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C’est l’homme qui fait l’homme: Cul-de-Sac Ubuntu-ism in Côte d’Ivoire

Tuesday 18 August 2015, author(s)-editor(s) Francis B. Nyamnjoh

The idea that human beings are inextricably bound to one another is at the heart of this book about African agency, especially drawing on the African philosophy Ubuntu, with its roots in human sociality and inclusivity. Ubuntu’s precepts and workings are severely tested in these times of rapid change and multiple responsibilities. Africans negotiate their social existence between urban and rural life, their continental and transcontinental distances, and all the market forces that now impinge, with relationships and loyalties placed in question. Between ideal and reality, dreams and schemes, how is Ubuntu actualized, misappropriated and endangered?

The book unearths the intrigues and contradictions that go with inclusivity in Africa. Basing his argument on the ideals of trust, conviviality and support embodied in the concept of Ubuntu, Francis Nyamnjoh demonstrates how the pursuit of personal success and even self-aggrandizement challenges these ideals, thus leading to discord in social relationships. Nyamnjoh uses a popular Ivorian drama with the same title to substantiate life-world realities and more importantly to demonstrate that new forms of expression, from popular drama to fiction, thicken and enrich the ethnographic component in current anthropology.

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5 Book Reviews

  • C’est l’homme qui fait l’homme: Cul-de-Sac Ubuntu-ism in Côte d’Ivoire 22 August 2015 12:09, author(s)-editor(s) Aghi Bahi, Professor at the Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Abidjan – Côte (...)

    “In several respects, the book is a treasure-trove, as it poses problems encountered by ordinary people in their daily lives, such as the problem of relations between social elders and juniors, the big and the small. In the background are themes such as the migration of young Africans to Europe, the garden of Eden, in search of self-fulfilment and a better life for themselves and their families, even amid all the attendant frustrations, including relations with those left behind.”

    Aghi Bahi, Professor at the Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Abidjan – Côte d’Ivoire

  • C’est l’homme qui fait l’homme: Cul-de-Sac Ubuntu-ism in Côte d’Ivoire 22 August 2015 12:09, author(s)-editor(s) Milton Krieger, Emeritus Professor, Western Washington University, (...)

    “This book’s readers will recognize how acutely it projects the very contemporary experience of “being African” and its predicaments. Predation and altruism, monopolization and circulation of resources, unequal exchanges and Ubuntu-like generosity, who “belongs” and who doesn’t to shifting constellations of wealth, power and community, market and gift economies: the worlds of Milton Friedman (with not at all subtle touches of Ayn Rand) and Desmond Tutu, converge and mingle. So, also, the text is informed by the fluid, transactional character of human lives not defined by such binary constraints.”

    Milton Krieger, Emeritus Professor, Western Washington University, USA

  • C’est l’homme qui fait l’homme: Cul-de-Sac Ubuntu-ism in Côte d’Ivoire 22 August 2015 12:10, author(s)-editor(s) Levi Obijiofor (PhD), Senior Lecturer in Journalism, School of (...)

    “An absorbing narrative. In this sociological tour de force, Nyamnjoh explores the hardships, challenges, and dilemmas that confront Africans in the Diaspora, as well as those who seek to undertake adventures in different parts of the world. Mobile Africans seeking “greener pastures” overseas are affected by social and cultural expectations and norms, as well as social obligations to cater for their kith and kin in villages and cities. The adventures are fraught with risks. Yet the dangers are not enough to discourage the adventurers from undertaking their journeys. Beyond all these is the challenge that modern lifestyle and market forces pose to the welfare, security and wellbeing of families, individuals, and friends across Africa. Anyone who is interested in understanding the social, political, cultural, and structural factors that underpin the lives of Africans will find this absorbing narrative by Nyamnjoh riveting. In it, there is something for everyone.”

    Levi Obijiofor (PhD), Senior Lecturer in Journalism, School of Communication and Arts, The University of Queensland Brisbane, Australia

  • C’est l’homme qui fait l’homme: Cul-de-Sac Ubuntu-ism in Côte d’Ivoire 25 September 2015 11:21, author(s)-editor(s) Malizani Jimu

    Europe’s Migrant Crisis: A perspective from Francis Nyamnjoh’s ‘«C’est l’homme qui fait l’homme»: “Cul-de-Sac Ubuntu-ism in Côte d’Ivoire” By Malizani Jimu

    Francis Nyamnjoh is not a stranger to critical commentary. His analysis of social issues is refreshing. Take for example, his treatise on media and democracy in Africa, globalization, research ethics, chieftainship, culture and impact of colonial education in Africa. Through many distinctive, well thought through and intelligent analyses of situations both complex and ordinary Nyamnjoh has shown the world that there is always something new about Africa. His very recent works demonstrate a fusion of fiction and scholarship in a manner very reflective of reality that is also theoretically informed.

    Nyamnjoh’s recent book titled: ‘«C’est l’homme qui fait l’homme»: Cul-de-Sac Ubuntu-ism in Côte d’Ivoire’ (2015) dwells on inclusivity as a social norm characteristic of Ubuntu. Other than celebrating virtues of Ubuntu as a philosophy of life, Nyamnjoh offers a useful critique of Ubuntu by showing its limitations where opportunism could be masked in opportunity. Nyamnjoh draws on commonplace experiences involving well known and less known characters. The question I would want to dwell on is not whether there is a grain of truth in Nyamnjoh’s critique, but whether there are parallels with recent experiences to what is now known as ‘Europe Migrant Crisis’.

    Talking about Europe migrant crisis is not simply to understate the spatial reach of the crisis but also to take an unbalanced Eurocentric way of perceiving the crisis. We need to ponder on the genesis and the missteps of the west in the making of the current crisis. This write up does not seek to provide a historical analysis of the factors leading to the crisis, rather to demonstrate how Nyamnjoh’s book actually offers a better way of positioning the experiences of being a migrant (legality not withstanding). In a bid to do so there is need to appreciate that Europe’s migrant crisis is to a large extent due to conflict, oppression and poverty in major source countries, principally Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea. The receiving countries have moral duty and an economic interest to welcome (and not to) the migrants regardless of the label used to describe the persons in motion.

    Certainly the genesis and outcome indicate that the migrant crisis is a crisis of peace and insecurity. Recognizing it as such there is no need to underplay the political and economic dimensions both in the sending and receiving countries and regions. Nyamnjoh calls on us all to consider it as a crisis of humanity. By underscoring the humanity of persons in motion and the negotiations that is involved in the process of moving and between those who are involved as migrants, the host communities and the communities and relations in the places of origin, Nyamnjoh would argue that his book is actually a crisis of everything above. Nyamnjoh challenges us to begin a process of self-reflection with the goal of rediscovering the humanity in us and the other, those on the move and the policy and opinion leaders at all levels. This is the central thesis among other possible readings of the text Ubuntuism given that Nyamnjoh gives prominence to the notion of ‘Inclusivity’. The introduction to his book actually opens with inclusivity as core virtue of Ubuntu.

    What the migrants are seeking from host communities is not just a safe haven for their mortal bodies but also for their souls, values and beliefs. Expecting immigrants to melt and disappear in the name of assimilation could be an annihilating experience. The violence visited upon the migrants in their places of origin is catastrophic to their Ubuntu as it is the cold and hostile reception in places like Hungary. To bring home this understanding of Ubuntu or the crisis of Ubuntu migrant experiences convey in Europe’s Migrant Crisis, Nyamnjoh quotes one of the beacons of hope in hopeless situations, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, urging us that Ubuntu is the quest for “social harmony”, a categorical imperative – “the summum bonum – the greatest good” – and “Anything that subverts or undermines this sought-after good is to be avoided like the plague”. Ubuntu is a virtue as powerful as hardworking spirit which many migrants have demonstrated throughout history. It is evident, as Nyamnjoh shows for various characters in his book, that Migrants are willing to undertake menial jobs that citizens shun or enter into grudgingly.

    Ubuntu calls for shared intricacies and entanglements. As Nyamnjoh also sees it, a person is a person because of another. Essentially it follows that human life is a network of interconnected and interdependent socialities in which agency is both an aspiration and a constantly negotiated or domesticated reality, for individuals and collectivities alike. Nyamnjoh underscores the value of interconnectedness and the need for inclusivity by showing us that if humans pride themselves with the capacity to harness nature, it is only appropriate to make human nature part of the bargain. Nyamnjoh appreciates situations where an individual toiling away in a distant land might be a victim of various claims by family, friends and acquaintances who are not themselves ready to reciprocate when s/he or others come knocking with claims and demands of their own. Given these occurrences Nyamnjoh suggests the need to differentiate opportunity from opportunism and when relationship claims be taken seriously, and when should they be ignored. Inclusivity is an important virtue even as Europe’s Migrant crisis is a story of people generally looking for opportunity and opportunism for those who are not desperate as for those who have taken advantage of the situation as smugglers.

    Being a migrant is a step in a long chain of entanglements and intricacies. Migrants always maintain close ties with people and places from which they have historical roots. To the people left behind, migrants become a source of livelihood. As Nyamnjoh has shown also in relation to Cameroon, migrants abroad can be compared to zombies in a form of witchcraft – nyongo – which privileges zombification of its victims over instant gratification through instant and total death. Nyamnjoh shares experiences of some characters, Daou and Amélie, who liken themselves to zombies in similar fashion, forced by duplicitous family and friends back in Côte d’Ivoire, such as Gohou and Nastou. But given that migrants abroad are only like zombies, they sometimes complain and even return occasionally, only to be met with disappointment and shattered dreams. The moral of the stories is that it is not always guaranteed that their efforts are appreciated. This is also the case of renowned Togolese international footballer Emmanuel Adebayor who has played for several top European clubs, including Monaco, Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspurs, and who won the African footballer of the year award in 2008. A detailed Facebook posting in English and French by Emmanuel Adebayor25, show him complaining about the ingratitude that his Togolese family has repeatedly shown him despite his generosity with his riches in their regard.

    Once Europe’s Migrant Crisis is resolved or overtaken by other important issues and it is forgotten for some time, Nyamnjoh’s call for inclusivity will not cease to entice and trouble the consciousness of migrants, host communities and policy makers both in Europe, Asia and Africa. Nyamnjoh’s rendition of ‘Ubuntu’ as inclusivity will remain a significant issue of interest to scholarship in the social sciences and in everyday discourses until another crisis is encountered and/or resolved.


  • C’est l’homme qui fait l’homme: Cul-de-Sac Ubuntu-ism in Côte d’Ivoire 31 March 2016 17:00, author(s)-editor(s) Adebang Angwafo III

    Fellow African,

    “C’est l’homme qui fait l’homme” by Francis Nyamnjoh is not a book to be read once, twice, three, or even four times, as I have done, and counting. It is a timely reference and practical book that illuminates the current challenges of Africans trying to move in a connected world, exploring the world of mobility, giving, and sharing through remittance. This book is a work of courage that should be used to educate civil society in schools, churches and educational centers urging leaders and adults to play a more active role in the growth of a stronger foundation for future generations to flourish, without draining the few willing to give it all. This book should be at the heart of civic education for weak economies mainly relying on remittances in a connected, globalized world. The meat of Ubuntu, and from the title, is that a person is a person because of another. Human beings should have each other’s back, in an extensively wide network. People are seen as rich because they share extensively from their sweat, except for those not being human - the psychopaths. We see far because we stand on the big shoulders of giant ancestors. Ubuntu calls for shared complexities, to recognize our mere mortality and plan on its shoulders. As Nyamnjoh also sees it, a person is a person because of another. It follows that human life is inextricably linked to another and we grow by "an intermingling" giving to a wider network, even beyond the unknown. We grow as a country or society by deeply investing in each other, not in looting. Currently, I find politics in third world countries too draining on our brains, opaque and stunting the growth of giving in biblical proportions, especially when governments refuse to govern properly. To borrow from ubuntu, we should remake our people, person by person, so as to remake our politics in a connected, globalized world. And that requires a not-so-complicated understanding of politics.

    The governing of any country through the concept of politics is meant to be a simple process. This is a simple process with a core principle that allows citizens of a country to transform their God-given potential into kinetic energy, under the guiding hand of the free market, which drives the economic good. It is simply a means or process by which citizens agree to live and make or unmake decisions. Fundamentally, it is a decision making process, be it liberal, conservative or “nothing to lose”. It is the reason politics attracts as many as it rejects or corrupts absolutely with power. It is the reason many politicians claim not to wheel and deal in the art or science of politics while choking on its spoil. It is the reason many fly-by-night Alibaba thieves instantly transform “thieving” associations into fantasy political parties with the sole purpose to drain the blood, energy and brain of citizens. It is the reason many politicians claim “government is too big” but seek to surreptitiously benefit from the largesse of Big government. In any case, politics is as old as human civilization and has taken hold in so many disparate cultures and environments across the world. It has grown bigger and most dangerous as the world gets further connected, globalized and nuclear.

    All you need to practice politics is a “geo-political” domain, which is composed of government, civil society, the mirror of government or its opposition and many sorts of consumer protection agencies. It is some sort of sport with politics being the ball, which can be played in any sort of “geo-political” space or world – a house, a compound, a yard, a district, a division, a region, a street or field. Its governance or refereeing is meant to be equally simple. Everyone is meant to understand it laws, apply them with efficiency and justice for all. Instead, in many countries in Africa, politics has been predominantly played in the darkness and in the back rooms of a Vampire draining the blood and brains of Africans. Those tasked with the straightforward task of managing the political sport in African fields have been at the throat of each other while playing at the champions league of corruption. The citizenry has joined them, since they cannot beat them in the clean game. Many of the poor citizens don’t wish to play in the “third division” and miss out on the instantaneous spoils of corruption. This has left many third world economies of countries such as Cameroon wrecked on the rocks, soaking wet in an unholy mess of corruption, religiosity,bribery and terrorism. Cameroon is currently talking about attaining emerging status come 2035 but what industry and philosophy is anchoring this emergence? Can we look to the social harmony and compassion that the African philosophy ubuntu brings to the political domain? You buy the book, read it and share extensively - your valuable thoughts, I mean. C’EST L’HOMME QUI FAIT L’HOMME