Kwanzaa: The Ujamaa/Cooperative Economic Principle

Ujamaa/Cooperative Economic: “Commitment, duty, and obligation to promote and help build and maintain cooperative enterprises and initiatives the services of the family, neighborhood, and the human good.”

Kwanzaa was created to introduce and reinforce the 7 Principles and reinforced the bonds of family and community.  The Seven Principles were viewed and still remain the “moral minimum” set of values which African Americans need to strengthen and make more effective families and family systems. The values embedded in the 7 Principles of Kwanzaa are interlocking and align together and synergistically produce an outcome greater than each of the values isolated individually.

To be sure, the 7 Principles habitually default in duties and responsibilities. Duties are how the individual members of the family and community see their socio-ethical roles in relation to the interest and welfare of others and responsibilities are the reciprocal obligations these members have to each other.

The Ujamaa/Cooperative Economic principle is grounded in the unselfish concern for and devotion to the material well-being of others. To be sure, this principle sets in motion a “thick set of concentric circles of obligations and responsibilities evolving round levels of relationships radiating from the biological and extended family to the wider circumference of the neighborhood and others.

African Americans have a tradition of practicing mutual aid in the context of family, extended family, and church. The principle of cooperative economic encourages and instructs blacks to channel the practice of mutual aid into a strong movement of modern cooperatives, which is the practice of pooling together and leveraging financial resources and sharing in the benefits which those resources yield.

Ujamaa is not just an economic theory or approach, but a way of living, in fact a smart and ethical way of living. African proverbs affirm this: “If you do not allow your neighbor to reach nine you will never reach ten,” and “One person’s path will intersect with another before too long.” Hence, success that must be accrued to cooperative living and economic depends very much on each member of the family and community demonstrating a high degree of moral responsiveness and sensitivity in relations to the needs and well-being of other members.

Above all, as a moral and social good, the principle and practice of Ujamaa promotes, reinforces, and increases unity in the family and wider community. Sharing financial resources engenders trust and collective efficacy, i.e., social capital. Communities where trust and collective efficacy are present have a greater sense of well-being and purpose and meaning in their lives. Their youth are bound together by the pursuit of common interest and ends and by adults and the community as a whole.

Indeed, the Kwanzaa principle Ujamaa procreates and fosters generosity, its corresponding virtue. In traditional Southern African American culture, considerable importance was attached to generosity. The African proverb teaches that: “True greatness is identified by generosity.” And, to be sure, in Southern African American culture, this was a way of living, a way of living the “Good Life.”

In sum, during Kwanzaa, families and others take inventory and discuss: what they have done to done and achieve in relationship to the goal of cooperative living and enterprise, and what they will do in the coming year (recommitment) to practice the principle of Ujamaa/Cooperative Economic in their daily lives in the context of the family and neighborhood.

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