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The Conformity and Individuality in the African Communities

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Some scholars argue that African communitarianism does not do justice to individuality. Critically discuss this claim. What is communitarianism? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Communitarianism is an ideology which emphasizes the responsibility of the individual to the community and the social importance of the family unit. It is also defined as a theory or system of social organization based on small self-governing communities. Communitarianism assumes that human beings are social animals, not under any circumstances isolated individuals, it also assumes that no sharp distinction can be drawn between the public and private sphere. (D. Callahan, 2003)

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Ubuntu and African communitarianism are sub-sections of each other as; Ubuntu is the capacity in African cultures to express compassion, reciprocity, dignity, harmony and humanity in the interest of building and maintaining community with justice and mutual caring (B.Nussbaum 2003). African Communitarianism presumes that human identity is constituted through the social realm. (C.G.Christians, 2004). Both rely on the lack of individuality and the presence of conformity, abandoning ones individuality. In African communitarianism the community is prioritized above the individual. The community is valued more rather than an individual and although this prerogative is held together by philosophies such as Ubuntu, does it disregard the individual? Could it be a community vs. the individual situation?

In Africa the community is an important aspect of every culture, the society is made up of a community and therefore community is important. The narrative made is that the community is greater than any individual opinion. Africans believe the community to be prioritized over the individual, however does that mean the community made the induvial or did the individual make the community? Did individuals create the community or was the community an aspect that existed long before individuality and individuals simply adjusted to the system? And is the blur between these two comparable to the chicken or egg debate? Individualism in Africa is seen as a form of exclusion; many choose to be in than be out because the community is more important than being your own person, the community requires the individual to conform. As a philosophy of the human, communitarianism’s basic formulation is political theory (C.G.Christians, 2004) So does Communitarianism in Africa bring justice to Individuality?

The communitarian argument centers on the politics of the common good (C.G.Christians) A persons self-identity is formed through the community. Does this harm our freedom in individuality expression? Is the political theory of the community meant nurture a state of mind that basically tells the individual that; because the community finds this weird it is wrong to do so and failure to abide will result in being cast out? Could the community be based on self-proclaimed authority over individual lives, to govern as a group what is best for the individual?

The heart of communitarianism is the view that the individual is embedded in a context of social relationship and interdependence (G. Ogunbanjo & D.K. Van Bogaert, 2014). The statement makes you thing whether we as humans are meant to be dependent on others, on the community rather than being dependent on ourselves. Is independence a fantasy sold by the community? Is the community using independence as a way for individuals to feel that their choices are their own when in fact the choices were put forth by the community not by the individual?

Joseph Mbiti said “I am because we are and since we are, therefore I am”. His statement builds the view that the community is the reason the individual exists. The radical communitarians claim that the community defines a person, that personhood is acquired; were we destined to be definitions of the community? Are we expected to earn our individual status? Was individuality never a matter of the person but rather a matter of the community?

Extreme communitarianism leads to the inability to distance oneself to evaluate, criticize and revise one’s community’s values and practices (G. Ogunbanjo & D.K. Van Bogaert, 2014). Communitarianism, especially the radical implementation of it causes the individual to subject to the community’s views and discards any sense of individuality as the Ubuntu philosophy says; we are one. Clearly there is a pattern in African communitarianism that puts the individual ast an inferior end and many argue that it simply disregards individuality and that there is no room for individuality in a community.

Gyekye defined community in a cultural context s not only a starting point for identifying and articulating the values and goals shared by different individuals nut also constitutes the matrix, the social and cultural space, in which the actualization of individuals potential and sense of identity may be materialized, rendering the individual the opportunity to express his or her individuality, to acquire and develop his or her personality and to fully become the type of person he or she aims to be (I.E.Chachine, 2008)

Does the community form individuality as a collective group whose aim is to govern individuals? According to Gyekye, being part of a community allows you to become your own person, but could it be true? Is a community’s purpose to promote individuality? The basis of a community is conformity, and conformity has no element of individuality in it, in fact conformity and individuality are arch enemies, one results in the loss of the other; in the end only one can be superior.

So in analyzing Gyekye’s statement I wondered whether African communitarianism defines community as a platform to promote ones individuality and if we as Africans just foreign to the concept of Individuality or are we simply choosing to not accept it because of our Ubuntu principles? The fact remains Africa has been built on community and the subject of Individuality in Africa has sort of become a taboo, a threat if you will to the progression of the unity established. But has this unity been Africa’s own consensus or was it something left behind by colonialists, were we as Africans forced to be a community? I can’t help but wonder if community, Unity would be a strong factor should the past have been different. Of course a mere idea can’t conclude on a lifetime of practices, but could a community give justice to individuality? Have we as Africans ever been Individual without outside factors? Could we be individuals? Or are we simply products of forced conformity, was the issue not within the community but at the root of our history?

Community is a building block in Africa and is an essential. And individuality cannot exist in the presence of conformity so therefore community must surely be a threat to the promise of individuality, the freedom of independence. Can there be justice for individuality in a society built of conforming to the community? No, Individuality has no justice and is a taboo to the community based society. There is no justice for individuality in communitarianism, only the illusion of it. Individuality in a community is a perfect contradiction almost seemingly a marketing plot to make conforming come across as the right thing. The expression of individuality is a fabrication. Communities are made of the code of doing what is condoned as right. So is community conformity the prescribed action to be part of a society?

Could it be right to say that Ubuntu birthed communitarianism, and as Ubuntu means to be intertwined as one, does individualism mean you cannot be part of a unit? The justice in that has never been more of an illusion, because no, we cannot be part of a bigger group if we decided to follow our individual instincts. I wonder due to the apparent correlation was Communitarianism the birth of popularity in high school, is the high school experience a subsection of communitarianism?

We are taught from birth that we should do what is acceptable to others, we are taught that to be your own person you should fit in. Does individuality mean we are going against our society? Or does communitarianism mean our community made society went against us? Ubuntu is best understood as advocating that we incorporate dialogue through a relationship and distance. It preserves the other in his or her otherness or uniqueness without letting him or her fade into the distance (M.O.Eze, 2008). The idea of us being allowed a sense of being unique yet still abiding seems rather like a controlled experiment. A sense of individuality but restrained.

With the looming election, what was the idea of election? As a community we elect leaders, to have our best interest and be the guide to the flock, we go on the idea of individual choice when making a decision. Was the election just a community effort to make individuals feel individual? Or does it really allow individual expression of what we think could be best?

The idea of being an individual in an African community has been subject to many debates and we will always think that we’re progressing together as one and although that has its benefits, Individual expression is limited of course individuality should come without harming another but does the oppression of individuality not harm others? Are we perpetrators of the punishment we were once subjected to; Oppression. Will we ever allow individuality? Is this a Stockholm syndrome-esque situation, is Africa too used to oppression that it uses oppression in all forms of individuality in social and political cases? Will there ever be justice in individualism in Africa?

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