Federalism, Economic Development, Science and Technology for a United States of Africa: An Ubuntu-Clustering Approach
Bangura, Abdul Karim, The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)
Ubuntu-clustering will be an innovative approach for a vibrant economic development policy based on the concept known as "cluster-building" couched within the tenets of ubuntu. An Ubuntu-cluster will initiate the networking of all participants in a value-added chain. The objective is to bundle the potentials and competencies for increasing the innovation power and competitiveness of the partners in a cluster. Given Internet technology, even business and government networking in rural areas can obtain a driving force. Internet technologies such as infrastructure, applications, platforms, and broadband can enable the business processes among companies, academic institutions, research institutes and governments to be networked. Ebusiness and E-government/E-administration cause fundamental structural changes of the private and public sectors.
Given this reality, there is a need for a continental economic technology approach to spur sustainable economic development in a United States of Africa. This need is taken into account in Ubuntu-clustering. The various geographical regions in Africa in an Ubuntu-cluster can be networked by processes that are more standardized and so able to be supported by online applications. The Ubuntu-cluster will require a central infrastructure and services. Knowledge management, E-learning, E-marketplaces, personnel management and E-government will be the main processes and services of an Ubuntu-cluster.
This essay, as its title indicates, is an attempt to show how Ubuntu-clustering can be used to spark sustainable economic development in a United States of Africa. It begins with an explication of the tenets of ubuntu. This is followed by a discussion of the concept of "clusterbuilding." After that, an Ubuntu-clustering strategy for a United States of Africa is suggested. In the end, a conclusion is drawn. Before doing all this, however, it behooves me to note that the scientific notion of "clustering" is not new, although Ubuntu-clustering is.
Scientific clustering emerged as an important statistical application in the early 1980s as researchers studying similarly situated entities employed the Cluster Analysis methodology: a number of techniques that are utilized to create a classification. A clustering method is a multivariate statistical procedure that empirically forms "clusters" or groups of highly similar entities. It starts with a dataset containing information about a sample of entities and attempts to reorganize these entities into relatively homogenous "clusters" or groups (Aldenderfer and Blashfield, 1984:7).
Based on the premise that it "brings the spirit of Ubuntu to the software world," the Ubuntu distribution of the Linux computer operating system is inspired by the concept. Former United States President Bill Clinton employed the term during his speech at the 2006 British Labour Party conference in the United Kingdom to explain why society is vital. The concept is the founding philosophy of the Ubuntu Education Fund, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) working with orphans and vulnerable children in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The Boston Celtics, champions of the 2008 National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States, have chanted ubuntu when breaking a huddle since the start of the 2007-2008 season. Ubuntu Cola is a soft drink made with Fairtrade sugar from Malawi and Zambia. Ubuntu is the theme of the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church (in the United States), whose logo includes the text "I in You and You in Me."
The concept of ubuntu is illustrated in the film In My Country about the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission starring Samuel L. Jackson and Juliette Binoche. The concept also inspired the title of the documentary film I Am Because We Are directed by Nathan Rissman and produced by Raising Malawi founder Madonna (Wikipedia, 2009). So, what is all this talk about ubuntu?
To begin with, ubuntu is a word from the Southern African Nguni language family (IsiNdebele, IsiSwati/IsiSwazi, IsiXhosa and IsiZulu) meaning humanity or fellow feeling; kindness (http:www.wordreference.com). In the Shona language, the majority spoken African language in Zimbabwe, ubuntu is unhu maning the same. In Kinyarwanda, the mother tongue in Rwanda, and in Kirundi, the mother tongue in Burundi, ubuntu means, among other things, "human generosity" as well as humanity. In Runyakitara, a collection of language varieties spoken by the Banyankore, Banyoro, Batooro and Bakiga of Western Uganda and also the Bahaya, Banyambo and others of Northern Tanzania, obuntu refers to the human characteristics of generosity, consideration and humaneness towards others. In Luganda, the language of the Baganda in Central Uganda, obuntu means being humane and refers to the same characteristics (Wikipedia, 2009).
By drawing from many works that have dealt with the concept of ubuntu and similar African thoughts on communalism, I (Bangura, 2005) deduced that ubuntu serves as the spiritual foundation of African societies. It is a unifying vision or worldview enshrined in the maxim umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu: i.e. "a person is a person through other persons." This traditional African aphorism articulates a basic respect and compassion for others. It can be interpreted as both a factual description and a rule of conduct or social ethic. It both describes the human being as "being-with-others" and prescribes what that should be.
Also, from the consulted works (for these works, see Bangura, 2005), at least three major tenets of ubuntu can be delineated. The first major tenet of ubuntu rests upon its religiosity. While Western Humanism tends to underestimate or even deny the importance of religious beliefs, ubuntu or African Humanism is decidedly religious. For the Westerner, the maxim, "A person is a person through other persons," has no obvious religious connotations. S/he will probably think it is nothing more than a general appeal to treat others with respect and decency. However, in African tradition, this maxim has a deeply religious meaning. The person one is to become "through other persons" is, ultimately, an ancestor. By the same token, these "other persons" include ancestors, who are extended family. Dying is an ultimate homecoming. Not only must the living and the dead share with and care for one another, but the living and the dead depend on one another.
This religious tenet is congruent with the daily experience of most Africans. For example, at a calabash, an African ritual that involves drinking of African beer, a little bit of it is poured on the ground for consumption by ancestors. Many Africans also employ ancestors as mediators between them and God. In African societies, there is an inextricable bond between humans, ancestors and the Supreme Being. Therefore, ubuntu inevitably implies a deep respect and regard for religious beliefs and practices.
The second major tenet of ubuntu hinges upon its consensus building. African traditional cultures have an almost infinite capacity for the pursuit of consensus and reconciliation. African style democracy operates in the form of (sometimes extremely lengthy) discussions. Although there may be a hierarchy of importance among the speakers, every person gets an equal chance to speak up until some kind of an agreement, consensus, or group cohesion is reached. This important aim is expressed by words like simunye ("we are one": i.e. "unity is strength") and slogans like "an injury to one is an injury to all."
The desire to agree within the context of ubuntu safeguards the rights and opinions of individuals and minorities to enforce group solidarity. In essence, ubuntu requires an authentic respect for human/individual rights and related values, and an honest appreciation of differences.
The third major tenet of ubuntu rests upon dialogue, with its particularity, individuality and historicality. Ubuntu inspires us to expose ourselves to others, to encounter the differences of their humanness in order to inform and enrich our own. Thus understood, umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu translates as "To be human is to affirm one's humanity by recognizing the humanity of others in its infinite variety of content and form." This translation of ubuntu highlights the respect for particularity, individuality and historicality, without which a true African communal paradigm cannot reemerge.
The ubuntu respect for the particularities of the beliefs and practices of others is especially emphasized by the following striking translation of umuntu ngumentu ngabantu: "A human being through (the otherness of) other human beings." Ubuntu dictates that, if we were to be human, we need to recognize the genuine otherness of our fellow humans. In other words, we need to acknowledge the diversity of languages, histories, values and customs, all of which make up a society.
Ubuntu's respect for the particularity of the other is closely aligned to its respect for individuality. But the individuality which ubuntu respects is not the Cartesian type. Instead, ubuntu directly contradicts the Cartesian conception of individuality in terms of which the individual or self can be conceived without thereby necessarily conceiving the other. The Cartesian individual exists prior to, or separately and independently from, the rest of the community or society. The rest of society is nothing but an added extra to a pre-existent and selfsufficient being.
This "modernistic" and "atomistic" conception of individuality underscores both individualism and collectivism. Individualism exaggerates the seemingly solitary aspects of human existence to the detriment of communal aspects. Collectivism makes the same mistake on a larger scale. For the collectivist, society comprises a bunch of separately existing, solitary (i.e. detached) individuals.
Contrastingly, ubuntu defines the individual in terms of his/her relationship with others. Accordingly, individuals only exist in their relationships with others; and as these relationships change, so do the characters of the individuals. In this context, the word "individual" signifies a plurality of personalities corresponding to the multiplicity of relationships in which the individual in question stands. Being an individual, by definition, means "being-with-others." "With-others" is not an additive to a pre-existent and self-sufficient being; instead, both this being (the self) and the others find themselves in a whole wherein they are already related. This is all somewhat boggling for the Cartesian mind, whose conception of individuality must now move from solitary to solidarity, from independence to interdependence, from individuality visà- vis community to individuality à la community. In African Peace Paradigms (2008), I explore the following five African cases that are undergirded by ubuntu tenets: (1) the Transformative Impact of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission; (2) Ameliorating the Pains and Cicatrix of the War in Liberia through Bartee; (3) the Road to Recovery for Former Child Soldiers via the Ritual Bath in Sierra Leone; (4) the Gacaca Peace Initiative in Rwanda; and (5) Monarchical Rule in Swaziland. In a more recent essay titled "African Peace Paradigms: Examples from Barack Obama" (in press), I examine the ubuntu underpinnings in some of President Obama's discourse and actions.
The Cluster-building Concept
In a series of six papers (2004a, 2004b, 2005a, 2005b, 2006a, 2006b), Ute Hansen points out that the goal of a policy that is geared towards cluster-building is to support regional networks of competitive and cooperative actors in a cluster. An economic cluster initiates and pushes the networking of all participants in a value-added chain, which are companies, institutions such as universities and research institutes, customers, suppliers, employees, representatives of interest groups, and the public sector. A cluster consists of independent organizations that strive for economic growth and efficiency. In accordance with the concept of cluster-building, it is the intensity of the interaction of the actors, not the individual actors, that has a positive effect on the competitiveness of a regional cluster.
The focus of cluster analysis then is the regional or geographic agglomeration of networked organizations and individuals. Efficiency and specialization are derived because the geographic concentration of firms in internationally successful industries often occurs as the influence of the individual determinants in the "diamond" and their mutual reinforcement are heightened by the close geographic proximity within a region. A concentration of rivals, customers, and suppliers will promote efficiencies and specialization. Even more important is the influence of geographic concentration on improvement and innovation.
The cluster-building concept inherits a new dimension because the innovative time-technologies provide new technological possibilities to support the process of cluster-building. Independent of time and location, the actors of a cluster are able to take part in information, communication and transaction processes with internal and external partners of a cluster. The ability of a cluster to be competitive hinges upon its capacity to digitalize the internal cluster processes and the processes among different clusters. Thus, the competitive advantages of a regional and local clusterbuilding are enforced by the digitalization of the cluster processes. The concept of local and geographic clustering has to be extended by the cluster-building concept.
A paradox concerning regional clustering and the process of globalization implicitly undergird the cluster-building approach. Since the classical factors of production are now more accessible due to globalization, competitive advantage in advanced industries is increasingly determined by differential knowledge, skills, and rates of innovation that are embodied in skilled people and organizational routines. The development of skills and the important influences on the rate of improvement and innovation have become local. The paradox is that as global competition becomes more open, the home base becomes more, not less, significant.
Processes of knowledge management and learning are increasingly being supported by information and communication technology (ICT). As a result, the competitiveness of a regional cluster in the global market will depend on the extent to which the cluster specific process of knowledge management and learning are standardized and digitized. Employing E-knowledge management and E-learning applications will allow the cluster to concentrate on the cluster specific and regional competitive factors described in the paradox of regional clustering and the process of globalization.
A cluster-building approach of a regional economic and technological policy means, on the one hand, a digitized network of the actors of a process-oriented cluster organization and, on the other hand, a digitized network of different clusters. Consequently, distinction should be made between internal and external processes.
A cluster is characterized by a critical mass of actors in a value-added chain that can be focused on technology, processes, or industries. Thus, cluster-building will yield the following positive effects: (a) accelerate the distribution of knowledge, (b) reduce transaction costs, (c) provide for an infrastructure, (d) produce economies of scale, (e) cause external economies, (f) produce economies of specialization, (g) stimulate competition and cooperation, and (h) enforce the internationalization of the economic and cluster-specific relations.
The focus of a cluster policy then is the potential growth of a regional cluster. The acceleration of the innovation processes fostered by cooperation and competition leads to increased employment and growth in the region. An all-embracing cluster has to take into account and to balance out business, economic, technological, employment and educational objectives in order for a management instrument to be applied that meets these requirements. Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton's "balanced scorecard" (1996) is a management instrument that can be applied to delineate a concept for a comprehensive cluster strategy. The outcome will be a strategic frame for cluster-building that is transferable to all regional cluster initiatives or strategies.
Ubuntu-clustering Strategy for a United States of Africa
What I suggest here is a prototype cluster that would enable various entities/actors in a United States of Africa to manage critical aspects of their operations from a single interface. The Ubuntu-cluster aims to identify some possible solutions to sustain and support a federation. Thus, the Ubuntu-cluster will entail tools designed to pull down geographical distances and facilitate information and knowledge sharing. The general key elements are (a) geographical concentration, (b) specialization, (c) multiples actors, and (d) critical mass. The main challenges for the Ubuntu-cluster are globalization and dematerialization, both of which call for radical redefinitions of physical proximity (local or global) and cultural identity (new or old). These developments have created the need for social or indigenous knowledge preservation while at the same being open to internationalization.
I recommend three project steps. The first step is to set up a model of the Ubuntu-cluster and test it. The second step is to implement the model, and I suggest the use of action research methodology: i.e. research that involves the active participation or inclusion of groups under study (for more on this technique, see, for example, Bangura and McCandless, 2007). The final step is to evaluate the outcomes of the model in order to be able to replicate it in similar circumstances.
As represented in Figure 1, I identify 14 potential clusters that can be digitized into a network for the Ubuntu-clustering strategy: (1) government/administration, (2) geographical, (3) higher education and research institutes, (4) customers/population, (5) commodities, (6) interest/political pressure groups, (7) communications, (8) security, (9) transportation, (10) internationalization, (11) health, (12) tourism, (13) religious, and (14) refugees. The following subsections entail brief descriptions of these clusters.
Indeed, there is there is possibility to interlink the preceding clusters-in essence, creating metaclusters. But to do so without first piloting one and then a few clusters could lead to some fuzzy connections and/or miss connections that may not be obvious.
As Brian Levy (2004:5), among many other observers, points out, when they got their independence, many African countries inherited governance structures with strong trappings of both formal political and bureaucratic institutions. These seemingly richly articulated formal institutions were nothing more than a shell reflecting a combination of colonial legacy and highminded aspirations of independence. Absent from all this was the capacity of many African states to structure, beyond a narrow urban segment, political interests in a way that was supportive of a developmental project.
The short-term consequence was that the mode of governance shifted quickly from a formal system of checks and balances to a de facto-and, in many countries, also in part de jure- system of patrimonial rule. During the 1970s and the 1980s, neopatrimonialism appeared to provide a stable, albeit not dynamic, form of rule. Eventually, however, slow-moving, but strong, forces were bound to unravel the neopatrimonial framework (Levy, 2004:5).
One area of governance decay was in the bureaucracy. At independence, most African bureaucracies were governed by formal rules and initially subject to relatively slight pressure from informal interest groups. The rise of neopatrimonialism shifted the mode of bureaucratic governing from the clarification, monitoring, and enforcement of formal rules to informal rules set without transparency, and sometimes increasingly capriciously, by the political leaders. The inevitable result was a decline in bureaucratic performance. This decline in turn influenced economic performance by affecting policymaking, regulation, and service delivery. Neopatrimonialism generally operated by conferring discretionary rents on favored allies, ignoring the impact of rentier policies on economic growth, the efficiency of public services, or the quality of business regulation. The outcomes, which were evident in country after country, included the disruption of markets, rising costs of doing business, urban bias, and increased protectionism. In some countries, the neopatrimonial downward spiral led to state collapse; in others, domestic political intervention preempted the cycle of decline (Levy, 2004:5).
In a United States of Africa, mechanisms for nurturing a vibrant African style consensual democratic governance (for details, see Muiu and Martin, 2009) will entail what Ladipo Adamolekun points out in his book, Public Administration in Africa (2002), one of the very few books on the subject. The first mechanism is rule of law which, when underpinned by an independent court system, implies a predictable legal framework that helps to ensure settlement of conflicts between the state and individuals on the one hand and among individuals or groups on the other. The second mechanism is freedom of expression and association that must not only be enshrined in a constitution but must also be respected. The third mechanism is electoral legitimacy that must be derived from periodic open, competitive, free, and fair elections that provide to the elected political executives a mandate to govern.
The fourth mechanism is accountability and transparency that makes leaders, both elected and appointed, to be responsive to the demands of the governed. The fifth and final mechanism is development-oriented leadership which requires the leader to be committed to the development of the entire society over which s/he rules, ensuring the formulation and implementation of policies geared toward enhancing the quality of life of all the citizens. These mechanisms will mean an end to military coups and civil wars in Africa. The military can be professionalized and used to help meet the basic human needs of the populace via a government/administration cluster.
Geographically speaking, as Ali A. Mazrui (1986) points out, three definitions have dominated the discourse on the where Africa is.