African perspectives Colleagues engaged in the global dialogues on information and computing ethics represent a number of important linguistic/cultural domains – certainly Western perspectives (the US, the UK, Australia, Northern and Southern Europe, including Scandinavia) as well as Asian perspectives (including China, Japan, Thailand, India). Early on, there was comparatively less representation and participation (at least in the English-language literature) from Latin American countries and Africa. But, most fortunately, this has begun to change. Uruguayan-born Rafael Capurro, for example, has been a pivotal figure in both Spanish- and English-language information and computing ethics.
At the same time, African thinkers have become more engaged in these global dialogues – sparked in part by the first African Information Ethics conference, held in Pretoria, South Africa, in February 2007. In his opening address to the conference, Rafael Capurro emphasized the importance of ubuntu as an indigenous philosophical tradition and framework for developing an information ethics appropriate to the African context. As we saw in an introductory way in the discussion of Open Source and FLOSS, ubuntu (as inspiring the popular Ubuntu distribution of Linux) emphasizes that we are human beings in and through our relationships with other human beings: “to be human is to affirm one’s humanity by recognizing the humanity of others and, on that basis, establish humane respectful relations with them”. While not all peoples and traditions in Africa recognize the term ubuntu, this notion of being human as involving an intrinsic interrelationship with and interdependence upon others is widely characteristic of African thought. So Barbara Paterson has observed that, “In African philosophy, a person is defined through his or her relationships with other persons, not through an isolated quality such as rationality”. And just as Confucian thought, in beginning with the person as a relational being, thereby stresses interaction with the larger community (both human and natural), so, Paterson continues, in African thought, in community, “Through being affirmed by others and through the desire to help and support others, the individual grows, personhood is developed, and personal freedom comes into being”. This means that personhood is not a given, but rather an ongoing project: “African thought sees a person as a being under construction whose character changes as the relations to other persons change. To grow older means to become more of a person and more worthy of respect”. Again, given this concept of the individual, engagement with the community is paramount: “The individual belongs to the group and is linked to members of the group through interaction; conversation and dialogue are both purpose and activity of the community”