Desmond Tutu talks about the concept of Ubuntu, in the context of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation process that they embarked on after apartheid. He says it means, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours; we belong to a bundle of life.” A bundle of life. The Truth and Reconciliation process started by elevating the voices of the unheard.
In a world torn apart by wars, in the face of our humanity decimated by our greed to control precious resources, we have lost our ‘Ubuntu’. We lost it when the body of a 3-year-old Syrian boy had to wash ashore for us to wake up and notice the plight of the refugees fleeing wars. We lost it when Charlie Hebdo created yet another cartoon mocking this death in the name of freedom of speech. We lost it when our headlines continue to be titillating news of latest celebrity scandals instead of the very real scandal of how we are collectively failing humanity.
The refugees, the poverty, the wars, the fight over control of resources, the new wave of colonialism that is sweeping through, it is cleverly disguised. Cleverly labeled as economic migrants looking for the easy life, a war to install democracy by bombing out entire cities, their citizens nameless, un-reckoned casualties, the news swept away, tucked somewhere in page 12 in a small column in international news. The number of these casualties unrecognized, unknown to the general population. The new colonialism that talks about integration, globalization, ensuring access to resources, for who? to what end?
We talk about the Millennium Development Goals and what a huge success it has been. So now we are talking about Sustainable Development Goals and how certain things need to be prioritized in order to ensure quality of life for everybody – “To leave no one behind”. Our narrative on poverty however has hardly changed. A large portion of our actions are still top-down, driven by political agenda, prioritized towards winning votes for parties, influence within the country or in international sphere. We cater to political leaders, to speeches to be made in parliament, to achieve goals that will look good when put up in a billboard. We cater to specific themes because that’s where the money is – that’s where the funding is.
In all the South-South talk and the North-South cooperation, how many specific areas for development were targeted because that’s where the real on the ground needs are?
I don’t know… maybe because I haven’t looked enough.
I want to know though. I want to know it the way I know the SDG’s. I want to see real life solutions coming out of grass-root movements, that impact on the people whose very lives we claim to want to change for the better. The people we don’t want ‘to leave behind’. Maybe the way we see things has to change, maybe that’s still a long way to go, maybe we’ll get there in one generation or ten. Maybe the change has to start now, with us, in this moment. Maybe we have to filter what news we consume and how we allow it to shape our narratives. Maybe we have to start questioning everything – including our deep-seated assumptions – even on issues that we believe to be ‘written in stone’.
If we are to live up to our promise of working for the people, with the people, for the greater good of humanity, then we have to rediscover our ‘Ubuntu’ and live up to it. And in this thought provoking talk by Mia Birdsong, she invites us to do just that.