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“To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together”

The third principle is Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima) which is commitment to active and informed togetherness on matters of common interests. It is also recognition and respect for the fact that without collective work and struggle, progress is impossible and liberation unthinkable. Moreover, the principle of Ujima supports the fundamental assumption that African is not just an identity, but also a destiny and duty, i.e., a responsibility. In other words, our collective identity in the long run is a collective future. Thus, there is a need and obligation for us as self-conscious and committed people to share our future with our own minds and hands and share its hardships and benefits together.
Ujima, as principle and practice, also means that we accept the fact that we are collectively responsible for our failures and setbacks as well as our victories and achievements. And this holds true not only on the national level, but also on the level of family and organization or smaller units. Such commitment implies and encourages a vigorous capacity for self-criticism and self-correction which is indispensable to our strength, defense and development as a people.

The principle of collective work and responsibility also points to the fact that African freedom is indivisible. It shelters the assumption that as long as any African anywhere is oppressed, exploited, enslaved or wounded in any way her or his humanity, all African people are also. It thus, rejects the possibility or desirability of individual freedom in any unfree context. Instead, it poses the need for struggle to create a context in which all can be free. Moreover, Ujima rejects escapist and abstract humanism and supports the humanism that begins with commitment to and concern for the humans among whom we live and to whom we owe our existence, i.e., our own people. In a word, a real humanism begins with accepting one’s own humanity in the particular form in which it expresses itself and then initiating and sustaining exchanges with others in the context of our common humanity. It also posits that the liberation struggle to rescue and reconstruct African history and humanity is a significant contribution to overall struggle for human liberation.

In the context of a communitarian social order, cooperation is another key aspect of Ujima. It is based on the assumption that what one does to benefit others is at the same time a benefit to him/her. Likewise, “one who injures others in the end injures him/herself” as the Yoruba proverb states. In the Lovedu community in South Africa, children are taught not to be aggressive or competitive but to be cooperative and share responsibility as a fundamental moral obligation. Even their language reflects the cooperative thrust. A child in asking for something says, “give me also,” even though s/he is the only one asking. For s/he is recognizing that s/he is not nor should s/he be the only one being given something. On the contrary, all things of value are to be shared as a common good. Likewise, the lovedu’s prayer is never just for oneself but for all of their health, blessings, and prosperity. In fact, to ask for personal without at the same time asking for the collective is both improper and immoral.
The lesson of the lovedu is that harmonious living is of paramount importance. Thus, being quarrelsome or contentious is one of the worst offenses. And striving for uncoerced or free and willing agreement is the model of behavior. Reconciliation of conflict is patient, never coercive, and is always done keeping the person in mind. The fundamental objective in conflict is not to mechanically apply the rule but to reconcile the people. For they believe that “if people do not agree, there can be no relationship.” And if they have to be coerced, there cannot be genuine agreement. In such context, collective work and responsibility is facilitated and sustained.
Finally, collective work and responsibility can be seen in terms of the challenge of culture and history. Work, both personal and collective, is truly at the center of history and culture. It is the fundamental activity by which we create ourselves, define and develop ourselves and confirm ourselves in the process as both persons and people. And it is the way we create culture and make history. It is for this reason, among others, that the Holocaust of Enslavement was so devastating. For not only did it destroy tens of millions of lives, which is morally monstrous in itself, but it also destroyed great cultural achievements, created technological and cultural arrest and thus eroded and limited human possibility Africa offered the world. In fact, the effects of this Holocaust are present even today both in terms of the problems of the African continent and those of the Diaspora.
The challenge of history and culture then is through collective work and responsibility to restore that which was damaged or destroyed and to raise up and reconstruct that which was in ruins as the ancient Egyptians taught. It is also to remember we are each cultural representatives of our people and have no right to misrepresent them or willfully do less than is demanded of us by our history and current situation as community-in-struggle. We must accept and live the principle of shared or collective work and responsibility in all things good, right and beneficial to the community.

Elder Paul Hill    NROP

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