Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

Ubuntu – getting the best out of the Ugandan worker in me

We all grow up watching how those we live and work with, manage other people. Proximity to particular cultures and the habits that develop from such closeness, make us learn and embrace certain management habits. We also learn to defend, and fiercely at that, acquired habits.

Unconsciously, when we become managers and leaders, we carry the same habits to the job. Who can blame us after all? If the values we espouse have worked for us in the past and made us who we are today, why drop them?

Ubuntu people management tip

Angela Mayo puts it very well. Angela learnt in her life that people will forget what she said, what she did, but that they will never forget how she made them feel.

Applying the example of Uganda (we come from Uganda), and other countries in East Africa like Tanzania and Rwanda where we have traversed the expatriate-circuit, there is a common thread in managing the locals and getting the best out of them or their teams. Managers have at times been blind to the reality that they can be efficient at driving short-term work-output, but extremely bad at attaining medium to long-term work-output effectiveness.

Unknowingly, managers have sacrificed long-term labour effectiveness for short-term labour efficiency gains. This is even worse in INGO’s where the majority of the work-output is linked to short-term projects. INGO managers are generally obsessed with project-result-frameworks – how the latter is gotten is often of least concern to them. It’s a typical situation of not doing the right thing (effectiveness) but instead, what gets you fastest to the end point (efficiency).

We can tell you now, and challenge you to conduct your own research on this matter – this approach causes low productivity at work and to quote Angela Mayo: people not to forget how managers and leaders made them feel

In Uganda, we have the Ubuntu philosophy and managers not familiar with social habits in this part of the world may just want to take time and understand what it’s all about. Please rest assured that it will make you a better and more effective leader, at least in Uganda, and especially Nakabugu village.

So, what is Ubuntu?

South African has popularised the word Ubuntu. But it’s not unique to South Africa. It’s an African thing – at least, we have witnessed the same philosophy in other countries. In Zimbabwe, the Shona call it “Unhu.” Amongst the Basoga tribe in Uganda, we call it “Obuntu.” Ubuntu is, therefore, a truly African (South of the Sahara) philosophy.

Ubuntu means “humanity”. It’s often also translated as “humanity towards others”, but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity. Humanity comes from conforming to or being a type of a tribe or community. Our Ubuntu hails from our being Basoga from Nakabugu village in Uganda – that is where we learnt the social-trade

Ubuntu actualised for the non-native manager:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu offered a definition in a 1999 book:
A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.

Tutu further explained Ubuntu in 2008:
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. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.

Nelson Mandela explained Ubuntu as follows:
A traveller through a country would stop at a village, and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food and attend him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve? Tim Jackson refers to Ubuntu as a philosophy that supports the changes he says are necessary to create a future that is economically and environmentally sustainable.

Ubuntu detractors playing the Marxist card:

Perhaps, in other cultures, Ubuntu may be considered a Marxist ideology twinned with orthodox theology. Its detractors often use this as an excuse for Ubuntu disdain. They have at times, including Africans like ourselves, considered Ubuntu one of the causes of the enduring poverty in our village Nakabugu. Well, let us put matters straight here, helped by renowned intellectuals like Onyebuchi Eze.

Indeed, “Ubuntu” as a political philosophy has aspects of socialism. African Intellectual historians like Michael Onyebuchi Eze have argued however that “this ideal of “collective responsibility” must not be understood as absolute in which the community’s good is prior to the individual’s good. On this view, Ubuntu it is argued, is a communitarian philosophy that is widely differentiated from the Western notion of communitarian socialism. In fact, Ubuntu induces an ideal of shared human subjectivity that promotes a community’s good through an unconditional recognition and appreciation of individual uniqueness and difference.” Audrey Tang has suggested that Ubuntu “implies that everyone has different skills and strengths; people are not isolated, and through mutual support, they can help each other to complete themselves.

Applying Ubuntu to get the best out of your native Ugandan team:

  • Place high-value and respect for any individual you interact with at work
  • People intrinsically value: dignity, compassion, humaneness and respect for another human being
  • Good attitudes and shared concern matter to the people
  • You can’t always win – harmony needs to prevail in relationships even when we disagree
  • It’s about two-way discourse and agreement, as opposed to a victory for the most powerful
  • Civilised discourse is premised on mutual tolerance
  • Even for the bullies amongst the people, Ubuntu is applied to them; they are sensitised about the hurtful impact of their actions instead of being isolated

We submit via this blog that to get the best out of our Ugandan and especially Nakabugu village ilk, Ubuntu (Obuntu) has to be mainstreamed in people management approaches of the leaders and managers. We may just have to remember that when we go to Rome, it at times helps to behave like the Romans


6 responses to “Ubuntu – getting the best out of the Ugandan worker in me”

  1. […] of ‘wealth’ and the ensuing survival/convenience, at the cost of good neighbourliness, African Ubuntu values, etc. People in city eco-systems acquire as much wealth as they can, to buffer themselves […]


  2. Corporate “ubuntu” starts from the Board room – tone at the top. It is about love, care and respect of the people resource. It is also about striking an appropriate balance between incentivizing employees and setting performance targets.

    In the communities, Ubuntu is about caring for people (young and old) and generally the environment. This social Ubuntu has however, been broken down by this monster called poverty. I’m starting to see very closed and inward thinking African communities. children for example were a responsibility of the entire village, today children belong to a family!


    1. Well Okuga – good insight on Ubuntu

      However – not sure that it’s poverty that has killed it – Africans have always been poor and still had Ubuntu – I actually think that poverty spurred Ubuntu

      Perhaps, it’s globalisation that has killed Ubuntu – globalisation has killed African traditional values – kids learn values from TV – social media and schools – no longer at home

      It even gets more complicated when it comes to managing individuals at work – the acrobatics of the contemporary workplace are complex and changing by the day

      Pls be ‘Omuntu-Mulamu’ as our mother always taught us at the palace in Nakabugu


  3. Enjoyed reading this and trying to reflect on it. I think we Can apply Ubuntu to get the best not only from our native Ugandan team but across wherever. Maya Angelou’s quote is spot on. “People will always remember how you made them feel”. Thx Gabazira.


    1. Thanks for reading the blog


      1. And hope all is well in Canada 🇨🇦- Gwaffu misses you!


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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