Nguzo Saba: Seven African Values Applied To Leadership
by Dr. Malik Muhammad and Sadiki Muhammad
In 1965, Dr. Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga, a Pan-African activist, author, and professor introduced the Nguzo Saba in homage to the Kawaida, the ongoing synthesis of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world. The Nguzo Saba is an African-centered value system commonly associated with Kwanzaa, an annual holiday that celebrates the communal living practices and cultural customs of Africa and people of African descent. In Kiswahili, Nguzo Saba translates as “seven principles” and, as we will discuss, these tenets undergird the soul of leadership. During the 7 days of Kwanzaa, celebrated between December 26 and January 1st each year, we focus on one of the seven values of the Nguzo Saba each day. Writing in collaboration with Dr. Malik Muhammad, this blog series will cover the application of each value to leadership.
We believe that African culture in general, and the Nguzo Saba in particular, can teach us a great deal about human-centered leadership. As is the case with most marginalized cultures in the West, when we do not explicitly highlight their contributions to guiding theories then we miss the vast wisdom that they can provide. The great Steve Biko of Azania (South Africa) was so correct when he stated that:
“We believe that in the long run the special contribution to the world by Africa will be in the field of human relationship. 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.”
Over the next several blogs, posted in the lead up to Kwanzaa 2022, we hope to offer some thoughts on how this powerful value system can guide our leadership.
While the 7 values are celebrated in chronological order during Kwanzaa, we suggest here that they dynamically interplay with and within each other in no determined order. In other words, the seven values create a synergy that should be understood together and not separately. They complement and harmonize each other and create tension-like energy that can breathe life into our leadership. The Nguzo Saba are important not only for their significance to African thought and understanding but also because they are indications of the intrinsic relationship between values and leadership for us all.