Forthcoming January 2024
Hardback deliverable from 6 December (preorder 15 November 2023)
For over a decade, the world has experienced an accelerating erosion of a language that took hundreds of years to emerge. It is a language ordering time and space with words, such as enlightenment, reason, rationality, modernization, and the most recent by-word, globalization. However, it is a language that has been accompanied by colonialism, imperialism, racism, the exploitation of people and nature, unequal distribution of the world’s resources, pogroms, genocides, and world wars. There has been a gap between assumptions underlying a visionary ambition and the often-brutal practices accompanying it. Moreover, it is a language that expresses European values, with the implicit or explicit suggestion that they pertain to the whole world, a civilizing mission from a European centre. Although the established narrative argued that there was continuous progress, it was a conclusion reached through hindsight. The idea of progress had to be repeatedly recreated through new visionary projects that attempted to live up to the high ideals their predecessors failed to achieve.
Against the backdrop of this meta-normative point of departure, the book argues that a convincing grand narrative has failed to materialize since the discrediting of globalization. In the search for a new narrative, it argues at a meta-normative level for reformulating the term ‘global’ away from its close connection to the globe as an unbounded self-propelling market that exists beyond human influence. ‘Global’ should no longer be reduced to auto-playing market fiction but instead be connected to the planet Terra, the Earth. According to Latour and Chakrabarty, ‘global’ and ‘planetary’ mean cohabitation; life on Earth, seen as an infinite symbiotic system, nurtured and protected but also destroyed by human action.
The book argues that a new conceptualization of ‘the global’ and ‘the planet’ requires input from African and Asian language cultures. The book explores in depth the history of the two key political African concepts of ujamaa and ubuntu and argues that they are cases showing how work on a new global/planetary narrative might look. The investigation of the two concepts demonstrates that translations are juxtapositions that point up what is shared and what isn’t between concepts in two or more languages. The point of comparison is not to develop a uniform, global perspective, even if possible, but to develop a global understanding of difference and, through that, to begin looking for a common ground. Translations of political key concepts are the source of a growing understanding of difference.
The Introduction chapter describes the aim and the global challenge that the book intends to address, i.e., the fact that a convincing grand narrative has failed to materialize since the discrediting of globalization. It outlines the meta norm and the planetary perspective as just described. The chapter furthermore specifies and clarifies the book’s argument that a new conceptualization of ‘the global’ and ‘the planet’ requires input from African and Asian language cultures. The chapter introduces the two key African concepts of ujamaa and ubuntu and argues that they are cases showing how work on a new global/planetary narrative might look. The investigation of the two concepts demonstrates that translations can be seen as juxtapositions that point up what is shared and what isn’t between concepts in two or more languages. The point of comparison is not to develop a uniform, global perspective, even if that were possible, but, as the Introduction argues, to develop a global understanding of difference and, through that, to begin to look for common ground.
Chapter 2 describes how ujamaa became a catchword that fired imaginations in the young state of Tanzania when, in February 1967, in a charismatic speech in Dar es Salaam, at a mass meeting attended by 100,000 people, the country’s president, Julius Nyerere, proclaimed that Tanzania would become an ujamaa nation based on self-reliance. The point of departure was a declaration that the country’s only party, TANU, had adopted at a meeting in Arusha a week before. His outline of the future was inspired by British social-democratic Fabianism and Chinese Maoist communism and was accompanied by the ambition of translating them into an African experience or, perhaps better phrased, giving them an African origin. The story of ujamaa illustrates the contradictions and ambiguities of decolonization and postcolonialism. This chapter shows how the concept lost its initial galvanizing and mobilizing power in the 1970s when the idea emerged that decolonization did not automatically mean development. It demonstrates how the happy partners of development and democracy, or capitalism and democracy, are often opposites and even incompatible. It puts ujamaa in a larger framework of global crisis and transformation beyond the Tanzanian framework of the ujamaa discourse.
Chapter 3 shows how, in the 1990s, ubuntu became a key concept in dismantling apartheid in South Africa. In building a post-apartheid country, the concept helped bring about reconciliation and construct a new community. The chapter outlines the long conceptual history of the term, beginning with the Christian missionaries in the 1820s and ’30s who were looking for words in the spoken but unwritten indigenous languages to disseminate their gospel to those with quite different religious awareness and views, often in conflict with the Bible’s message. It also describes the slow process of the secularization and politicization of ubuntu that occurred throughout the twentieth century, paving the way for its strong emergence in the 1990s when it influenced political and legal thought in South Africa. It demonstrates that ambiguity and openness to interpretations exist in both ubuntu and ujamaa, making both a good illustration of the potential for conceptual history to create new global understandings and planetary perspectives. Like chapter two on ujamaa, this chapter explores the potential and the limitations of ubuntu as a political concept. Finally, it shows that again, as in ujamaa, ubuntu provides examples of lessons to be learned from failure.
Chapter 1. Introduction
The book’s meta normative backdrop and the subplot: the lack of a language
Global translations for a planetary perspective
Ujamaa and ubuntu
Chapter 2. Ujamaa: evasive and elusive African socialism
Nyerere and the concept of ujamaa
Nyerere’s speech act moment
Visions of community, freedom, and exploitation
Visions of social justice and sacrifices made for the nation
The village community: contradictions within a political program
Ujamaa and development: contradictions within a concept
Continuities of the colonial heritage
The new master
The world stage
Experiences of disappointment and the philosophers
Chapter 3. The Translation of the Unwritten: Ubuntu as Religion, as Law, and as Politics
Ubuntu as a concept
The civilizing mission and the translation of values
The meaning of ubuntu in the minds of the missionaries
From a concept for sin to the language of emancipation and a critique of apartheid
Post-apartheid: ubuntu for reconciliation
The anti-neoliberal defiance and the new politics of social distribution
Reconciliation glossed over