"Ubuntu: Ideology or Promise?"

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Michael Onyebuchi Eze

"Ubuntu: Ideology or Promise?"


Paper presented at:

Intercultural Humanism: Challenges, Experiences, Visions, Strategies

10-11 September 2010, Christ Church College, Oxford


Convened by The Berendel Foundation in association with the Modern European History Research Centre, University of Oxford


Abstract: The generic conception of ubuntu  - so understood - is that it is a theory of African humanism. Many reasons suggest however, that its application and understanding in the contemporary socio-political imagination in societies where ubuntu is preached, is merely as an ideological praxis. Its gravitation towards ideology limits its availability as a genuine ethical practice. Viewed as an ideology, its normativity is also contradicted by the very same practices that constitute ubuntu. How do we reconcile ubuntu for example, with the genocide in Burundi and Rwanda? The deeply entrenched political corruption in contemporary Africa? Or even Robert Mugabe who justified his chaotic land seizure in Zimbabwe on the basis of ubuntu principle? This paper underscores the limitations and dangers imposed upon ubuntu as an ideology, and seeks to examine different ways in which ubuntu may be applied as a contemporary African humanism that is not tied to ideology. Redeeming it from the shackles of ideology enables its availability for healthy humanism.


Short Bio: Michael Onyebuchi Eze received his PhD in intellectual history from the University of Witten-Herdecke, Germany.  He teaches post-colonial African studies at the Goethe University of Frankfurt and the University of Augsburg, Germany. He is the author of two books: Intellectual history in contemporary South Africa and Politics of History in Contemporary Africa - both books by Palgrave-Macmillan. Currently, he is working on three new books:  A Theory of an African humanism, the Idea of Nigeria and A New Introduction to African philosophy: A dialogue with Kwasi Wiredu.



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