism. The vision of African union undoubtedly required some commitment to sacrifice the prestige motive that went hand-in-glove with the political status of being



a sovereign among international sovereigns. Nkrumah was interested in promoting the common good for the whole continent of Africa instead of his own personal political prestige motives. As a leader who was endowed with a vision for the common good for the whole of the African continent, he testified for his commitment to the vision of African national unity as follows, “Ghana has declared her stand in no uncertain terms. We have provided in our republican constitution for the surrender of our sovereignty, in whole or in part, in the wider interests of African unity” (Nkrumah 1970: 141). In other words, Nkrumah is appealing to other newly independent African states to emulate the political sacrifices that were made by Ghana in surrendering her sovereignty for the sake of a greater vision of African unity. In so doing, Ghana served the interests of Africa regardless of external pressure from those who were against the vision of a united Africa. Whilst Nkrumah was regarded as unrealistic utopian in his political thinking, I think his vision of a united Africa was partly based on his realization that most of the post-colonial African states were so weak to such an extent that they did not meet the international empirical and juridical standards for statehood whereby state institutions are poorly developed and at the same time the phenomenon of political instability is a common feature. Because of civil wars and ethnic conflicts, some of these independent African states such as Anglola, Chad, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo found themselves in a situation where they lost control of their states as a result of internal conflicts within their countries. For this reason these states lost the status of statehood in the empirical sense (Jackson and Rosberg 1982: 287). Some the post-colonial states have been involved in a perennial state of recurrence of ethnic conflicts. Typical examples of the states that have experienced perennial conflicts are the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Ethiopia. Some of these conflicts are caused by dictatorial tendencies among African politicians and some are a result of primordial loyalties to ethnic affiliations that were previously divided by colonial borders. Some ethnic groups in one country are most likely to support their relative ethnic group in a neighbouring country whenever a situation of political conflict arises. It is partly for this reason that African politicians have been averse to the democratic culture of multi-party national competition for political power—as we have seen previously, the argument was that such a political culture will fane ethnic conflicts. Nkrumah’s vision of an African



union was also based on the idea that within an African union, there will not ethnic conflicts. For Nkrumah there were more political and economic benefits to be accrued from sacrificing national sovereignty for the good of the African continent as a whole. It is his readiness to sacrifice the national sovereignty of his country for the good of the unity of Africa that we can deduce that he was a leader whose vision for Africa sprang from his spirit of magnanimity. As we have seen in the preceding chapter, the spirit of magnanimity is integral to African traditional humanism whereby one was expected to sacrifice some personal happiness for the greater good which could be realized in the present or in the future. It is because of African traditional humanistic values that Africans were originally endowed with a wider political horizon that enabled them to have an all-inclusive understanding of human existence. The pan African vision of Nkrumah emanated from the fact that he saw the whole continent as populated by one family that shared the same consciousness of imperial political domination and economic exploitation from without. For the realization of this pan African vision, Nkrumah stated that African society as a whole was composed of three segments—“the traditional, the Western and the Islamic”, and these segments of African society do conflict against each other. In dealing with this conflict, he suggested that there was a need to be accommodative towards the Western and Islamic segments of African society. This accommodative attitude was supposed to be purposeful in the sense that the aim was apply the values of traditional African society with the aim of coming up with some continental unification of purpose. Whilst Nkrumah was aware of the cultural diversity that characterized African societies, he believed that the unification of Africa should take into account the founding values of African traditional society. Those values which so defined the African personality constituted of a group of humanist principles which served as a foundational cornerstone for traditional African society. However, whether Nkrumah’s vision of an African union was practical or not is not the purpose of this discussion; rather the aim is to show that he was a visionary leader who was endowed with a magnanimous lofty spirit which saw the unity of the African family traversing the colonial nationalistic boundaries.



Nyerere’s Vision of a Just Society Nyerere’s visionary ethical leadership can be discerned from his socio-­ economic policy of African traditional humanism as articulated in Ujamaa and also in his belief that true ethical leadership must be based on service to those that are led. Nyerere’s vision of ethical leadership was based on the assumption that a just society is one which is built on egalitarianism and the responsibility of the government was to ensure that policies conducive for the creation of an egalitarian society were implemented. Nyerere’s vision of leadership for an egalitarian society was based on what he saw as typical of African traditional society which he found to resonate with the Swahili word, Ujamaa. He writes, “The word ujamaa was chosen for special reasons. First, it is an African word and thus emphasizes the African-ness of the policies we intend to follow. Second, its literal meaning is ‘family-hood’, so that it brings to the mind of our people the idea of mutual involvement in the family as we know it” [my italics] (Nyerere 1970: 2). It is evidently clear that Nyerere coined the word ujamaa with the intention of conveying the idea that the African traditional understanding of family-hood should underpin human economic relations in independent Tanzania characterized by communal solidarity and collective development opposed to modern forms of exploitation, profit making and acquisitiveness (Nurnberger 1998: 132). Ujamaa was also based on Nyerere’s quest for social justice. In his quest for social justice, Nyerere saw poverty as a common social phenomenon in modern Tanzania that was to be addressed by adopting the traditional humanistic values that existed in African societies prior to the advent of colonialism. His vision for the future was thus based on learning from the traditional African humanistic values of family-hood. As he puts it, “Traditionally we lived as families, with individuals supporting each other and helping each other on terms of equality. We recognized that each of us had a place in the community, and this place carried with it rights to whatever food and shelter was available in return for the use of whatever abilities and energies we had” (Nyerere 1970: 199). The African traditional society was based on the traditional ethos of solidarity whereby people helped each other so that a situation of material disparity was minimized. This African traditional ethos of collectivism was based on the recognition of the place of each individual in the community. The ethos of collectivism was an inbuilt natural instinct within human beings because



the individual was recognized and his or her material needs were collectively met. Since traditional African society was based on an ethos of sharing, Nyerere believed that the modern Tanzanian society should emulate the traditional society in terms of sharing material possessions with those who were destitute. The modern capitalistic idea of justifying individual relentless accumulation of wealth at the expense of the community could not be reconciled with African traditional humanistic egalitarian values which were based on the moral dictum that accumulated material things should be shared with others in society. The spirit of sharing of material possessions became an ethically defining feature of traditional humanistic society. It was partly on these grounds of that Nyerere talked of socialism as an economic system that was ahistorical in human existence. Socialism was an economic system that already existed in traditional African societies that were economically characterized by material equality. Sharing of material possessions, according to Nyerere was the main meaning behind the claim that, “traditionally African society was a socialist society” which Tanzania was aiming at building a form of ‘African socialism’ (Nyerere 1970: 199). In this African socialism discourse, Nyerere’s vision was that of building a modern Tanzania on the foundations of African traditional values of egalitarianism. In this regard it can be said that Nyerere’s vision for ethical leadership was based on promoting the common good on the basis of the values of pre-colonial Tanzanian society. But the question is this: Is it possible to build a modern society on the basis of the values of those who have existed in the past? Shijja Kevin Kuhumab had this to say about Nyerere’s commitment to the vision for the common good, “Ujamaa in this sense means distributing wealth of society essentially within the scope of socio-­ ethical norms cherished by the society. These include: ‘family-hood’, ‘caring’, ‘well-being’, ‘reciprocity’, ‘togetherness’, ‘human-equality’, ‘a sense of security’ and ‘universal hospitality’, terms for the common good that are patently and essentially socio-ethical” (Kuhumab 2015: 7). Nyerere’s vision of ethical leadership through Ujamaa has been criticized by scholars mainly for two reasons. First, he has been criticized for implementing a socio-economic policy that ruined the Tanzania economy because of its anti-modern capitalistic motive, especially the idea that economic growth and national prosperity can only be realized through individual entrepreneurship and accumulation of wealth. For instance, one finds him rebuking the modern capitalistic individual accumulation of wealth as follows, “The creation of wealth is a good thing and something



which we shall have to increase. But it will cease to be good the moment wealth ceases to serve human beings and begins to be served by human beings” (Nyerere 1970: 319). An economic truism that is ignored by Nyerere is that capitalistic economic development cannot be divorced from the practice of endless accumulation of wealth. Here what comes to mind is the old modern liberal capitalist dogma which greedy individuals or morally unsavoury economic relations are the reasons for the flourishing of wealth and the promotion of the common good! Capitalism has excelled very well in the production of wealth because of the free reign which this economic system has given to the profit motive. In the African traditional context the prestige motive has been a stumbling block in the creation of wealth because the individual’s desire to be recognized by the community can easily drain one’s life time servings. Whilst socialism is commensurate with moral values than modern capitalism, it has not been good in creating wealth. Sharing of wealth or redistribution of wealth implies the availability of the wealth to be shared or redistributed. In a social context where there is not enough wealth to be shared, a discourse on sharing wealth becomes unintelligible or such a discourse becomes empty verbiage because to redistribute wealth requires that there is wealth that has been stored or kept somewhere which can be redistributed. It is mainly for this reason that Nyerere’s socio-economic policy of Ujamaa was utopian as it could not be reconciled with modern capitalistic trends that put emphasis on foreign investment and individual private ownership of wealth. In his advocacy of what he called ‘Economic Nationalism’, Nyerere was against the modern capitalistic idea of foreign investment. Thus he had this to say, “Private investment in Africa means overwhelming foreign private investment. A capitalistic economy means a foreign dominated economy. These are the facts of Africa’s situation. The only way in which national control of the economy can be achieved is through the economic institutions of socialism” (Nyerere 1970: 264). Economic nationalism was regarded by Nyerere as an alternative to capitalism which saw as entirely dominated foreign economic forces. In order to overcome this foreign domination of the economy, Nyerere advocated the nationalization of all the economic means of production whereby the government was to act as capitalistic entrepreneur in the national economy whereby all the means of production and private business enterprises were nationalized. The nationalization of the economy was something which Nyerere did out of his own personal conviction of what he thought was good for the people, instead of what Tanzanians themselves wanted.



His vision of Ujamaa was forced on people as they were encouraged to live in communal villages in which they were expected to practise African traditional communalism. In 1976 he promulgated an order required everybody to live in villages (Meredith 2011: 255). In this regard, Nyerere’s vision of Ujamaa did more harm than good to the economy of Tanzania because it was not a vision which was shared by all Tanzanians. However, Nyerere’s vision of ethical leadership was more intelligible in the realm of politics. His political vision was tied up with the ideals of Ujamaa in the sense that he envisaged a post-colonial Tanzanian society whereby those in positions of leadership would see themselves as equal to those they lead. His vision of ethical leadership was that those who are leaders should not enslave their followers in a way that was analogous to masters and servants. In a leadership scenario where leaders see themselves as masters, “[T]he masters have the habit of being served by other people. The wives of masters do not work; they do not cook, or wash clothes, or make their beds. These things are done for them by other people. What these masters are capable of doing is to give instructions to their servants” (Nyerere 1970: 138). For Nyerere being in a position of authority implies a commitment to serving people instead of being served by people. Ethical leadership must thrive at promoting equality between leadership and followers. The principle of egalitarianism not only was about redistribution of wealth in order to promote equality, but also extends into the realm of leadership whereby those in leadership were supposed to see themselves as equal to the people they lead. This understanding of leadership required a change in attitude whereby those who lead should lead by the example of equity in what they do. The master–servant leadership model belonged to the era of colonialism where colonialists relied on their African servants for their personal needs. Such a model was rather parasitic and exploitative because the colonial master did not work and yet she or he enjoyed all the good things of life from the labour of his or her African servants. Mazrui echoed Nyerere in his rebuke of the colonial leadership model of master–servant relationship when he said, “The aristocratic legacy of masters and servants had its adverse consequences for the work ethic in post-colonial Africa, just as it had on industrial relations in Britain. White masters in Africa drinking their gin and tonic leisurely while their servants pulled off their boots—this was the colonial caste which transformed physical labour into a burden of servitude” (Mazrui 1986: 233). The master–servant leadership model had an adverse effect on work ethic in Africa because this model created an impression that one can easily



enjoy the good things of life without working for them. Thus Nyerere’s vision of ethical leadership implied that there should be equity in labour because everybody was supposed to work. Leaders were supposed to see themselves as equal to their followers. This egalitarian vision of leadership was well enunciated when he said, “When you are selected to lead your fellow men, it does not mean that you know everything better than they do. It does not even mean that you are more intelligent than they are— especially the elders” (Nyerere 1970: 140). A leader was thus someone who should be aware of the value of equality with those he or she leads. Such a person was supposed to cherish the virtue of humility. The virtue of humility implies the ability to appreciate value in among all people regardless of their status in life. A virtue of humility requires the cultivation of a life attitude whereby one does not look down on other people. In the ethic of Ubuntu, one is recognized as a person because of other persons, thus implying that one exists in a web of relationships and his or her personhood is recognized on the basis of how she or he relates with others. One can only be a successful leader when she or he realizes that the success of her or his leadership depends on a situation where there is shared vision on what needs to be achieved with a country or organization. For Nyerere leadership was not supposed to be understood as an unfettered opportunity for acquiring material possessions at the expense of the people which one leads. When it comes to acquiring and ownership of material possessions Nyerere believed that leaders should not own material possessions that are beyond the reach of those that are led and he went as far as to make it a policy that leaders of his ruling party TANU were not supposed to own farms: “We have stopped TANU leaders from owning farms. We have taken similar steps with other leaders. If we discover that these leaders have farms, we shall ask them. Yesterday we were all poor. If we hear you have a big farm, we shall ask you how you got it. If a person owns a farm of 3000 acres, he must be aspiring to be a ‘master’” (Nyerere 1970: 141). Nyerere ardently believed and sincerely believed that leaders were there to serve people and to identify themselves with people materially and professionally. For this reason it is not difficult that Nyerere’s vision of leadership was infused in the tradition of African humanistic values of pre-colonial African societies whereby to be leader required that one understood leadership in terms stewardship for the people and the ancestors. He saw his leadership in terms of sharing the common good with people he led. Another virtue which was exuded in Nyerere’s leadership was that of sincerity. Whilst politics as practiced by



politicians is known as a profession that is populated by insincere people who are notorious for double talk and deceptiveness, Nyerere came to be known as a type of a leader who sincerely believed in what he talked and actually practiced the policies he talked about in his own life. He lived a simple life style and was not pretentious in what he talked and did. Though academically eloquent and prolific in writing, he was a leader who remained down to earth because he did not use his brilliant political and philosophical mind to cheat people as it is a common practice among the galaxy of African politicians who have become notorious in deceiving people. It is in his political leadership that was based on the pursuit of the virtue of sincerity to his African socio-economic condition that Nyerere has thus remained a legendary of paragon of social justice. Finally, I want to draw our attention to Nelson Mandela’s vision of leadership. Among all the African leaders and if not all political leaders of the world, Nelson Mandela has remained a luminary political saint.

Nelson Mandela’s Vision of Inclusive Leadership Mandela’s leadership has been admired all over Africa and beyond. The current unprecedented global appreciation of his leadership can only be justified on the basis that it was a personification or epitome of ethical leadership. Mandela was the first black South African president to lead a post-apartheid South African. Taking into account that apartheid was the most diabolical political system the world had ever seen, it is no wonder that the United Nations declared apartheid as ‘A Crime against Humanity’. Whilst I will not go into a detailed description of the diabolical nature of apartheid, my main concern here is to highlight the points which characterized Mandela’s vision of inclusive leadership as well as those factors that contributed to it. Let me start by introducing the reader to a small extract from a speech that was given by Mandela in his plea in mitigation of sentence at the Rivonia Trial: Many years ago, when I was a boy brought up in my village in the Transkei, I listened to the elders of the tribe telling stories about the good old days before the arrival of the white man. …The structure and organization of early African societies in this country fascinated me very much and greatly influenced the evolution of my political outlook. The land, then the main means of production, belonged to the whole tribe and there was no individual ownership whatsoever. (Mandela 1995: 391)



Mandela’s political career involved with him since the early years as he grew in his traditional village in the then Transkei. In these formative years his political consciousness was partly moulded by stories which the elders of the village shared about pre-colonial African societies which were mainly characterized by the practice of an ethic of egalitarianism whereby the land was owned in common. From an African traditional political consciousness, it is rather self-evident that Mandela was going to enter into situation of political conflict which an apartheid political system that confronted him day to day as an averse to the African traditional social norms and values that ultimately sharped his conscience into adulthood and political maturity. We can also deduce from the above quotation that the issue of the land which was expropriated from the Africans was his main primary grievance against the inhumane apartheid illegal regime. Mandela also echoed the views of other African revolutionary nationalists who argued for African socialism on the grounds that in pre-colonial African societies. Unlike the colonial or apartheid society, in pre-colonial African societies, “There were no classes, no rich or poor and no exploitation of man by man. All men were free and equal and this was the foundation of government” (ibid.). Mandela saw the goal of his struggle against apartheid as aimed at reconstruction of a classless society where each person was regarded and treated as equal to any other person. This assertion was an affront against the apartheid government system which was constructed around rules of systematic segregation which were mainly aimed at economically disempowering African people in a way that ultimately turned them into reservoirs of labour in the capitalistic economic system with apartheid. Unlike the apartheid, which did not recognize the humanity of black Africans, pre-colonial African traditional form of government was premised on traditional political values of inclusiveness. As he puts it, “Recognition of this general principle found expression in the constitution of the council, variously called Imbizo or Pitso or Kgotla, which governs the affairs of the tribe. The council was so completely democratic that all members of the tribe could participate in its deliberations. Chief and subject, warrior and medicine man, all took part and endeavoured to influence its decisions” (ibid.). According to Mandela, pre-colonial African society was democratic in the sense that decisions on issues that affected the day to day wellbeing of the tribe were deliberated and discussed in traditional council which was called Imbizo (Zulu) or Kgotla (Sotho/ Tswana). Through these councils, political decisions were made through a process that involved the wider participation of the community. The



decision that was made at such a political body were binding in the sense that future political decisions could only be made on the basis of how such a decision echoed what was decided by the previous Imbizo or Kgotla. In a nutshell, Mandela’s Rivonia speech was obviously intended to show that the apartheid political order and its inhumane policies of exclusion was the antithesis of the African traditional society which raised him and influenced his political outlook about a just and humane democratic society. His Rivonia speech also shows that his resistance against apartheid was the result of the primacy he gave to conscience as it was influenced by the values of his African traditional political upbringing. However, Mandela went on to argue that any rational African person in apartheid South Africa is driven into conflict “between his conscience on the one hand and the law on the other” (Mandela 1995: 392). As a lawyer, Mandela expressed a sense of disgust towards apartheid laws which he found to be in violation of his conscience as well as the conscience of any rational being. Apartheid laws were immoral to that end it was within the domain of his conscience that such laws should be protested and opposed by whatever means. We can also deduced from Mandela’s Rivonia trial speech that his rebellion against the apartheid government and its draconian inhuman laws was based on his conscience rather than ideological conviction. His conscience was ultimately the reason behind his commitment to the struggle against apartheid and its laws. A glimpse into his inclusive vision of leadership can be seen Rivonia trial speech, which to a certain extent encapsulated his ethical leadership as the first president of post-apartheid. In conclusion to this speech he had this to say: During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all person live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. (Mandela 1995: 438)

The above quotation is a synthetic piece from which we can infer Mandela’s vision of ethical leadership. First, Mandela’s life was dedicated to the cause of the struggle against apartheid. Dedicating one’s life to a national cause is a whole mark of self-sacrificing leadership. He was a politician who was endowed with a sincere personality, and as a result he



exuded an image of an embodiment of a principled politician. Second, his moral detest of racial domination went beyond racial stratification—an indispensable congenial ethical outlook for a principled inclusive leadership. As the first president of post-apartheid democratic South Africa, Mandela was more passionate about obliterating the racially divisive legacy of apartheid by making all efforts at his disposal to promote a sense of belonging for everybody across the previously entrenched racial stratification that was left by the legacy of apartheid. Nelson Mandela was a unifying figure for a nation that was put asunder by the then architect of apartheid South Africa, Hendrick Verwoed. He was a reconciling figure between remnants of apartheid and militating nationalism in his own political party, the African National Congress and its alliances. His vision of a post-apartheid South Africa was based on an ethic of inclusiveness in a way that was aimed at a creating a post-apartheid South African society that celebrated racial and religious diversity instead of division, conflicts and animosity which had previously became the international political brand of the then apartheid South Africa. However, it is common knowledge that religion and politics are the most popular human social practices that are very efficient in creating divisions in human social existence. In apartheid South Africa as well as in other parts of post-colonial Africa, some politicians have built colourful political careers by creating and utilizing racial and sometimes religious divisions among the very same people they were supposed to lead. In Mandela’s leadership we had an embodiment of a leadership that created bridges across racial and religious divide that usually thrived on prejudices and stereotypes. Mandela embraced all religions without prior commitment to some religious partisanship. Politically he was able to appoint some figures from the opposition party into his cabinet and whole heartedly entered into dialogue with them on issues which he deemed to be of national importance for the realization of the vision of an inclusive society post-apartheid South African society. The third characteristic of Mandela’s vision of ethical leadership was based on his fervent desire for social harmony. Apartheid society that was politically crafted around a political vision of bigoted racial segregation. In the preceding chapter we saw that harmony was the hallmark of African traditional humanism. Someone endowed with ubuntu will always behave and relates in a way that fosters social or communal harmony. It is no wonder that it was one of the traditional African qualifications for leadership that because an ethical leader was expected to promote social



harmony in his or her leadership instead of fanning divisions and conflicts. In Shona, the word harmony is known as Kunzwanana—mutual understanding. The concept of Kunzwanana does not necessarily imply a mental conceptualization of harmony as such; rather, it means a social or communal existence that is based on virtues such as serenity and tranquillity. Mandela’s demonstrated the virtues of social harmony because he showed no retention of hatred towards his yester political nemesis. His ability to traverse the racial stereotypes of apartheid earned him worldwide recognition as an example of impeccable ethical leadership. In his quest for social harmony, he presented himself as a leader for all the people of South Africa regardless of race, colour or religious affiliation. It does not come as a surprise that his yester persecutors were able to see in him someone who was an embodiment of true leadership. However, what one can learn from the vision of Mandela’s ethical leadership is his skill of improvisation. Whilst he ascended to national leadership for a country that was viciously racially polarized along ethnic and colour lines, he skilfully smoothed those socially destructive effects of five decades of vicious racial polarization into a harmonious democratic society. Through his skill of improvisation Mandela brought a synthesis between the traditional African humanistic values of ubuntu and the democratic values for a new South African post-apartheid society. His vision for an inclusive post-apartheid South African society made it possible for all racial and ethnic groupings to feel safe under his leadership. Since the majority of the electorate was the previously oppressed black people, Mandela could easily have ignored the minority beneficiaries of the apartheid system. The fact that he even passionately reached out to the minority beneficiaries of apartheid echoed his vision of a democratic South Africa where there was ‘no domination of one race by another’ which he so eloquently propounded in his Rivonia trial speech. Finally, Mandela’s vision of leadership was based on not subscribing to any form of ideology. He interacted with capitalists with ease in as much as he interacted with socialists. He was friendly with the rich and the poor alike. His leadership could be described as conciliatory in the sense that he was more interested in ensuring reconciliation and harmony in his country which was previously torn asunder by the racial draconian policies of apartheid. It is mainly because of his conciliatory leadership vision that Mandela was not in favour of his party the African National Congress (ANC) winning a two thirds majority in the first democratic South African general election of 1994. As he put it:



Some in the ANC were disappointed that we did not cross the two-thirds threshold, but I was not one of them. In fact I was relieved; had we won two-thirds of the vote and been able to write a constitution unfettered by input from others, people would argue that we had created an ANC constitution, not a South African constitution. I wanted a true government of national unity. (Mandela 1995: 743)

It is evidently clear that Mandela’s leadership was an embodiment of statesmanship in its truest sense because for him, what mattered was not to win the election with a two thirds majority, but to work harmoniously with political opponents as colleagues for the greater good of national unity. For this reason I called Mandela’s leadership a true embodiment of statesmanship because the impassioned desire for most of our political leaders is to win the national election with resounding majority which ultimately sends the opposition into political oblivion. However, if Mandela did not adopt a conciliatory leadership style, post-apartheid South Africa would have descended into precipice of internal conflict because for a people who had lived under five decades of systematic and brutal racial oppression the instinct for revenge was very real. It is for this reason that the type of leadership that was demonstrated in Mandela’s political career is not easily available in most of our political leaders in the world where violence and revenge are regarded as the hallmark of strong and good leadership.

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Khoza, R. 2005. Let Africa Lead: African Transformational Leadership for 21st Century Business. Johannesburg: Vezubuntu Publishing (Pty) Ltd. Kuhumab, S.K. 2015. In Search of the Common Good in Tanzania: A Hermeneutic of Ujamaa Policy. Chiedza 18 (1): 1–21. Mandela, N.R. 1995. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Macdonald Purnell (PTY) Ltd: Randburg. Mazrui, A.A. 1986. The Africans: A Triple Heritage. London: BBC Publications. ———. 2001. Ideology and African Political Culture. In Explorations in African Political Thought, ed. T. Kiros, 97–131. New York: Routledge. Menkiti, I.A. 2001. Normative Instability as Source of Africa’s Political Disorder. In Explorations in African Political Thought: Identity, Community, Ethics, ed. T. Kiros, 132–149. New York: Routledge. Meredith, M. 2011. The State of Africa: A History of the Continent since Independence. London: Simon & Schuster. Murove, M.F. 2016. African Moral Consciousness: An Inquiry into the Evolution of Perspectives and Prospects. London: Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd. Nkrumah, K. 1970. Africa Must Unite. London: Heineman. Nurnberger, K. 1998. Beyond Marx and Market: Outcomes of a Century of Economic Experimentation. Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publications. Nyerere, J.K. 1970. Freedom and Socialism/Uhuru na Ujamaa: A Selection from Writings and Speeches 1965–1967. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Parrinder, G. 1954. African Traditional Religion. London: SPCK. Prozesky, M.H. 2016. Ethical Leadership Resources in Southern Africa’s Sesotho-­ Speaking Culture and in King Moshoeshoe. Journal of Global Ethics 12 (1): 6–16. South African Council of Churches (SACC). 1986. Hope in Crisis: National Conference Report.


A Academics, 1, 7, 60, 62, 83, 89, 109, 133 Africa, 1, 7, 31, 53, 83, 103, 115–137, 139 African chiefs, 47, 49, 57 African communalism, 84, 85 African context, 1, 12, 53, 61, 62, 66, 91, 140 African cosmology, 147 African countries, 58, 70, 118, 120, 135 African ethical tradition, 7, 14, 27, 61 African ethics, 3, 5–28, 50, 53–81, 85, 144 African governments, 48, 68, 70, 72, 78, 116 African humanism, 3, 6, 21, 89, 94–98, 104–114 African humanistic values, 3, 103–109, 113, 116, 134, 140, 154, 158, 163 African identity, 6, 81, 83–100 African leadership, 84, 139–141, 148, 150

African National Congress (ANC), 74, 75, 162–164 African politicians, 5, 14, 47, 50, 54, 57–59, 73, 74, 78, 83, 85, 89, 104, 107, 109, 110, 113, 115–117, 127, 133, 136, 139, 152, 159 African politics, 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 16, 27, 45–50, 61, 81, 84, 89–92, 137, 139, 150 African post-colonial society, 83, 84 African Renaissance, 135 African socialism, 100, 103, 105–110, 112, 114, 115, 121, 155, 160 African societies, 6, 9, 16, 27, 34, 43, 45, 48, 59, 64, 65, 71–73, 78, 80, 83, 84, 86, 87, 94, 95, 98, 100, 105–108, 116, 128, 135, 140, 145, 150, 153–155, 158–160 African states, 5, 48–50, 57, 58, 68–70, 104, 107, 111, 113, 116–119, 121–123, 126–129, 134, 135, 151, 152

© The Author(s) 2020 M. F. Murove, African Politics and Ethics,




African traditional humanism, 4, 89, 97, 103–114, 153, 154, 162 African traditional leadership, 45–50, 68–70, 79, 140–142, 144, 147 African traditional religion, 6, 8–11, 31–50, 143 African traditional rulers, 49 African traditional societies, 4, 15, 34, 44, 47, 59, 68, 83, 84, 93, 105–108, 116, 153, 154, 161 African traditional values, 6, 27, 28, 59, 103, 150, 155 African traditions, 6, 27, 35, 43, 50, 53–55, 60, 65, 80, 81, 84 African Union (AU), 87, 123, 126, 127, 151–153 African unity, 119–127, 151, 152 Afrikaners, 43, 44, 63, 77, 143 Afro-phobia, 133–137 Afro-phobic, 133–136 Ake, Claude, 57, 58, 62, 64 Alexander, Jocelyn, 69 Amasikho, 8, 12 Anamnestic palaver, 14 Anamnestic solidarity, 12–15 Anamnestic thinking, 13 Ancestors, 8–15, 22, 23, 25, 31–45, 48, 53, 67, 70, 72, 73, 75, 76, 97, 100, 145, 147, 158 Animism, 24, 38, 40, 41 Anthropologists, 37, 38, 40, 42, 83 Anthropology, 131 Apartheid, 16, 44, 46, 62, 63, 74, 75, 77–79, 84, 95, 118, 121, 134, 143, 159–163 Authoritarianism, 79–81 Authority, 4, 5, 21, 31, 32, 35, 38, 45, 47–49, 60, 68–72, 76, 79, 113, 123–126, 141, 142, 145, 151, 157

B Banda, Hastings Kamuzu, 5, 57, 65, 111, 113, 144 Belonging, 23–27, 34, 37, 42, 43, 46, 48, 61, 62, 65, 85, 87–94, 96–98, 109, 133, 134, 136, 141, 143, 144, 162 Belongingness, 8, 10, 17, 23, 24, 42, 97, 142 Bismarck, Otto Von, 2 Bourdillon, Michael, 22, 32, 34, 40, 42, 73, 146, 147 British, 43, 49, 56, 57, 63–65, 69, 74 Bujo, Benezet, 12–14, 17, 24, 67, 147 C Capitalism, 48, 73, 103, 104, 109, 110, 121, 122, 156 Chief, 11, 31–35, 38, 45–49, 56, 57, 64, 66, 68, 70, 72, 73, 77–80, 140, 141, 146, 147, 160 Chiefdom, 32–36, 45, 46, 48, 73, 78, 79 Christianity, 3, 4, 24, 40–43, 84, 96, 100 Collective, 15, 19, 23, 26, 86, 87, 94, 108, 109, 154 Collectivism, 6, 84, 100, 103–114, 154 Colonialism, 1, 6, 20, 25, 39, 40, 46, 49, 50, 54, 55, 58, 59, 61, 64, 65, 67, 69–72, 75, 77, 78, 80, 83, 84, 92, 95, 100, 103–105, 110, 112–114, 116, 118–123, 127–129, 134, 148, 151, 154, 157 Colonial master, 54–56, 119, 121, 123, 129, 157 Colonies, 55, 56, 64, 65 Colonizers, 55, 56, 65, 120, 128, 129 Comaroff, Jean, 48, 49, 68, 69 Comaroff, John, 48, 49, 68, 69


Common belonging, 24, 26, 27, 37, 42, 43, 46, 61, 62, 87–94, 96, 97, 133, 134, 142 Common good, 3, 10, 33, 34, 45, 113, 115, 116, 132, 133, 150, 152, 155, 156, 158 Communal harmony, 15, 19, 85, 97–100, 141, 162 Communal identity, 26, 72, 140 Communal land, 25, 73, 75, 76, 80 Communal leadership, 141 Communication, 14, 35, 100 Communities, 4, 8, 32, 60, 84, 106, 118, 140 Consciousness, 18, 24, 61, 94, 96, 143, 153, 160 Consensus, 135, 141, 142, 144, 145 Continental integration, 113, 122 Co-operation, 6, 17, 115–137 Corruption, 1, 2, 5, 50, 139, 150 Customary law, 55, 64–68, 79, 80 Customs, 13, 48, 49, 55, 64, 65, 127 D Decolonization, 5, 54 Dehumanisation, 16 Democracy, 57, 58, 109, 111 Democratic federation of states, 119 Democratic society, 161, 163 Discourse, 3, 7, 13, 16, 27, 80, 81, 83–85, 92–94, 100, 104, 114, 121, 155, 156 Discrimination, 68, 108, 144 E Economic nationalism, 110, 130, 156 Economics, 1, 3, 5, 15, 16, 27, 32, 33, 35, 50, 57–59, 63, 64, 68, 71, 73, 75, 78, 83, 92, 98, 103–112, 115–124, 126–130,


132, 135, 146, 151, 153–156, 160 Economic underdevelopment, 50, 139 Egalitarian, 25, 100, 103, 105, 107, 150, 154, 155, 158 Ethical leadership, 2, 6, 137, 139–164 Ethics, 1–4, 6, 7, 11–14, 16, 18, 20–22, 24, 26, 27, 42, 53, 57–64, 75, 84, 88–92, 95–97, 103, 107, 115–137, 139, 141 Ethnicity, 44, 57–64, 74, 84, 151 European, 4, 42, 43, 54, 59, 60, 65, 89, 91, 92, 107, 122, 127–129 Exclusive, 43, 63, 92, 93, 143 Expropriation, 25, 63, 70, 71, 74–78 F Federation, 113, 118, 119, 126 Freedom, 74, 75, 86, 98, 110, 118–122, 136 Future, 3, 8, 12, 14, 15, 19, 21, 26, 35, 53, 75, 97, 118, 148–150, 153, 154, 161 Future generations, 149, 150 G Gelfand, Michael, 15, 17, 22, 25, 32, 39, 97, 148 God, 3–5, 9, 10, 21, 22, 25, 35, 36, 38–44, 84, 89, 96, 100, 143 H Harmonious relations, 33, 145 Harmony, 15, 19, 33, 38, 39, 43, 60, 71, 85, 96–100, 141, 145, 147, 161–163 History, 4, 15, 24, 37, 44, 47, 50, 54, 60, 72, 78, 80, 92, 96, 105, 106, 120, 131, 143, 149



Holistic, 22, 46, 90, 147 Homelands, 64, 79, 84, 128 Humanistic values, 47, 84, 93, 100, 103, 104, 106–109, 113, 133, 134, 140, 153, 154 Humanness, 8, 16–21, 88, 95, 96 Human rights, 14, 85–89 I Identity, 6, 8, 19, 23, 25, 26, 37, 41, 46, 47, 50, 61, 69, 70, 72, 73, 81, 83–100, 117, 140, 143 Ideology, 44, 60, 104, 112, 128, 143, 163 Immortality, 8–11, 15, 25, 33–36, 39, 67, 100, 147 Imperialism, 43, 121–123, 128 Improvisation, 13, 14, 163 Inclusive, 10, 41–43, 60, 92, 98, 150, 161, 163 Inclusive leadership, 159–164 Inclusive society, 93, 143, 144, 162 Inclusivity, 24, 43, 92–94 Independence, 41, 46, 50, 68, 69, 73, 104, 110, 112, 116, 118, 119, 121–123, 127, 129, 151 Indigenous, 16, 25, 26, 36, 37, 39, 42–44, 48, 54, 56, 59, 63, 64, 71–76, 78, 120, 135 Indirect rule, 49, 60, 64, 69, 78 Individual, 2, 10, 12, 13, 15–25, 27, 31–33, 40, 64, 71, 73, 85–91, 93, 94, 96–100, 105–110, 116, 117, 119, 120, 124, 131–133, 136, 143, 144, 154–156, 159 Individualism, 19, 23, 86, 87, 96, 97, 99, 100, 103 Individualistic, 86, 94, 96, 109, 110 Individual ontology, 147 Interdependence, 8, 93, 97, 98, 103

J Justice, 39, 65, 66, 68, 107, 118, 150, 154, 159 Just society, 154–159 K Kaunda, Kenneth, 3, 57, 58, 93, 94, 99, 100, 113 Kenyata, Jomo, 108, 113, 144 King, 4, 10, 11, 31–35, 38, 45, 48, 56–58, 70, 72, 73, 77, 78, 140, 141, 145–147 Kingdom, 21, 22, 32–36, 45, 46, 48, 56, 72 Knowledge, 8, 11, 53, 56, 89–92, 120, 129, 143, 162 L Land, 9, 32, 63, 105, 129, 146 Land expropriation, 74, 77 Liberation movements, 75, 120 Life, 2–4, 8, 9, 11, 15, 22, 24, 32, 34–36, 38, 44, 53–55, 57, 58, 63, 86, 90, 91, 94, 96–100, 103, 109, 112, 118, 131, 146–147, 157–159, 161 M Mandela, Nelson, 6, 144, 145, 150, 159–164 Marxism, 103 Material possessions, 155, 158 Mazrui, A., 21, 22, 24, 31, 41, 45, 46, 49, 113, 129, 130, 144, 145, 157 Mbeki, Moeletsi, 127–129 Mbeki, Thabo, 46, 75, 135 Menkiti, Ifeanyi, 22, 87, 94, 142, 148 Meredith, Martin, 112, 150, 157


Mhondoro, 32–35 Militant nationalism, 162 Modern, 13–15, 25, 45–50, 68, 73, 79–81, 93, 100, 103, 109, 110, 112, 116, 121, 131, 140, 144, 146, 148, 154–156 Modern law, 65 Monopoly, 4, 5, 25, 58, 111, 113 Morality, 3, 65, 86, 130, 135 Moral order, 145 Moshoeshoe, 56, 149 Multi-party democracy, 111 Mutual aid, 129–134 N Nationalism, 3, 103, 118, 130, 133, 137, 151–153 Nationalists, 3, 27, 41, 44, 57, 59, 73, 78–80, 85, 93, 103, 104, 107, 110, 111, 113, 115, 121, 160 National unity, 50, 57–59, 111, 113, 145, 152, 164 Native Reserves, 64, 65, 128 Natural environment, 8, 10, 11, 15, 23, 24, 33, 37–39, 97, 145–147 Nature, 11, 13, 24, 37, 38, 40, 41, 65, 66, 71, 85, 89, 90, 97, 98, 108, 131, 159 Neo-colonialism, 113, 119, 121, 123, 151 Nkuruma, Kwame, 46 Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), 48, 71, 116 Nyerere, J. K., 3, 6, 26, 58, 107, 108, 110–113, 123–126, 150, 154–159 O Organization of African Unity (OAU), 86, 87, 120, 129


P Personal interests, 109, 124, 139 Phenomenon, 23, 33, 49, 60, 89, 90, 113, 133–135, 150, 152, 154 Political party, 58, 72, 111, 112, 136, 162 Political power, 1, 2, 4, 31–45, 47–49, 57–59, 61, 68, 78, 110–113, 115–117, 129, 136, 147, 152 Political reconstruction, 49 Political vision, 63, 110, 111, 120, 122, 133, 135, 144, 151, 157, 162 Post-colonial, 1–3, 6, 7, 15, 16, 27, 45–50, 53–81, 83, 84, 93, 103–108, 110, 111, 113, 115–137, 139, 140, 144, 148, 149, 151, 152, 157, 162 Post-independence, 119 Poverty, 1, 2, 5, 6, 55, 75, 114–118, 125–127, 133, 136, 154 Power, 3–5, 31–33, 35, 36, 40, 42, 43, 47, 49, 58, 64–81, 86, 106, 110, 112, 113, 116, 119, 122, 123, 125, 132, 147 Pre-colonial, 40, 45–47, 49, 57, 59, 60, 80, 84, 96, 105, 106, 108, 132, 145, 155, 160 Pre-colonial African societies, 59, 64, 80, 84, 106, 158, 160 Primordial, 24, 47, 61, 65, 89, 131, 152 Prozesky, Martin, 17, 21, 26, 44, 98, 146, 149 R Racial oppression, 164 Racism, 44, 59, 133, 148 Ramose, Mogobe, 16, 17, 88, 95 Ranger, Terrence, 36, 40, 41, 54–57, 59, 60



Recognition, 19, 48, 77, 86, 88, 92–94, 117, 120, 130, 131, 139, 154, 160, 163 Regional integration, 6, 114–137 Regional loyalty, 124, 125 Regional organizations, 116 Relatedness, 18, 21, 22, 34, 103 Relational being, 21, 86 Relationality, 8, 18, 21–28, 37, 39, 91–99, 147 Renaissance, 135 Retraditionalization, 54 Ritual, 8, 10, 13, 32, 34, 39, 43, 55, 145 Rivonia trial, 161, 163 Rural areas, 66, 68, 71, 75, 79 S Self-interest, 15, 22, 125, 150 Selfishness, 97, 124, 136 Sénghor, Leopold, 3, 89–92, 107 Seriti, 99, 146 Shona, 10, 12, 14, 16, 22, 25, 26, 32, 34, 35, 38–40, 45, 95, 97, 99, 131, 144, 146, 163 Short-sighted, 150 Slavery, 20, 95, 148 Solidarity, 12–16, 19, 23, 100, 103, 108, 109, 119–121, 124, 131, 145, 147, 154 South Africa, 43, 44, 62–64, 68, 71, 74, 75, 77–79, 118, 133–137, 143–145, 149, 150, 161–164 South African Law Commission, 67, 68 Sovereignty, 33, 116, 117, 119, 126, 129, 151–153 Spirit, 9–11, 14, 15, 24, 32–35, 38, 39, 42, 44, 55, 67, 73, 75, 87, 100, 105, 106, 129, 130, 153, 155

Spirit mediums, 33, 35, 39 Spiritual, 9, 13, 25, 31–33, 35, 43, 72, 90, 107, 143, 145 Spirituality, 33 Statesmanship, 164 Strydom, Hans, 44, 63 T Taboos, 10, 33, 38, 147 Tanzania, 58, 112, 113, 118, 123, 126, 130, 132, 154, 155, 157 Taylor, Charles, 88 Toure, Seko, 3, 109 Tradition, 6–9, 11–14, 25, 27, 28, 35, 41, 43, 50, 53–81, 84, 144 Traditional African leadership, 140, 141 Traditional authorities, 31, 38, 47–49, 69–72, 76 Traditional courts, 65–68 Traditional humanism, 4, 89, 97, 103–114, 153, 154, 162 Traditional leaders, 25, 38, 48, 68–70, 72–80, 147 Traditional leadership, 33, 45–50, 68–70, 78–81, 106, 140–141 Traversing, 153 Tribalism, 59–61, 63 Twineyo-Kamugisha, Elly, 132 U Ubuntu, 8, 16–23, 26, 28, 41, 88, 94–99, 134, 158, 162, 163 Ujamaa, 107, 112, 126, 150, 154–157 Ukama, 22, 24, 26, 34, 39, 97, 98 United States of America (USA), 118, 119, 129, 136 Uzuku, Elechuku, 24


V Vanguard party, 113 Verwoed, Hendrick, 162 Vision, 6, 42, 61, 63, 75, 105, 108, 110, 111, 117, 118, 120, 122, 123, 127, 130, 132–135, 141, 144, 150–164 Visionary leadership, 149, 150 W Wealth, 36, 71, 75, 80, 103, 105, 108, 109, 150, 155–157 Whitehead, Alfred North, 18 White people, 20, 63, 95 Wilkins, Ivor, 44, 63 Wiredu, Kwasi, 141

X Xenophobia, 133, 136 Z Zimbabwe, 10, 16, 22, 32, 35, 36, 38–40, 46, 57, 66, 67, 69, 73, 96, 97, 99, 110, 118, 131, 135, 144, 146 Zohar, Donar, 90 Zulu, 8, 12, 16, 19, 22, 27, 76, 77, 94, 95, 131, 160 Zvarevashe, Ignatius, 38 Zwelithini, Goodwill, 74, 76, 77