Is Ubuntu a tool for peace?

by | Apr 24, 2024 | 0 comments

Is Ubuntu a tool for peace? .

Dr. Luc Zwaenepoel

ubuntu@culture of peace@spiritual ubuntu@mont Fleur@Tutu@Mandela@Truth ommission@gacaca@ubuntu diplomacy


This essay combines the elements of an efficient culture of peace with humanistic tools provided by the Ubuntu attitude based on the Bantu philosophy. Ubuntu, a tool for peace and reconciliation was used in the post-apartheid times in South Africa. Ubuntu has no borders and is also seen at work in other societies and cultures (Ubuntu Diplomacy). Education and coaching can assist in resolving problems and conflict in groups, organizations and in personal life. A more attuned leadership based on Ubuntu, with a focus on transformative conflict handling and interconnectedness must be applied in countries with risks of ethnic strife and repetitive conflicts.

Ubuntu demands attuned leadership to be guardians of peace. The state of peace is the opposite of the continuous situation of war, conflict and terror. Ubuntu places the human, “man,” central and not the religion, the history, the race, or the “enemy”. The enemy is also a human being, and not only to be destructed in times of war and conflict. It can assist in avoiding conflict by promoting a humanistic approach to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Against the backdrop of new conflicts in Ukraine, Gaza, and Africa with the increasing role of more sophisticated arms, is Ubuntu without borders perhaps the sole answer to save humanity and civilization. This essay examines how the culture of Ubuntu can contribute to peace enhancement.

What is Ubuntu?(1,2,3)

Ubuntu is in the language of the Nguni Bantu language (South Africa). A philosophy, ethical concern and the basis for an individual attitude in the family, the community and the organization. “Ubuntu is an ancient African word meaning ‘humanity to others”

Ubuntu is closely attached to the efforts of post-apartheid in South Africa by Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. However, Ubuntu has no borders and is found in all Bantu countries, continents and communities in Africa (South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria) but also Hinduism. The concepts are the same but have different names.

To explain the real sense of Ubuntu, we use three quotes that explain the heart of the Ubuntu attitude and lifestyle:

Quote Menkiti (1984) Mbiti (1970) asserts “I am, because we are; and since we are, therefore I am”. 

Quote Mandela: “In Africa, there is a concept known as ‘ubuntu’ – the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievement of others.”

Quote Tutu: “My humanity is tied to yours.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained it this way: “One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu — the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness …

But also, the famous poem by John Donne [1572-1631] is Ubuntu

“No man is an island,

Entire of itself;

Every man is a piece of the continent, 

A part of the main. “

Ubuntu principles:

Ubuntu’s approach to peacekeeping is based on the following principles, showing the impact of the community and its belonging and the humanistic approach:

Co-Agency: We are all co-agents to all that can be changed and realized and have our role in nature. This underpins the idea that everything in nature, including humans, is interconnected and mutually reliant.

Individualism Versus Individuality: The Western concepts of “individualism,” which can be self-centered, and “individuality,” which fosters personal growth while acknowledging community bonds.

Re-emergence in Critical Times: Ubuntu principle that resurrected during South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy, thanks in large part to Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It served as a foundational value system for restorative justice and national healing. (Truth and Reconciliation Commission)

Ubuntu as the safeguard for peace is based on two other principles:


In the Ubuntu worldview, individual actions have wider implications for the community, driving a sense of responsibility toward the collective well-being.

Coexistence and Peace

Ubuntu promotes peaceful coexistence, tolerance, and harmony, serving as a moral compass in interpersonal relationships and community engagements.

What is the Ubuntu theory of peace (3)

Ubuntu teaches us that peace flourishes when we recognize every individual’s inherent dignity and worth, irrespective of their background, tribe, or nationality. This philosophy permeates the social fabric of African societies, fostering communal bonds and engendering empathy and compassion.

The case of Ubuntu and the post-apartheid period in South Africa (10)

When the apartheid was halted in South Africa and when Mandela was freed, a new political area for South Africa started with a fear of continuous conflict between population groups, especially the white Afrikaners, the blacks, the population of double blood, and other groups like the Indian and the Chinese population. It was under the impulse of Nelson Mandela and the charismatic Bishop Desmond Tutu, that the post-apartheid period started more peacefully than expected and resulted in the presidency of Mandela. Both emphasized the wisdom of the ancestors and the peace-building efforts based on Ubuntu, interconnectedness and coexistence. It was also important that during the negotiations into transition, the future scenarios were presented about the future of South Africa that were made in participative ways, and that led to the Mont Fleur scenarios. A visual narrative of four different future scenarios, one best scenario, one middle-of-the-road scenario and two worst scenarios, emphasizing long-time struggle and chaos.

Mandela and Tutu stressed the importance of Ubuntu and especially: Coexistence and Peace.

 Under Mandela as the new RSA president, coexistence and peace could only be achieved as all crimes and misdoings under apartheid and also commissioned by the ANC were discussed in public hearings.

Therefore, the Commission for Truth and Forgiveness was organized all over the country under Bishop Tutu’s presidency.

This aspect revealed that only forgiveness could contribute to coexistence in South Africa. Reconciliation and forgiveness, which are Christian values, were added to Ubuntu from shared values in Christianity.

Bishop Tutu introduced the aspect of forgiveness and the shared values of Christianity, which are also a certain base for Ubuntu conflict resolution.

What are the 4 steps of forgiveness by Tutu? (7)

After much reflection on the process of forgiveness, Tutu has seen that there are four important steps to healing: Admitting the wrong and acknowledging the harm; Telling one’s story and witnessing the anguish; Asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness; and renewing or releasing the relationship.

These public hearings were organized all over South Africa and were emotional gatherings of victims and perpetrators during the apartheid period.

What are the 7 truths of reconciliation?

Love, respect, honesty, bravery, humility, wisdom and truth. These are the seven truths taken from the Seven Grandfather Teachings handed down orally through generations of Anishinaabe elders.

Why did the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) fail? (6,7)

the amnesty process. A key weakness of the commission was that it did not focus sufficiently on the policies or political economy of apartheid.

Stein (2008) found that negative perceptions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission were associated with increased distress and anger, while positive perceptions were associated with forgiveness.

However, The TRC was a crucial component of the transition to full and free democracy in South Africa and, despite some flaws, is generally regarded as very successful. The TRC was set up in terms of the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, No 34 of 1995, and was based in Cape Town.

Attuned leadership (10)

Ubuntu can only be a safeguard of peace when the leadership is attuned to the principles of Ubuntu. This needs to be on every level of governance: community, national and international. This lack of leadership is often the problem in ongoing and long conflicts because of the personal interest of leaders in continuing war, and conflict. (geographical, political, business interests, arms dealing). An example of attuned leadership is found in the attitude of Nelson Mandela, after years in prison, leaving no place for revenge but promoting reconciliation.

The personal qualities attuned leaders bring to their kind of leadership include:

“Insight: Seeing the world from the followership’s vantage point and embracing their world views non-judgmentally. Attuned leadership is thus as passionate as it is compassionate.

Inspiration: Engendering a sense of follower self-worth, pride in current status, and hopefulness for the future. In the relationship between leader and leader, it is vital to strike a balance between reality and potentiality.

Commitment: Ardently pursuing an agreed course of action but remaining willing to be flexible and respond to changes in the environment or expectations. promote

Probity: Assuring the followers that the leader can be held accountable. Probity is the ethical imperative to remain upright and honest in the service of the followership and behaving in a manner that is beyond reproach.”

Mont Fleur Scenarios: envisioning South Africa’s transition to democracy (11,20)

Images of Mont Fleur scenarios:

The “Mont Fleur” scenario exercise, undertaken in South Africa during 1991–92, was innovative and important because, amid a deep conflict, it brought people together from across organizations to think creatively about their country’s future.

The name “Mont Fleur scenarios” was selected to indicate that the scenarios belong to the group that met at Mont Fleur and not to a specific institution or organization. 

The historical context of the project is important to understanding its impact. It took place during the period between February 1990, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and the African National Congress (ANC), Pan African Congress (PAC), South African Communist Party (SACP), and other organizations were legalized, and April 1994, when the first all-race elections were held. During these years, dozens of “forums” were set up in South Africa, creating temporary structures that gathered together the broadest possible range of stakeholders (political parties, civic organizations, professional bodies, government departments, trade unions, business groups, etc.) to develop a new way forward in a particular area of concern. There were forums to discuss education, housing, economic policy, constitutional matters, and many other areas. They ranged from informal, off-the-record workshops to formal, public negotiations. The Mont Fleur project was one type of forum that, uniquely, used the scenario methodology.

The purpose of Mont Fleur was “not to present definitive truths, but to stimulate debate on how to shape the next 10 years.” The project brought together a diverse group of 22 prominent South Africans—politicians, activists, academics, and businessmen from across the ideological spectrum—to develop and disseminate a set of stories about what might happen in their country from 1992 to 2002.

The Scenarios of the Future(11)

After considering many possible stories, the participants agreed on four scenarios that they believed to be plausible and relevant:

• Ostrich, in which a negotiated settlement to the crisis in South Africa is not achieved, and the country’s government continues to be non-representative

• Lame Duck, in which a settlement is achieved but the transition to a new dispensation is slow and indecisive

• Icarus, in which transition is rapid but the new government unwisely pursues unsustainable, populist economic policies

• Flight of the Flamingos, in which the government’s policies are sustainable and the country takes a path of inclusive growth and democracy

The group developed each of these stories into a brief logical narrative

The team then presented and discussed the scenarios with more than fifty groups, including political parties, companies, academics, trade unions, and civic organizations. 

The use of Scenarios and the wide discussion in the country contributed to peace enhancement and Ubuntu insights to handle transformation conflicts positively.

The second element was the presidency of Mandela and the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, which partially contributed to forgiveness and reconciliation. This was based on the Ubuntu spirituality and some common Christian values.

As Suzanne Membe-Metale affirms, Ubuntu is “a spirituality that enables mutual sharing and satisfaction and is illustrated in the biblical account of the disciples sharing all they had with one another so that no one lacked anything (Acts 4:32–35)”.

And third aspect is the attuned leadership approach by Nelson Mandela and Nelson Tutu in having a long view on the future of South African life.

Other examples of Ubuntu as a tool for peace


What is the reconciliation process in Rwanda? (19)

After the genocide in Rwanda (1994)) and the loss of social fabric, Ubuntu was used to reconcile victims and perpetrators. This was a difficult process built on Ubuntu, especially the reconciliation, by having a process of talking and recognizing victims and perpetrators, as was the case in South Africa.

In 1999, Rwanda began its National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) to work towards a reconciliation of the conflicting parties involved in the Rwandan Civil War and the Rwandan genocide, with the eventual goal of reunifying the country’s citizens.

The reconciliation process in Rwanda focuses on reconstructing the Rwandan identity and balancing justice, truth, peace, and security in the country. The Rwandan government has taken various measures to achieve the goal of perpetrators and victims living side by side in peace.

The name Gacaca is derived from the Kinyarwanda word umucaca, which means “a plant so soft to sit on that people prefer to gather on it.” Originally, Gacaca gatherings were meant to restore order and harmony within communities by acknowledging wrongs and restoring justice to victims.

Gacaca was inspired by a customary conflict resolution mechanism– meaning “justice on the grass” – that existed in Rwandan society since pre-colonial times.

The Rwandan government implemented the Gacaca courts to promote reconciliation and enact justice following the 1994 Rwandan genocide. However, this approach worked only in theory. Reality has proven the Gacaca Courts inadequate for enacting long-term reconciliation and nonpartisan justice.

In June 2012, Rwanda’s community-based gacaca (ga-cha-cha) courts closed after processing almost two million cases for crimes of genocide. The courts are at the heart of government efforts to achieve national unity and reconciliation following the violence of the 1994 genocide. In just 100 days, ethnic Hutu militias orchestrated the deaths of their ethnic Tutsi kin and kith. 

Rwanda put most of the population on trial – as perpetrator, victim, bystander, rescuer and judge — to make accusations and evaluate confessions. In opting for mass justice, Rwanda chose local, community-based justice over other post-conflict reconciliation mechanisms such as amnesties or truth commissions. In consultation with its foreign donors, the government made the gacaca courts its primary legal mechanism to generate a truthful record of who did what to whom during the 1994 genocide. While proponents of modern gacaca praise it as locally forged and culturally relative justice, such claims fail to distinguish the idea of gacaca from its implementation. More critical observers understand the courts to be part and parcel of a top-down Rwandan government-led system of justice and reconciliation that favors retributive over restorative justice. The courts relied on perpetrator shame and survivor forgiveness to produce national unity and reconciliation. The government used the courts to target its political opponents and critics. Gacaca also produced a moral hierarchy in which genocide crimes committed by ethnic Hutu were tried while crimes committed by ethnic Tutsi, as well as a member of the now ruling party, were not.

Other Ubuntu Peace reconciliation efforts in Africa (13,19)

Ethiopia’s current peacebuilding initiatives – the dual dialogue and transitional justice processes – have brought traditional justice into focus. The National Dialogue Commission (NDC) is expected to use traditional knowledge and values in dialogue processes, although it’s yet to explore how to do so effectively.

Also, Kenya is a model of transformative conflict handling based on Ubuntu. In Kenya, Ubuntu is practiced in many ways. One of these ways is through Harambee. Harambee is a Kenyan term for “community self-help event” or “pull together. In Kenya, Harambee was initiated by the late Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya after the country attained its independence in 1963. The concept aimed at encouraging Kenyans to take responsibility for building their nation now that colonization was over. It was during and after the Post-Election Violence of 2007-2008, that the conflict based on tribal strife was starting. On the initiative of the African Union (Kofi Annan) a long mediation process was started, with successful peaceful results. Mediation as an Ubuntu tool is, in this Kenyan case, used to solve transformational conflicts.

Criticisms on Ubuntu as a tool for peace (13)

According to Metz (2011), there are two main reasons why Ubuntu receives criticism: 

firstly, it is considered vague as a philosophical thought and does not have a solid framework; 

secondly, it is feared that due to its collectivist orientation, there is a danger of sacrificing individual freedoms for the sake of society:

-an action is right just insofar as it respects a person’s dignity; an act is wrong to the extent that it degrades humanity.

-an action is right just insofar as it promotes the well-being of others without violating their rights; an act is wrong to the extent that it either violates rights or fails to enhance the welfare of one’s fellows without violating rights.

-an action is right just insofar as it positively relates to others and thereby realizes oneself; an act is wrong to the extent that it does not perfect one’s valuable nature as a social being.

-an action is right just insofar as it is in solidarity with groups whose survival is threatened; an act is wrong to the extent that it fails to support a vulnerable community.

-an action is right just insofar as it produces harmony and reduces discord; an act is wrong to the extent that it fails to develop community (Metz, 2007).

Ubuntu diplomacy (15)

The concept of Ubuntu has no borders.

In June 2009, in her swearing-in remarks as US Department of State Special Representative for Global Partnerships, Global Partnership Initiative, Office of the Secretary of State, Elizabeth Frawley Bagley discussed ubuntu in the context of American foreign policy, stating: “In understanding the responsibilities that come with our interconnectedness, we realize that we must rely on each other to lift our World from where it is now to where we want it to be in our lifetime while casting aside our worn out preconceptions, and our outdated modes of statecraft.” She then introduced the notion of “Ubuntu Diplomacy” with the following words:

In 21st-century diplomacy, the Department of State will be a convener, bringing people together from across regions and sectors to work together on issues of common interest. Our work no longer depends on the least common denominator; but rather, we will seek the highest possible multiplier effect for the results we can achieve together.”

This is Ubuntu Diplomacy: where all sectors belong as partners, where we all participate as stakeholders, and where we all succeed together, not incrementally but exponentially. 


Is Ubuntu a tool for peace? As this essay described, the African Ubuntu philosophy, ethics, and spirituality have a clear theory and culture of peace. “Hell is not the others,” and the others are also human. We are connected, interconnected, and belong to a community. Three cases of Ubuntu in transformative conflict were explained: post-apartheid in RSA, post-genocide in Rwanda (Gacaca), and the post-election conflicts in Kenya.

Ubuntu as a safeguard of peace is possible in transformative conflicts, community and ethical strife, and border conflicts. Old social justice practices in Africa are important parts of peace enhancement: gacaca, truth and reconciliation efforts, and mediation. However, it is very difficult to use it in longstanding wars and conflicts, wars between states, territory wars, or revenge wars between terror groups and states.

Ubuntu and its concept are in line with all fundamental rights and the avoidance of war crimes on humans, population and especially children.

“I am because we are” Ubuntu is community-oriented, longing to belong to a community and to avoid conflict and promote coexistence.


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  2. Tutu, Desmond (2013). “Who we are: Human uniqueness and the African spirit of Ubuntu”. YouTube. Archived from the original on 10 November 2021. Retrieved 3 October 2019.
  3. “The question: What does Ubuntu mean?”. The 28 September 2006.
  4. “Hunhu/Ubuntu in the Traditional Thought of Southern Africa”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  5. Lewis Griggs; Lente-Louise Louw (1995). Valuing Diversity: New Tools for a New Reality. McGraw-Hill. p. 200. ISBN 978-0-07-024778-9.
  6. Membe-Matale, Suzanne (2015). “Ubuntu Theology”. The Ecumenical Review. 67 (2): 273–276. doi:10.1111/erev.12159. ISSN 1758-6623.
  7. Tutu, Desmond (1999). No Future Without Forgiveness. Image. ISBN 0-385-49690-7.
  8. An African Perspective on Peace Education: Ubuntu Lessons in Reconciliation; Tim Murithi; International Review of Education / Internationale Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft / Revue Internationale de l’Education; Vol. 55, No. 2/3, Education for Reconciliation and Conflict Resolution (May, 2009), pp. 221-233 (13 pages)
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  16. Hapanyengwi-Chemhuru, Oswell; Makuvaza, Ngoni (1 August 2014). “Hunhu: In Search of an Indigenous Philosophy for the Zimbabwean Education System Practice without thought is blind: thought without practice is empty” (PDF). Journal of Indigenous Social Development. 3 (1). ISSN 2164-9170.
  17. Muwanga-Zake, J.W.F. (December 2009). “Building bridges across knowledge systems: Ubuntu and participative research paradigms in Bantu communities”. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. 30 (4): 413–426. doi:10.1080/01596300903237198. S2CID 144633541.
  18. “I Am Because We Are”. powerHouse Books.
  19. Emilija Žebrauskaitė, Emilija, Essay, The Ethics of Ubuntu as a basis for African institutions: The case of Gacaca courts in Rwanda


  • Images of Mont Fleur scenarios:

Dr Luc Zwaenepoel has a Drs in Development Economics, PhD Development Management and a Master’s in Family Sciences and Sexology. He lived and worked for 40 years on the African continent, the Indian Ocean and the Far East. His international work in economic development brought him in contact with a better understanding of African organizations and communities, with a great interest in the Bantu philosophy and the Ubuntu approach. He worked as a social demographer in the Institute de Formation et de Recherche Démographique (IFORD) and was a programme manager of the KFW/IGAD migration fund for the Horn of Africa. 

As a novelist, he wrote a book: “Sartre in the Congo” 2020, a magical realism story, against the background of the first genocide in Kongo and Rwanda.


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