Ubuntu, the philosophy of complete happiness

Desmond tutu

“I am because we belong to each other”. This sentence is the concept of Ubuntu, a fundamental philosophy that arose from the African continent and now it is getting following in Brazil and several other countries, it is influencing social movements, political parties, professionals from a large number of fields. The origin of this Ubuntu expression expresses to the languages spoken by diverse people and nations in Sub-Saharan Africa, such as the Bantus. Although, the notion of Ubuntu gained notoriety during the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, inspiring Nelson Mandela to promote a policy for national reconciliation.

“Different from the vision of modernity that implies the destruction of tradition, Mandela based his traditions on creating a new model, where a person is only happy if the other person is happy too”, explains the historian Paulino de Jesus, professor at the State University of Santa Catarina (UDESC) and president of the Brazilian Association of Black Researchers. “Mandela said that riches only exist for one person if he/she enriches other people too. Which means, we need to have a positive impact on the community”, the philosopher Renato Nogueira reminds us, professor for the Post-Graduate Program on Philosophy at the Rural Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRRJ) and researcher at the Laboratory for Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous Studies (Leafro). “In the Ubuntu philosophy, the individual value of being a human being is measured by the collective impact that he/she causes on society”.

Nelson Mandela

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together as a group”. That ancient African proverb is expressed in the Ubuntu ethics or philosophy when it speaks about living in community. “Ubuntu is an idea that is based on the point of view on the world that some of the diverse Bantu people understand as the existence of people, and everything that exists in the world is completely interconnected and interdependent”, confirms the philosopher Wanderson Flor do Nascimento, professor at the Post-Graduate course in Bioethics in the Philosophy Department in the University of Brasilia (UNB). “Thus, the idea of community is quite different than the one we know in the western world, as we are members of a set of individuals who live together or who relate only for some specific reason”.

According to Wanderson Flor, the community for diverse traditional African people is a fundamental unit that adds identity and meaning to the people who live in it, have already lived in it and who will live in it in the future — so that the very idea of the individual or “I” is very different from what we understand in the western world. “I need to consider what the impact of an action now and whatever is still to come”, explains the researcher Renato Noguera. “The notion of interdependence in the Ubuntu philosophy understands that future generations are the legacy we have received from other generations and the people who live in the same historical time as us are interdependent in our actions. Which means, nobody produces anything by him/herself, no community is supported by itself, unless, it relates to other communities”.

Expressions such as “agreement”, “consensus”, and “cohesion” are considered as key-elements for the activities of political groups that are inspired by the Ubuntu philosophy. “We have chosen the Ubuntu philosophy as one of our roots, by a political decision and the commitment to the construction of a thought that breaks away from western logic, subject to being self-centered and exacerbated individualism”, says the official manifest from the “Movimento Cidadanista RAiZ” (Root Citizenship Movement), a political group created in Brazil in 2015 inspired by experimental political organizations in Europe, such as PODEMOS, SYRIZA and LIVRE.

Renato Noguera

The common repertories of society are resolute but they are not enough. In order to be able to have a new social model, it is necessary for a society to more interested, more harmonic whereas we are able to manage our conflicts better”, confirms Renato Noguera. “The role of the political community is to be able to articulate these interests favoring the community in general. In the Ubuntu ethics, democracy is viewed not as a dictatorship of the majority, but as the continual insertion of rights”, tells Paulino de Jesus. For him, the Ubuntu way of thinking helps society to assume what it needs is to recognize that it is not equal. “When society recognizes that the result from these inequalities, it has the commitment to propose the facing of these inequalities by way of affirmative action programs”.

A concept on technological and administrative service

The universe of computer science is also part of the Ubuntu philosophy, that beginning in the 1970s, when the free software movement started, North American university professors worked on this concept “There is a central freedom to make, copy, distribute, execute, and improve software. Which means: Free software needs to respect the freedom of the community it is part of”, explains Ivan Oliveira, president of the administrative council for the Institute of Information Technology and Communication — ITIC, a non-governmental organization focused on disseminating free software in Brazil. According to him, these computer programs have a very rapid innovation curve, they are called proprietary systems and they are paid. “While a single company is responsible for all enhancements in a program, free software is not only free, but there is a community ready and willing to improve it and distribute these improvements”, he says. An example of free software is Ubuntu, created in 2004 as an operating system, the program that makes the computer run, nowadays, and there is a community made up by about 25 million people.

Besides computer science and politics, there are other fields of knowledge that employ elements from the Ubuntu philosophy, such as administration. This growth is seen with a certain amount of skepticism by the researcher Wanderson Flor. “The hard task, according to Ubuntu principles, is far from being applied in techniques in nature that seek to produce means for subsistence on the one hand and accumulation on the other”, he reveals. “The African continent continues being usurped and its riche, and in this case intellectual wealth; they are used for purposes that are unrelated to the meanings and thoughts originally expressed by the people in this continent and their own ideas”. On the one hand, the emergence of the Ubuntu philosophy arises at a historical moment opposed to the negative side of modernity. “In a world where you see a positive form of competiveness, as many times, it takes on a form that it is not only competition, but also the trend to weaken the adversary, as these (Ubuntu) strategies seek the collaboration and solidarity as a way of seeking a more harmonious and less destructive of co-existence”.

The notion of Ubuntu was already around in 1944, in the manifest of the movement that created the youth league in the African National Congress (ANC), the party from Nelson Mandela. The text says that ‘contrary to the white man, the African wants the universe as the organic oneness that tends to harmony and in which the individual parties exist only as aspects of the universal unity’ (free translation by translator).

“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, supports others, and is not threatened when others are capable and good, based on a self-confidence that comes from the knowledge that he or she belongs to some bigger and it is decreased when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed”. Sections from the book, ‘No Future without Forgiveness’, by Desmond Tutu.