In Conversation with Patson Malisa

Ubuntu & cooperation tow development in Africa

Patson Malisa is a Diplomacy Advocate, Thought Leader, Executive and Facilitator. He has served in national and continental youth platforms since the age of 18, advocating the convening of government and civil society to the dialogue forum for the advancing of policy for the Upliftment of youth. He serves as Acting Secretary & Head of Strategic Planning and Partnerships for the Infrastructure and Energy Cluster at the Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) of the African Union. He is also President of the Organization of African Youth, and South Africa’s Country Coordinator for the Network of African Youth for Development. You can tweet him @patsonmalisa

Q1. What inspires your work?

I’m mostly inspired by the rich history which we have inherited as Africans. We have inherited a great treasure as well as a great struggle. We have come a long way in terms of attaining independence and political sovereignty. We now have the challenge of empowering our people with the economic capacity to achieve their full capacity. This is a purpose which I hold in the highest of regard and honour. My motivation is drawn from the understanding of the role I must play for my generation in achieving this next phase of African upliftment.

Q2. What does the term Ubuntu mean?

Ubuntu simply translated means, “I am because you are.” This is a principle which has its origin amongst the native African tribes of South Africa. It is accompanied by the philosophy which states, “Umunthu ngumunthu ngabanthu.” This is translated to say, A person is a person because of the people. It is therefore the acknowledgement that the quality of our humanity is measured by the state of life being lived by the people around us.

Q3. Are there instances of Ubuntu that you can point to in your local community?

I believe that Ubuntu is best displayed when people strive to live for something bigger than themselves. In my community, this is manifested through the work of NGOs and CBOs who are advocating for the improvement of service delivery, advocating for the strengthening of crime prevention as well as the protection of women and children. Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples which teach believers to live in service in humanity also promote the principle of Ubuntu. Families that raise their children to achieve something greater than themselves is also a great example of Ubuntu at work.

Q4. To what extent do Africans embrace and live according to Ubuntu?

Ubuntu is an ideal which is embraced in the fabric of African culture. At grassroots level, it is manifested in our daily lives at different levels. However, as the levels of bureaucracy rise, Ubuntu seems to be given less breathing space. International Relations is governed mostly on the principle of national interest. Therefore, because of varied trading and other relationships that are held by many of our African countries with other regions, unity for a common African position is often limited to declarations (which have internal contentions of their own) and rarely escalates to implementation. Our generation has the task of settling this issue effectively.

Q5. Our differences as Africans are many; how can we use this for the good of the continent?

We have to accept each other’s differences as complimentary factors to our collective development. No one community has all it needs to survive. Therefore, it is important to embrace a principle of unity in diversity and allow each good element of our rich society to manifest itself and yield profit for all. Best practices at social, political and economic levels will be edified through this enriching exercise.

Q6. What’s the role of the AU in promoting cooperation and development in Africa?

The African Union is the bridge upon which African States can reach a place of common position of inter-regional and global cooperation. This helps to consolidate national interest into a collective interest for the strengthening of our efforts to improve our continent. This also eases the complexity of negotiating in international platforms where global decisions with regards to the direction of the world will be taken. The AU also stands as a champion for the attainment of resources which facilitate domestic trade as well as enhancing our export markets to the globe under enriching terms for the Continent.

Q7. Is relaxing visa regulations, like Ghana just did, the answer to continental cooperation?

It is definitely the start of a great initiative to enhance inter-regional trade. It is a shame that in many African countries, it is easier for a person from another continent to travel to them than it is for neighbouring countries. This is a serious barrier to domestic trade and thus Ghana’s initiative is a decisive display of commitment to the values enshrined in the AU Agenda 2063 Declaration.

Q8. ”President for life” is a big issue in Africa, how can we redress this?

The promotion of democratic values which are universally agreed upon will be the best place to begin our address of this issue. Democracy is practiced under different time limits across the world. Therefore we need to establish an African position on our definition of just democratic process. While we have an AU Charter which urges the practice of democracy and condemns military coups and violation of election processes, there is no an agreed term limit or year cap on the term. This will need to be addressed carefully with consideration for the nature of our status of development.

Another issue which keeps heads of states in power for long is the fear of what awaits after leaving the protection of presidency. Africa has a history of persecution of former presidents by their successors as a political statement by the incumbent to appease their constituencies. Therefore a transitional package might have to be considered which prevents unjust persecutions in this regard. A good pension package would also be a good incentive.

Q9. In what practical ways can the youths be agents of Ubuntu in their local community?

The Youth are best positioned as champions for the development and exhortation of their communities. Getting involved in voluntary service which addresses local challenges to quality of life is a great starting place for advancing the principle of Ubuntu. Being involved in the political process of their communities in the form of elections and consultative forums with leaders is a responsibility of every citizen, and thus the responsible engagement of youth in this regard will definitely benefit local communities and ultimately the nations that house them.

Q1O. Last words to the young people out there:

We are on a marathon. The journey which we have embarked upon is not only for ourselves, but for the generations that will follow. Let us therefore run our race with patience as well as with hope that the ideals of a prosperous and poverty-free Africa are possible. If it’s going to be, it is up to us.

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