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Cooperative Economics (Ujama)


Cooperative Economics (Ujama)  (oo-JAH-mah)

“To build our own businesses, control the economics of our own community and share in all its work and wealth.”

The Fourth Principle is Cooperative Economics and is essentially a commitment to the practice of shared social wealth and the work necessary to achieve it. It grows out of the fundamental communal concept that social wealth belongs to the masses of people who created it and that no one should have such an unequal amount of wealth that it gives him/her the capacity to impose unequal, exploitative or oppressive relations on others (41). Sharing wealth is another form of communitarian exchange, i.e., sharing and cooperating in general. But it is essential because without the principle and practice of shared wealth, the social conditions for exploitation, oppression and inequality as well as deprivation and suffering are increased.

Thus, as former President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania in his discussion of Ujamaa said, Ujamaa is “based on the assumption of human equality, on the belief that it is wrong for one [person] to dominate or exploit another, and on the knowledge that every individual hopes to live in a society as a free [person] able to lead a decent life, in conditions of peace with his [her] neighbor” (42). Ujamaa, Nyerere tells us, is above all human centered – concerned foremost with the well-being, happiness and development of the human person. And the assumption is that the conditions for such well-being, happiness and development is best achieved in a context of shared social wealth.

Thus, President Nyerere stated, Ujamaa rejects the idea of wealth for wealth’s sake as opposed to well-being for all. And he notes that Ujamaa is “a commitment to the belief that there are more important things in life than the amassing of riches, and that if the pursuit of wealth clashes with things like human dignity and social equality, then the latter will be given priority.” In the context of improving and insuring the well-being of the people, “the creation of wealth is a good thing and something we shall have to increase.” But he concludes that “it will cease to be good the moment wealth ceases to serve (humans) and begins to be served by (humans)”.

Ujamaa also stresses self-reliance in the building strengthening and controlling of the economics of our own community. President Nyerere said self-reliance in Ujamaa means “first and foremost… that for our development we have to depend upon ourselves and our own resources” (43). The assumption here is that we must seize and maintain the initiative in all that is ours, and that we must harness our resources and put them to the best possible use in the service of the community. This, he says does not mean denying all assistance from or work with others but of controlling policy and shouldering the essential responsibility for our own future.

Closely related to this concept of self-reliance and the responsibility it requires is the respect for the dignity and obligation of work. To respect work is to appreciate its value, reject its exploitation and engage in it cooperatively for the common good of the community. Also, inherent in Ujamaa is the stress and obligation of generosity especially to the poor and vulnerable. In the Book of Ani, we are taught that generosity is its own reciprocal reward. “Small gifts return greater and what is replaced brings abundance” (44). And in the book of Ptah-Hotep we are taught “Be generous as long as you live. What goes into the storehouse should come out. For the bread is made to be shared.”

Moreover, Ptah-Hotep informs us, “Generosity is a memorial for those who show it, long after they have departed” (45). This of course, is the ancient African ethic of care and responsibility which informs the concepts of generosity and shared social wealth. Such an ethic is expressed in one of its earliest forms in the Book of Coming Forth by Day which defines the righteous on one level as one who has “given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked and a boat to those without one” (46). In fact, throughout the sacred teachings of ancient Egypt in particular and Africa in general, the ethic of care and responsibility is expressed in the concept of shared social wealth and service to the most disadvantaged. This of course, finds its modern philosophical expression in our social thought and struggles, as a people, around and for social justice. And this struggle is not simply to be generous to the poor and vulnerable but ultimately to end their poverty and vulnerability, so that they too can live a decent, undeprived and meaningful life. For only in such a context will they be able to pursue the truly human without the limitation imposed by poverty, deprivation or the debilitating struggle for just life’s basic necessities. To share we lath and work, then, is to share concern, care and responsibility for a new, more human and fulfilling future.

Practice Ujamaa every day!

Paul Hill …NROPI

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