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Concepts of Justice in Africa: Past and Present

Abstract

Whereas in the European philosophical tradition the concept of justice has been counted among the basic philosophical concepts since Greek antiquity, in the African tradition debates on the concept of justice are not in the foreground. Although across the various ages and regions it is possible to provide evidence for concepts of justice and related discourses in Africa, they do not currently play a crucial role in the philosophy debate.

Keywords

  • Economic Freedom
  • Transitional Justice
  • Global Justice
  • African Language
  • Basic Liberty

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Notes

  1. 1.

    All quotes from Assmann translated from German.

  2. 2.

    After the death of Pepi II (6th Dynasty, about 2245–2180 BC), the country dissolved into more or less independent princedoms, which the kings in Memphis were ever less able to control.

  3. 3.

    Today this thesis is supported by several philosophers, Egyptologists and historians, among them Cheikh Anta Diop, Mubabingo Bilolo, Martin Bernal, George James, Molefi Kete Asante and Théophile Obenga.

  4. 4.

    For further exploration see Graness (2015a).

  5. 5.

    See the papyri pBerlin 3023 + 3025 and Ramesseum Papyrus 10499, pBM 10274, Egyptian Museum, Berlin.

  6. 6.

    Here I use the term ‘indigenous concepts’ to refer to local knowledge systems deeply rooted in the history of a certain society. Such concepts form the information basis of this particular society and render agency and decision-making possible. In the case of ubuntu, the term also refers to the presumed rootedness of the concept in pre-colonial times. However, local knowledge arises in engagement with other traditions of thought and, especially today, in response to global developments. Thus, in using the term ‘indigenous concepts’, I refer to the locality of these concepts and explicitly avoid describing them as traditional knowledge, which would open up the tradition/modernity dichotomy.

  7. 7.

    Leonhard Praeg introduces the useful distinction between ubuntu (a traditional worldview and way of life) and Ubuntu (a post-colonial concept) (Praeg 2014, 11).

  8. 8.

    Gade points out that it only became common between 1993 and 1995 to define ubuntu on the basis of the aforementioned aphorism, and that it was Augustine Shutte who introduced the link between this aphorism and a definition of the concept of ubuntu (Gade 2011, 313).

  9. 9.

    Thaddeus Metz uses features of ubuntu ethics to work out an African moral theory worth being taken seriously as a rival to predominant Western ethical conceptions (Metz 2007 and Metz and Gaie 2010). For a recent attempt in this direction see Chuwa (2014).

  10. 10.

    Chapter 15, the Article on National Unity and Reconciliation, states: ‘These can now be addressed on the basis that there is a need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation but not for retaliation, a need for ubuntu but not for victimisation.’ See Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 200 of 1993, http://www.info.gov.za/documents/constitution/93cons.htm

  11. 11.

    Similarly critical statements come also from South African philosopher Mogobe B. Ramose (see Ramose 2003c, 461ff) and Ibbo Mandaza, who calls reconciliation an ideology: ‘Reconciliation is the forgiveness of a small elite that inherits state power without the fulfilment of social justice for the majority. For this reason, reconciliation is neither durable nor sustainable’ (Mandaza 2003, 511).

  12. 12.

    ‘Transitional justice refers to the set of judicial and non-judicial measures that have been implemented by different countries in order to redress the legacies of massive human rights abuses. These measures include criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations programs, and various kinds of institutional reforms.’ Source: International Center for Transitional Justice http://ictj.org/about/transitional-justice

  13. 13.

    I quote here from Odera Oruka 1997, 115–125. The essay was published for the first time in 1981 under the title ‘Rawls’ Ideological Affinity and Justice as Egalitarian Fairness’, in: Lars Ericsson (ed.) Justice, social, and global. Papers presented at the Stockholm International Symposium on Justice, held in September 1978. Stockholm: Gotab, 77–88.

  14. 14.

    I quote here from Odera Oruka in Graness and Kresse 1997, 47–59. The essay was published for the first time in 1989: The Philosophy of Foreign Aid: A Question of the Right to a Human Minimum, in: Praxis International 8, 465–475.

  15. 15.

    “According to John Rawls, the guiding ideas of justice are expressed in two principles of justice. These principles are lexically ordered, and Rawls emphasizes the priority of liberty:The First Principle of Justice“First: each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others.” (Rawls 1971, 53)The basic liberties of citizens are the political liberty to vote and run for office, freedom of speech and assembly, liberty of conscience, freedom of personal property and freedom from arbitrary arrest.The Second Principle of JusticeSocial and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that:(a) they are to be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society, consistent with the just savings principle. ( the difference principle)(b) offices and positions must be open to everyone under conditions of fair equality of opportunity (see Rawls 1971, p. 53)”

  16. 16.

    See the comparative analysis in Graneß 2011, 173ff.

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Graness, A. (2017). Concepts of Justice in Africa: Past and Present. In: Ukpokolo, I. (eds) Themes, Issues and Problems in African Philosophy . Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-40796-8_21

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