by Trevor Wilson
Author and Global Human Equity Strategist
In Rwanda there are approximately 120,000 murderers waiting to stand trial for massacring a million people in the 1994 genocide. It has been estimated that it would take over 120 years to bring these murderers to trial using the western judicial system. The solution chosen by the new Rwandan government is based on an ancient African concept known in that country as Gacaca.
The system has evolved from communal law enforcement which was traditionally employed to settle village or familial disputes. Not only has this system proven to be a more expeditious method of delivering justice, but it is also designed to promote healing and moving forward from the crisis.
“The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look, but the great gift still has to come from Africa – giving the world a more human face.” – Steven Biko, 1970, South African freedom fighter
Could this be a more productive way of resolving the traditional differences addressed by diversity programs? Our divisiveness has been highlighted by terms such as white guilt, male privilege and recovering racist. One of the most public examples of the issues we face has been the call by African Americans for reparations due to the injustices of slavery. Could there be a more healing and productive way of solving our problems; a way based on what Aristotle used to call practical wisdom?
When I first visited South Africa in the mid ’90s I heard about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As I understood it, the idea was to invite the thousands of people who created and nurtured Apartheid to confess their crimes in exchange for total amnesty. I watched as South Africans of all backgrounds came forward to share the horror of their experience, tell the truth, ask for forgiveness and begin the long process of healing.
In his book No Future without Forgiveness, Archbishop Tutu writes:
Our country opted for a way [which] was consistent with a central African feature that we know in our languages as ubuntu…it speaks of the very essence of being human. We say “my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.” We say, “A person is a person through other persons.”
This enlightened form of conflict resolution is beginning to appear here in the west. Books are being published on Ubuntu, blockbuster movies like Avatar have borrowed from the Ubuntu language, and even President Obama has reflected the Ubuntu spirit in some of his comments about bridging the racial divide in America.
He has said, “I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction.”
Both Gacaca and Ubuntu are concepts based on practical wisdom, which is the combination of knowing the right thing to do with the moral skill to figure out how to do it. This type of wisdom is required whenever we are relating to others, especially in the world of work. This type of wisdom is based on character, virtue and humanness. As Steven Biko says in the opening quote, this is the real gift Africa may contribute to our small global village that has so far been obsessed with economic, political and industrial affairs.
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In 1996 trevor started TWI Inc. to specialize in the area of equity and diversity as a business issue. In the same year, Trevor published a highly acclaimed book titled Diversity at Work: The Business Case for Equity. The firm’s clients include some of the most progressive global employers. TWI’s Human Equity™ approach was instrumental in catapulting Coca-Cola’s South African division to the top performing division worldwide. Visit www.twiinc.com for more information.