photo: a Millenium Villages project Ubuntu is an age-old African word meaning humaneness, respect, generosity, caring, sharing and harmony with all creation. As an ideal it promotes cooperation between individuals, cultures and nations. The English terms "commonwealth" or "right sharing" cover some but not all of its meanings. The Zulu proverb umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu translates as "we become a person through persons," or more deeply, "I am because we are".
Extract from section 8, WCC Synthesis of Discussions 25-26 June 2007 in Geneva, Switzerland:
"The ubuntu economy does not promote private ownership; everyone in the community has access to resources according to his/her needs. It is an economy of "enough". In addition to relationality (which is in line with feminist ethical thought), redistribution of resources and restoration are very much part of the ubuntu economy.
"While the neoliberal market economy is based on principles of self-interest and competition, the ubuntu economy is based on cooperation and solidarity... does not define wealth solely in terms of income. It is imbedded in relationships among and between peoples and the earth. More specifically, it advances a non-utilitarian connection with the earth.
"...the ubuntu economy is not the same as communism and socialism. For one, it is not a state-imposed or legislated way of living. Rather, it is more of a consciousness of how one's way of living affects others.
"In more practical terms, ubuntu is manifested in the community-based social security systems that still thrive in African villages. Without these systems, African people would not have been able to function and survive wars, famines and other natural disasters, the economic hardships accompanying structural adjustment imposed by international financial institutions, and the HIV-AIDs pandemic, among others. However, current government reforms – based on Western enlightenment and neoliberal economic thought – are increasingly undermining these community-based social security systems.
"Notions of ubuntu are present not just in the continent of Africa, but in many traditional and indigenous communities and in other societies (including in the West). These expressions, however, have been weakened, resulting in today's clear and pressing challenges: rising inequality and massive ecological destruction.
"A major limitation of the ubuntu economy is its present confinement to the micro level. Important questions arise: how do we translate ubuntu principles into macro structures, e.g. global trade and financial systems? How can we prevent the abuse of power especially at this level (e.g. in light of the Eastern European socialist experience and also from an ecological vantage)? How do we elaborate the concept of ubuntu given new developments in the international arena, e.g. emerging South-South relationships? In short, how can we be more innovative?
"As churches, one of our key tasks is to find the signs of hope, and these are usually at the micro level. We must continue to raise and communicate these peoples' stories."
See also Ubuntu philosophy in Wikipedia and in an article by Dirk J. Louw; work of the youth group Ubuntu in Soweto-Thokoza, South Africa, involving green jobs, ecotourism and community gardens; the UN Millenium Villages Project started in 2004 by economist Jeffrey Sachs and now active in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda, combining aid, food, healthcare, education, earthcare, and community consultation; Judge J.Y. Mokgoro, Ubuntu and the Law in South Africa; and at a global level, Ubuntu World Forum of Civil Society Networks, founded in 2001. World Council of Churches made a Nov 2007 Dar es Salaam declaration For an ubuntu experience in global economy as part of a continuing PWE world consultation.