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Ujamaa: The Fourth Principle of Kwanzaa

The fourth Kwanzaa principle, Ujamaa, is key to economic survival during these difficult COVID times.

Ujamaa, cooperative economics, is probably the most well known principle globally thanks to the determined efforts of the past president of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere. It has been described by Dr. Maulana Karenga as the intersection of the three critical concepts of “shared wealth and work”, “economic self-reliance” and “obligation of generosity”.

Ujamaa is all about cooperative economics…more broadly it encapsulates the sense of local people cooperating with each other to provide for the essentials of living within a community. All year round, but especially during this COVID period, we should continue to support Black businesses. Not only those with brick and mortar stores, but friends with side hustles and small businesses. Do you know someone who sells candles and body butters out of their home? Pick up a few instead of going to Bath and Body Works. Is your friend a graphic designer? Hire them for some work, rather than using someone cheaply from the internet. If you’re looking for a gift during the holidays, try asking friends and family, or looking around on local Facebook groups. Not only will you be supporting a Black business, you’ll be giving a thoughtful, one-of-a-kind gift that illustrates another aspect of social generosity.

This principle calls upon us to both be generous in spirit (i.e. forgiving the transgressions of others) and actively generous with our gifts. The obligation of generosity also compels us to spare no effort in our current fight against the virus. We must harness and apply all our resources to defend ourselves from COVID 19, and all the things that make us vulnerable to catching it. Frequent handwashing or sanitizing, and cleaning high touch surfaces is imperative. Only going outside when absolutely necessary remains a mantra to be abundantly shared. This includes doctor’s appointments and grocery shopping. If we must have family gatherings, they have to be virtual. Though it goes against the cultural norms, don’t interact with other households. Its fully in line with our African principles and collaborative values. This shared determination will help prevent outbreaks that threaten the lives of our loved ones. In the long run, it will be considered acts of the most profound generosity.

The principle of shared wealth and work also tells us, in no uncertain terms, that the dramatically growing socio-economic gap between our poorer bottom half, and its vastly wealthier elite, is ethically and culturally unacceptable. Although this economic pattern is well aligned with the colonial and enslavement past, it is fundamentally incompatible with the future that Black people have long been fighting for; one where all individuals and communities know that they fully belong and are valued by their fellow citizens. The gross inequities will also be bad for our shared future as it will undermine the creativity and innovation of racialized populations with tremendous genius that contributes to our collective wealth. The principle of Ujamaa is aligned with job creation thereby increasing the average income of households within that community; increased economic and business activities and; by extension elevated purchasing power for individuals. By idolizing and incorporating this principle, we can mitigate or stem the effects of the existing gap thereby fueling positive reinforcement to grow within communities.

This holiday season, there has been a citywide, perhaps even a country-wide push to shop locally. All small businesses deserve some extra support during this challenging COVID period. Similarly, community-based businesses need that extra boost from members of our many Black communities, as the principle of Ujamaa extols. Let us practice this principle with our dollars as well as our words and deeds!


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