In my book ‘Education, Disability and Armed Conflict’, I consider Ubuntu to be Africa’s greatest gift to the world. You might be asking, what is Ubuntu? Is it even an English word? Ubuntu does not have an equivalent in English language. To get a glimpse of what it might mean, let me share with you this story.

An anthropologist proposed a game to the kids in an African tribe. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told the kids that whoever got there first won the sweet fruits. When he told them to run they all took each others’ hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats. When he asked them why they had run like that as one could have had all the fruits for himself they said: “UBUNTU! How can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?

Allow me to highlight three things from this story which throw some light on the meaning of Ubuntu. First, the children took each other’s hands. In doing this, they made links with their hands. In effect, Ubuntu implies that, as human beings, we are a bundle of life. As the the Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu has this to say, ‘my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours’.

Second, the children ran together, sat together, and enjoyed the fruits together. For me, this means, Ubuntu is living in a community, staying in a community, and being for the community. So, my humanness does not end with my skin. Individualism is a contradiction in terms. My humanness can fully be lived in a community. I am fully alive in a community. I can therefore confidently say ‘I am because we are and since we are therefore I am’.

Third and last, the final question: ‘How can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?’ This suggests to me that happiness is a collective experience. You cannot be happy alone. Full happiness comes in knowing, working towards, and experiencing the happiness of others.

My question to you is: What implications does this understanding of Ubuntu have on your life? Join me on 21st July at the D.A.D conference as I discuss the relevance of Ubuntu.

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