Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Practical Peacemaking Wisdom from Africa: Reflections on Ubuntu

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Practical Peacemaking Wisdom from Africa: Reflections on Ubuntu

Article excerpt

This study examines the cultural world-view known as Ubuntu which highlights the essential unity of humanity and emphasizes the importance of constantly referring to the principles of empathy, sharing and cooperation in our efforts to resolve our common problems. The discussion will focus on how Archbishop Desmond Tutu utilized the principles of Ubuntu during his leadership of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This study will also outline the five stages of the peacemaking process found among Ubuntu societies, including: acknowledgement of guilt, showing remorse and repenting, asking for and giving forgiveness, and paying compensation or reparation as a prelude to reconciliation. Potential lessons for peace and reconciliation efforts are highlighted with the premise that the Ubuntu approach to the building of human relationships can offer an example to the world.

Culture and Peacemaking

There has been an increasing interest in the role that culture plays in determining human relations, and in the social sciences we are beginning to witness a growing focus on the impact of a culture of peacemaking (1-4). Every society since the beginning of time has developed its own mechanisms and institutions for managing disputes in a way that preserves the integrity and fabric of the society. It should come as no surprise therefore that cultural approaches for managing disputes around the world will play a vital role in promoting peace and social order within communities and even nations. In the case of South Africa, a difficult political situation was addressed through various peace-building institutions and mechanisms for governance.

These helped the people of this country to transcend the bitterness, hatred and suspicion of the past and to make the transition to a more stable-albeit still imperfect--political order. There has been a growing interest in the cultural values and attitudes held by South Africans that enabled a spirit of forgiveness and a willingness to move beyond the legacy of the apartheid state. From the outset, Desmond Tutu was of the conviction that as far as South Africa as a nation-state was concerned, there could be 'no future without forgiveness' (5). Informed by his own adherence to the African world-view of Ubuntu, Tutu, as Chairman of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was able to provide leadership, advice and guidance to his fellow countrymen and women in the difficult and precarious transition through which the country was passing.

What are the lessons that can be drawn from this notion of Ubuntu? In particular, how can Ubuntu contribute towards the ongoing debates among practitioners and researchers of peace as to how culture can also inform our efforts to implement practical and effective conflict resolution initiatives?

Conflict and the Revival of Values for Peacemaking

People derive their sense of meaning from their culture. What does it mean to be human? What is--or ought to be-the nature of human relations? These notions feed into the attitudes and values that we choose to embrace, which in turn determine how we interact with each other. Cultural attitudes and values therefore provide the foundation for the social norms by which people live. Through internalizing and sharing these cultural attitudes and values with their fellow community members, and by handing them down to future generations, societies can-and do-re-construct themselves on the basis of a particular cultural image.

When we survey various parts of the world we are confronted with images and cultures of violence. Societies appear to be tearing themselves apart and the attitudes and values in these societies seem to be based on self-interest, private accumulation and the competitive drive for power and resources. This 'cultural logic' promotes exclusion on a fundamental level and feeds a cycle of poverty, debt and economic marginalization. …

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