Dr Metusalem Nakale
THE President upon assuming office introduced something that, if further pursued by academia, especially by social scientists and philosophers, and situated in a body of philosophical thought could help us reclaim something that was once our way of life but which was eroded by capitalism and its values of individualism, competition and greed. He introduced Harambee, a concept we use to refer to the targeted intervention plan designed to accelerate development. Harambee is a Kiswahili word which means ‘pulling together in the same direction’. It might sound simple but, in my opinion, at the philosophical level, it represents a potent antidote to the relentless onslaught of individualism that is at the root of some of the problems the world is facing today mentioned earlier. I therefore believe that Harambee deserves the attention of our social scientists to explore how we could congeal it into something enduring, capable of carrying us forward in terms of our practices, especially in times like this when we need some kind of social glue that such a social technology can provide to bind us together in our pursuit of our national development goals.
Yes, critics argue, though not in so many words, that Harambee was still-born in Kenya, alluding to the fact that it failed to deliver the impact it was intended to have on that country’s economy which led to the abandonment of the project. However, I would argue that the fact that it did not materialise in Kenya should not be construed as meaning that it cannot be made to work in Namibia. It will all depend on what we do with the concept.
It is true that the term per se might not offer much, but when connected to its roots at the philosophical level, in my view, it has potential to power our actions and provide cohesion if the principles underlying the wider body of such thought are applied as a basis for actions.
The literature tells us that for Singapore to reach that level of development their actions were synchronised: they were pulling in the same direction, the politician and technocrats. It is with this understanding that I am proposing a broader philosophical framework within which we should locate Harambee as a doctrine designed to offset the effects of the values embedded in capitalism. This I believe would enable us to construct a more stable ‘Namibian House’ driven by common values, values that not only existed in our communities but which are more humane, thus ensuring that no Namibian is left behind. The latter, I would argue, is hard to achieve in a society where individualism and not the community is emphasised.
To reconnect Harambee with its philosophical roots, I propose that we should place the concept in question in the philosophical perspective of Ubuntu. This would give it an intellectual grounding, thus locating it within a discourse that has attracted global attention in recent years which advocates the well-being of all. It is this discourse that we could use to underpin our actions in different areas of our lives, especially in terms of management, leadership, education and even development as a more coherent body of thought. Currently in education and management we adopt models the underlying metaphysical beliefs of which we do not understand or which are not aligned with the type of society we want to create.
In my opinion, this is what has partly brought about the turmoil we are in today, our reliance on models based on thoughts that are not congruent with our goals. Ubuntu, which also characterised most of our communities, on the other hand, espouses the belief that ‘I’m who I am because of other people.’ As such, it emphasises social relationships or the community as well as caring for each other. In other words, the community comes first and not the individual. This is also in line with modern social theory that tells us that we are products of society in terms of the different cultural resources we accumulate, including knowledge and taste. In other words, we are shaped by society. Therefore our progress as society should not only be measured in terms of parochial yardsticks such as GDP growth rate which excludes values, but also through other qualitative measures such as how well we conform to Ubuntu principles.
Before the invasion of elements of capitalism into our social infrastructures, we worked together for the common good, we pulled together in the same direction for the good of the community, for example; we even shared knowledge as well as other resources, pulling together not for individual gratification but for the wellbeing of the community. Clearly Harambee is derived from this Ubuntu philosophy. But regardless of its origin it shares the same belief with Ubuntu. Hence, it is proposed that when we talk about Harambee in the Namibian context we should not only see it as a plan. Of course we apply the concept when referring to that specific plan. But we should go beyond the plan and tap the philosophical resources it provides.
But we can only use such resources if we situate Harambee in a broader weltanschauung or world-view of which the Harambee Prosperity Plan is a part. That world-view, in my book, is Ubuntu which prevailed until its displacement by individualism, a value also spread by our system of education which privileges cognitive theories of learning over social learning, thus the individual over the community. Cognitive theories see learning as something that happens in the human head. As such, they promote individualism and deny the social dimensions of knowledge and learning (community). In the context of a market economy, it engenders competition, thus undermining the community spirit and Harambee.
In other words, it sets us against each other and makes us strive for individual gratification rather than the common good, but more of that another time.
How can we then reclaim our heritage? The first port of call should be our education system. We need to reinvent ourselves by digging deeper to unearth the philosophical underpinnings of the current system instead of just tinkling with it, do some kind of, to use a medical terminology, an operation, in order to view the perspectives that inform it. Then complement such theories of learning with the social or community ones which existed before individualism in this part of the world, thus reclaiming that which we have lost and reconnecting with our roots and the nature of humanity. This would, of course, require change in various practices in our schools and other institutions of learning, but in the long run it would pay off handsome dividends, particularly in the context of what we are aspiring to create, a knowledge economy.
However, it would not be enough to add social learning theories, our teaching should be based on Ubuntu of which such theories are part, thus perpetuating the entire philosophy just like the Chinese teach Confucianism. We can perpetuate Ubuntu in management, leadership and education as well as in other spheres of our lives instead of blindly adopting models the underpinning beliefs of which are not aligned with our goals. If necessary, let us reconstruct the world in line with what we believe in after all the entire social universe consists of constructions made up of different perspectives!
To conclude, unless we find some kind of philosophical anchor, we will continue to be vulnerable to the individualism juggernaut. Harambee, if underpinned by Ubuntu may help us reclaim the key to a more humane education and development in which most of us will pull in the same direction for the common good. But this will require our social scientists to collaborate to ‘manufacture’ the required social technologies such as the one proposed in this piece to turn our aspirations into reality.
Dr Metusalem Nakale holds a Doctorate of Social Sciences from the University of Leicester’s School of Management.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015