Ubuntu and leadership? : some practical theological perspectives

Nell, Ian A. (2017)

CITATION: Nell, I. A. 2017. Ubuntu and leadership? : some practical theological perspectives. Scriptura, 116(1):1-9, doi:10.7833/116-1-1341.

The original publication is available at http://scriptura.journals.ac.za


In discourses on leadership within the African context one regularly finds that scholars draw a distinction between so-called Western and African approaches to leadership. African leadership approaches are then often linked to notions of an African value system in which one of the first concepts that surface is the loaded notion of ‘Ubuntu’. Scholars then point to the fact that in the understanding of ‘Ubuntu’ one finds a preference for a kind of spiritual collectiveness rather than for individualism with rational thinking as a central feature of Western thought. Applied to leadership, one therefore finds a consensus-seeking and problem-solving approach in Africa, rather than dissension, which is typical of Western styles of leadership. The purpose of this article is firstly to illustrate that this dualistic approach to leadership not only underwrites considerable contestation over the notion of ‘Ubuntu’ leadership, but that such an oversimplified understanding of African leadership can easily contribute to gender discrimination. Secondly, this problematic situation will be illustrated by referring to a recent case study on the absence of women from leadership positions within a specific denomination in Malawi. Some of the underlying factors contributing to this problematic practice will be scrutinised. Lastly, the article concludes by voicing the trust that a more nuanced approach to leadership from an ‘Ubuntu’ perspective can indeed make a contribution to the position of women in leadership. According to the understanding of the researcher, this can happen if the notion of ‘Ubuntu’ is placed within the broader discourses of critical humanism where the focus is on shared humanity.

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