In search of solutions for the new world order, there has been a surge of articles being published and webinars being hosted as globally no one knows what’s going on. Even though the panic is now on autopilot, the fear of the unknown still lingers because what worked before doesn’t seem to be working anymore. Hence in our search for survival, it has become important for us (especially Africans) to find a common ground between our African collectivism and the Western individualism.
In Africa we start with relationship. Our communal way of doing things necessitate us to gain an understanding of one another before we start talking business. We connect first purely on a personal level to establish trust. In fact, a marketing concept called “seller/buyer diet” is rife here, as it states that you sell better to people who look like you, talk like you and walk like you (Mohale, 2018:96). As a result people buy from you when they know your story and will always have an opinion about how you run your business because according to them, they helped you reach success. That’s Ubuntu– I am because you are.
On the other hand the western individualism is all about self-reliance. The concept of individualism was brought to light in the 18th century by Adam Smith, who claimed that in a competitive economy, an individual acting on his or her self-interest will promote public interest (Nafziger, 2006:124). This means self-interest has an invisible hand that unintentional impact on the welfare of society. Individualism forms part of Classical Liberalism which is all about the freedom/ sovereignty of the individual. It argues for individual liberties on a social, political and economic level. Therefore Cogito, ergo sum– I think, therefore I am.
Now that I have given an empirical analysis of the two concepts, the question is how one can embrace them to enrich their own life and the environment they find themselves in.
The answer lies in building an ownership economy. Here, like-minded individuals with different strengths come together and collectively own income generating assets or enterprises. In a cooperative system, ownership of capital shapes the distribution of power and reward in a business and the economy as a whole. It structures how an enterprise is organised, granting powerful control rights to the exclusion of labour’s interest. If capital was broadly owned or democratically governed, the growing share of national income going to capital would not matter for inequality and living standards, since the benefits would be widely distributed (Lawrence, 2018).
The trick to executing this lies in a common bond driven by shared values, principles and goals amongst individuals who form cooperative enterprises. A common bond will hearten dignity; encourage accountability on a personal level therefore self-reliance; hedge failure due to a strong supportive system; and strangely enforces discipline. One could suggest that, what African Communists like Chris Hani and Steve Biko would have in common with Western libertarians like Milton Friedman and Margaret Thatcher is the ideology of ownership, though their methodologies were totally different.
As an African economist, I have always viewed myself as an individual who belonged to a society therefore everything I do should benefit me and those around me. For me to get to this level of contentment required self-mastery, hence I’ve been on a quest to connect with like-minded people so that we can together create better lives for ourselves and the generation that follows. I strongly believe building an ownership economy is the only way we can embrace both African collectivism and Western individualism, in fact new models of ownership can begin to reshape how our economy works and for whom. It gives us a chance to own the future.
Lawrence, M. (2018). Owning the future: why we need new models of ownership. OpenDemocracyUK.
Mohale, B. (2018). Lift as you rise. Tracey McDonald Publishers: Bryanston.
Nafziger,W.E. (2006). Economic Development. Cambridge University Press: New York.