Original Research - Special Collection: Leadership in Emerging Economies

A meta-theory of ubuntu: Implications for responsible leadership in Africa

Crispen Sachikonye, Ronnie Ramlogan
South African Journal of Business Management | Vol 55, No 1 | a4342 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajbm.v55i1.4342 | © 2024 Crispen Sachikonye, Ronnie Ramlogan | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 30 October 2023 | Published: 29 April 2024

About the author(s)

Crispen Sachikonye, Alliance Manchester Business School, Faculty of Humanities, University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom
Ronnie Ramlogan, Alliance Manchester Business School, Faculty of Humanities, University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom


Purpose: This study provides an outline of a meta-theory of ubuntu to illuminate how responsible leadership might be understood and enacted in African settings.

Design/methodology/approach: This study presents an initial theory on ubuntu and appeals to realist philosophical principles to provide an approach to understand the structures that make ubuntu possible. The study tests and refines that initial theory using evidence about reconciliation in Africa where ubuntu has been revealed. It then discusses the key concepts of responsible leadership using ubuntu as a lens.

Findings/results: Ubuntu is an important basis for responsible leadership in many African communities. It can manifest, to varying extents, when individuals engage with their environments and are exposed to an apology. Apology reveals the rights, privileges, obligations and responsibilities of individuals. It provides an environment for transformative conversations that improve understanding and promote harmony.

Practical implications: Theories of responsible leadership based on ubuntu will prioritise engagement with African cultures and issues in a holistic manner. Leaders who activate ubuntu will be less interested in stakeholder management and more in citizenship. This approach decentres organisations and foregrounds humanity.

Originality/value: This study contributes to the theory of ubuntu and proposes that it can support the conceptualisation and implementation of responsible leadership in African settings. It clarifies the nature of responsibility and indicates to whom that responsibility is owed. It helps bridge African and Western ideas to reverse the marginalisation of African systems of thought by positioning ubuntu as an important socio-philosophical idea.


ubuntu; responsible leadership; ethics; Africa; reconciliation; apology.

JEL Codes

I31: General Welfare, Well-Being; M14: Corporate Culture • Diversity • Social Responsibility; M16: International Business Administration

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities


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