Discover Africa

African Ethics

The greater the community it serves, the better the action.

THE BOND BETWEEN THE LIVING AND THE DEAD
For Africans, the living and the dead share one world. When someone dies, they don’t cease to exist; they merely transfer to another life. There are good and bad people among the living, as well as good and bad spirits among the dead.

Good spirits guard and protect good people and the living are often named after good spirits (dead people who were good in life). Bad spirits are people who died as bad people. They seek revenge on those who – they think – wronged them in life.

Kids in refugee camp

INDIVIDUAL ACTIONS AND THE COMMUNITY
With their actions, the living and the dead affect each other. The individual’s actions are assessed based upon the extent to which they serve the community, which comprises the family, the clan and the tribe. The greater the community it serves, the better the action. Selfish acts are generally condemned. For example, to eat alone individually or as a family while the rest of the village or the clan is starving is considered a bad act. Those who display selfish and bad behavior are counseled by the elders in the hope they can become better people.

If someone behaves badly under the influence of others (whether living people or bad spirits), they are thought to have no control over their actions so they are not blamed completely. On the other hand, if they act badly of their own free will, then they are totally in control and are to blame in full. When bad people can’t even be helped by the elders, they are considered irredeemable and are ostracized so they don’t damage the community.

BELONGING TOGETHER
For Africans, a deep sense of belonging translates into a participatory approach to life. The foundation of African ethics lies in each one’s fulfillment of obligations towards the community. Honesty and truthfulness are highly valued virtues.

Information received by the individual is shared with the family, the clan and the tribe. To live in isolation and do things one’s own way is not consistent with African ethics.

Resource: The Foundations of African Ethics (Afriethics) and the Professional Practice of Journalism: The Case for Society-Centred Media Morality by Francis P. Kasoma, Professor and Head, Department of Mass Communication, University of Zambia.